The Best Fiction of 2010

Here it is - the best Australian fiction and international fiction of 2010, as decided by Readings staff members. We’ve put our heads together and come up with our ten best books of Australian fiction and our ten best books of international fiction.

After coming up with those ‘best of’ lists we still had some great books left over, so we’ve included them as special mentions too.

The Best Australian Fiction of 2010

rocks_in_the_belly Rocks in the Belly
Jon Bauer

Cate Kennedy said of Jon Bauer’s debut novel, ‘*Rocks in the Belly* plunges into territory both uncomfortable and familiar for many readers: the hurt and dysfunction of a wounded family … [and] switches with beautifully orchestrated tension between the past and the present.’ Read our review and Jon’s guest blog post about writing the book.

norsemans_song The Norseman’s Song
Joel Deane

Our reviewer said, ‘In its bold invention and exquisite command of narrative registers, I feel The Norseman’s Song is a debut bound to be up there with the most intriguing novels published in the 2010 fiction year.’ Read our review.

hamlet Hamlet
Nicki Greenberg

Nicki Greenberg’s astonishingly original, wildly colourful, graphic novel take on Shakespeare’s classic is – like her version of The Great Gatsby – a work of art, as well as a compelling adventure in storytelling. For all ages. Read Nicki’s guest blog post about creating Hamlet.

mary_smokes_boys The Mary Smokes Boys
Patrick Holland

Our reviewer said, ‘A tale that transports you through its realisation of place … and its genuinely affecting story of love (for brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers). And yes, for a language as pure and magical as I have read in a long time.’ Read our review and our interview with Patrick Holland.

fall_girl Fall Girl
Toni Jordan

Our reviewer said, ‘Toni Jordan is funny. Her writing can make you laugh out loud. Her style has a certain seductive lightness … I will be surprised if Fall Girl does not become the book to take to the beach, pool, or park over summer.’ Read our review and our Q&A with Toni.

indelible_ink Indelible Ink
Fiona McGregor

Mark Rubbo said, ‘Every now and again a novel just takes your breath away with its audacity and its perceptive take on life and the world. Indelible Ink is such a book.’ Christos Tsiolkas, interviewing Fiona for Readings, said, ‘A tremendous book. I loved it’. Read our review and Fiona’s guest blog post about writing the novel.

love_poems Love Poems
Dorothy Porter

Love Poems collects the most powerful and seductive love poetry from the long career of Dorothy Porter, one of Australia’s finest and best loved poets, including extracts from her bestselling verse novels, such as The Monkey’s Mask.

having_cried_wolf Having Cried Wolf
Gretchen Schirm

Our reviewer said of this engrossing interlinked short-story collection, ‘Shirm’s debut is impressive. She paints vivid portraits of characters that cross gender and life span. The characters are portrayed empathically, but realistically. They have their rough corners, fears, and they make plenty of mistakes.’ Read our review.

that_deadman_dance That Deadman Dance
Kim Scott

Our reviewer said, ‘Here is an attempt, and I would say a marvellously realised one, to meld the experience of early colonial contact from the perspectives and in the voices of all of the participants … Surely Kim Scott has one hand on next year’s Miles?’ Read our review.

bereft Bereft
Chris Womersley

Our reviewer said, ‘Like all great literary fiction, Bereft aspires to go beneath the surface, beyond flimsy payoffs and superficial triumphs. In doing so it confronts such pillars as loss, longing and revenge, and sears itself into memory.’ Read our review.

The Best International Fiction of 2010

passage The Passage
Justin Cronin

Our reviewer said, ‘Absolutely thrilling and completely terrifying. It’s vampires, but not the sparkly kind: The Passage relates how society will cope if vampires did exist, and weren’t friendly—and humans were losing the fight. This is an excellent return to original vampiric horror and a perfect example of the genre … I could have lost myself in Cronin’s written words forever. The characters are real and immediate, the story detailed and elaborate without being confusing, the language clear but not simplistic.’ Read our review.

room Room
Emma Donoghue

Our reviewer said, ‘The premise of the novel is horrific, but once I started reading Room, I couldn’t put it down … This isn’t a fictionalised ‘survivor story’, but a story of the love between mother and child.’ Read our review.

visit_from_the_goon_squad A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

This virtuosic novel – which has attracted rave reviews in the US – follows a cast of intertwined characters connected with the music industry, from coke-snorting music mogul Lou to kleptomaniac record label assistant Sasha.

freedom Freedom
Jonathan Franzen

Readings Monthly editor Jo Case said Freedom ‘reminded me of the pure joy and sheer entertainment that a really good novel can deliver.’ Our reviewer said, ‘Welcome to Franzen-world, where good people can be bad [and] environmentalists shake hands with coal miners … Darker than The Corrections, Freedom is still a very funny book, as it peels away at the lives of its characters to reveal the slippery truths of life’s accommodations.’ Read our review.

zero_history Zero History
William Gibson

The third in the loose trilogy that began with Pattern Recognition, this darkly enticing London-set novel is a fast-paced techno-quest from the godfather of steampunk. Mike Paterson from Port Melbourne said, ‘*Zero History*, with sly wit, uses the grammar of the techno-thriller to take us down dark, unexpected alleyways. It’s one long, Sat-Nav chase filled with paranoia, corporate espionage and elite shadow corps all in the pursuit of the perfect Platonic ideal, military-tech, fashion garment. Did you really think Jason Bourne’s quest was for his true identity? Nah, it was for the perfect cotton twill.’

hand_me_down_world Hand Me Down World
Lloyd Jones

Our reviewer said, ‘*Hand Me Down World* is a thing of beauty, the story of an African refugee who travels to Berlin looking for her son becoming a modern-day parable of betrayal, love, dignity and courage in the face of unimaginable obstacles … Packs a fierce emotional punch.’ Read our review and our interview with Lloyd Jones.

harbour Harbour
John Ajvide Lindqvist

Our reviewer said, John Ajvide Lindqvist, the author of Let the Right One In ‘creeps you out, as a man loses his daughter and the residents of the Swedish island where he lives keep a disturbing secret about the surrounding waters. A haunting story, the kind that delivers genuine chills [and] immersion in the characters’ lives … Like Stephen King on a good day, Lindqvist taps into the surreal, but not to the point of the ridiculous: just enough to test your nerves. And win.’ Read our review.

the_ask The Ask
Sam Lipsyte

Our reviewer said, ‘In this brilliantly crafted book, Lipsyte lays bare the failings of modern America … What makes The Ask exceptional is its ability to remain witty and entertaining throughout, even as it deals with a wide range of complex themes, from raising a child to the Iraq war.’ Read our review.

i_curse_the_river_of_time I Curse the River of Time
Per Petterson

Managing Director Mark Rubbo said, ‘Reading this book I was reminded of my first reading of Camus’ The Outsider; the feelings and reaction were almost the same. This is a brilliant book, full of great riches behind its spare exterior.’

three_seconds Three Seconds
Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström

Winner of 2009 Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, this undeniably realistic book (by an ex-crime reporter and an ex-criminal) tells of an ex-crim turned undercover informer infiltrating the Polish mafia to get a handle on the drugs trade. Our reviewer called it ‘a superior novel’. Read our review.

Special Mentions

These novels didn’t quite make the top ten lists above, we think they’re still some of the year’s best.

great_house Great House
Nicole Krauss

Kate Goldsworthy, Readings Monthly editorial assistant, said ‘In Krauss’s capable hands, the story of a desk and its various, very different, owners becomes an involving tale of identity, longing, love and grief, which explores private repercussions from some of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century.’ Read our review.

lonely The Lonely Polygamist
Brady Udall

Fiona Hardy of Readings Carlton, said, ‘Endearing but overwhelmed polygamist Golden Richards and his 28 children are an absolute delight to read about, even as his family suffers through lust and loss.’ Read our review.

boxer_beetle Boxer, Beetle
Ned Beauman

Fiona Hardy of Readings Carlton said in her review, ‘In Ned Beauman’s Boxer, Beetle, set in present-day London, ‘a virtual recluse and Nazi memorabilia collector finds himself entangled in a decades-old drama involving eugenics, boxing, and violence.’ Read our review.

my_sister_chaos My Sister Chaos
Lara Fergus

Kate Goldsworthy, Readings Monthly editorial assistant, said ‘The theme of moving on from terrible loss is dealt with expertly in Lara Fergus’s debut novel My Sister Chaos, in which polar opposite twin sisters make new lives as refugees after a brutal civil war.’ Read our review.

sleepers The Sleepers Almanac No. 6
Louise Swinn and Zoe Dattner (Eds)

Kate Goldsworthy, Readings Monthly editorial assistant, said ‘Anyone looking for an engaging selection of fresh Australian writing should check out the latest Sleepers Almanac, edited by Louise Swinn and Zoe Dattner. It’s a fun-to-read, mixed-bag anthology of mainly short stories (with a few cartoons and a couple of poems), and everyone will come away with their own favourites.’ Read our review.

so_much_for_that So Much for That
Lionel Shriver

Readings Hawthorn’s Danielle Mirabella said, ‘Once again Lionel Shriver delivers an utterly compelling read. While this novel is exhausting and often brutal, with the storyline centring around terminal illness and the American healthcare system, Shriver’s characterisation and wit is brilliant.’ Read our review.

serena Serena
Ron Rash

Serena marries well-to-do George Pemberton and then sets out to destroy Georges' illegitimate child and ex-lover all the while, scheming and murdering anyone who gets in the way of the Pemberton timber empire. Readings Carlton’s Jason Austin called it, ‘A beautifully written piece of Appalachian gothic based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.’ Read our review.

theory_of_light The Theory of Light and Matter
Andrew Porter

Readings Carlton’s Jason Austin said it’s ‘a brilliant collection of ten short stories with the themes of love, relationships guilt and memory at their heart. Read our review.

radleys The Radleys
Matt Haig

A middle-aged abstaining vampire couple Peter and Helen have been hiding their secret from their teenage children Clara and Rowan. A secret which is truely realised when Clara accidentally kills a boy in a fit of blood-lust. The family are forced to call in Peter’s brother Will, who is a very bad influence on the kids. Read our review.

mary_ann Mary Ann in Autumn
Armistead Maupin

The eighth instalment of the Tales of the City chronicles is every bit as entertaining as the seven that came before. Read our review.

both_ways_is_the_only_way_i_want_it Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It
Maile Meloy

Jo Case, editor of the Readings Monthly newsletter, said ‘this year saw the release of so many terrific short-story collections, which often directed my reading path. My favourite – and my book of the year – was Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, which was deservedly praised by everyone from Richard Ford to Curtis Sittenfeld, and combined beautiful writing with wonderful characters and storytelling, and champagne dialogue.‘ Read our review.

war_dances War Dances
Sherman Alexie

Jo Case, editor of the Readings Monthly newsletter, said 'The masterful title story alone is worth buying the book for.’ Alexie, like our own Christos Tsiolkas, writes entertaining, poignant and darkly funny stories that interrogate race, class and social politics in astonishingly inventive ways. Read our review.

See our full range of Australian and international fiction.

Our other 'best of 2010’ lists:

 Read review


Jonathan Franzen

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