The Best Fiction of 2011

best-of-2011-fiction We’ve been blessed by a really great year of fiction titles in 2011 - from Australia and abroad. Heavyweights such as Haruki Murakami, Jeffrey Eugenides and Alex Miller have all delivered excellent novels, and we’ve had a surplus of wonderful books from relatively new authors such as Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Peggy Frew, Wayne Macauley and of course (the now very well-known) Téa Obreht.

And here is the best of the best - our favourite works of fiction from 2011, as chosen by Readings staff. We hope your favourites made the cut!

Australian Fiction

1742702112 What the Family Needed
Steven Amsterdam

It’s been a particular pleasure of mine of late to meet people who’ve read Steven Amsterdam’s wonderful new novel, What the Family Needed. They involuntarily start to smile, their cheeks take on an extra glow… Yes, it’s a wonder of a book! One that you hold close, and desperately want to share with your closest. - Martin Shaw, Readings’ Books Division Manager.

Read our review
Read a sample chapter


allthatiam All That I Am
Anna Funder

I’d always meant to read Stasiland and never got around to it – until the lead-up to Anna Funder’s debut novel, All That I Am. Of course, I was riveted by both books. Sparked by real events, All That I Am follows four friends who risk their lives to alert the world to the menace posed by Hitler in the years before World War II, from Berlin and then from exile in London, where their visas prohibit them from political activity. It’s a literary thriller with wonderful characters and a serious message. An astonishing achievement. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


animalpeople Animal People
Charlotte Wood

I loved Charlotte Wood’s The Children so was excited to discover that Animal People revisits hapless man-child Stephen, following him over 24 hours in which he plans to break up with his much-loved girlfriend – out of insecurity rather than any real desire to. Though it centres on a pending break-up, it’s a romantic comedy of sorts, with some wonderful observational humour and many deeply moving moments. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


coldlight Cold Light
Frank Moorhouse

I waited all year for Frank Moorhouse’s final instalment of his trilogy starring the fabulous Edith Campbell Berry – and wasn’t disappointed by Cold Light. Set in Canberra, in the early days of its existence, it sees the formidable Edith – now middle-aged – struggling to find a foothold (and a decent position) in post-war Australia, where smart, experienced, opinionated women are not exactly in demand. There’s family drama (Edith’s brother is a Communist), adventures in romance and friendships, and real-life characters like Menzies, Whitlam and Frank Hardy mixing it with Moorhouse’s creations. And as always, there is sparkling wit, sharp and poignant observations, and a winning blend of political and personal intrigue. Hugely rewarding. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read a sample


thelife The Life
Malcolm Knox

Malcolm Knox’s novels are engrossing journeys into contemporary Australian class and masculinity. Kerryn Goldsworthy once wrote that he’s a satirist who also excels at characterisation: spot-on. The Life is a virtuoso performance, taking the reader deep inside the head of world champion Gold Coast surfer DK, as a way of exploring ambition, the lures and pitfalls of fame, and the commercialisation of surfing culture. There’s a murder mystery at its heart, too. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


thecook The Cook
Wayne Macauley

Wayne Macauley is a ‘writer’s writer’: one of those Australian authors who other authors adore, but he hasn’t had much public profile before now. His writing is hugely inventive, darkly funny and sharply observant, often riffing on ideas of alternative worlds very like our own. The Cook brilliantly inhabits the perspective of 17-year-old wannabe chef Zac, who sees success in food as a way out of his underprivileged life so far. It’s a wicked satire on our culture’s obsession with food and saturation in media, taking the world we live in and ratcheting it up a notch or two, so we’re faced with the absurdity and the dangers of our culture. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


blood Blood Tony Birch

Blood is the first novel from acclaimed short-story writer Tony Birch, a Readings favourite. It can be a tricky transition to the long form, but you wouldn’t think so, reading this suspenseful, wholly absorbing novel. We follow the adventures of brother and sister Jesse and Rachel, born to a neglectful mother, as they lurch from one bad situation to another, always in pursuit of a new start – which eventually seems it may become a reality. It’s a fractured fairytale, a dark Australian road story, but also an affecting tale about the bond between a brother and sister, and how the most unexpected people can transform lives. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


1741666171 The Street Sweeper
Elliot Perlman
Fiction at its most momentous. An utterly humane and compelling portrait of perhaps the most significant historical periods of the last century: black American civil rights and the Holocaust. Easily the best book written by an Australian author this year, this will no doubt be championed for decades to come. - Luke May, Readings St Kilda.

Read our review
Read a sample


174237851X Autumn Laing
Alex Miller

A chance encounter forces an elderly woman to look back on her life in an attempt to atone for a profound and selfish act of betrayal. Loosely based on the lives of John and Sunday Reed and Sidney Nolan, the novel brims with creative and erotic tension. Miller uses all his considerable skills to bring this powerful story to a dramatic end. - Mark Rubbo, Readings Managing Director

Read our review
Read a sample


0980790425 Bearings
Leah Swann

Local (and lovely) author Leah Swann adds to the wonderful Long Story Shorts series with Bearings, a collection of stories and one novella all laced with the parched beauty of the Australian landscape and those – human and animal – who reside within. Heartbreaking, honest, but ultimately hopeful, you may lose yourself in Swann’s engaging reality. - Fiona Hardy, Readings Carlton.

Read our review
Read a sample


1921844272 House of Sticks
Peggy Frew

The cast of characters are so well realised that House of Sticks could easily be about the family next door, or your own. Dealing with the issues of parenting and domestic tension in a setting that is typically Melbourne, it brings to mind the work of such local authors as Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas. - Jason Austin, Readings Carlton.

Read our review
Read a sample


Special Mentions

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
Black Glass by Meg Mundell
Faces In The Clouds by Matt Nable


International Fiction

1742610153 The Language of Flowers
Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria is lost. Lost to the world and lost to herself. Her distrust of people is a poison that is eating her, but there is a ray of hope in the language of flowers. Through serendipity she discovers intuitive skills as a florist – and there, she meets a man who can match her, flower for flower. This broken character will break your heart and still give you hope. - Kate Rockstrom, Readings Carlton.

Read our review
Read a sample


1409133834 The House of Silk
Anthony Horowitz

When an agitated art dealer begs Holmes to investigate a scar-faced stalker, Holmes agrees out of boredom more than anything – but when their inquiries lead to the disappearance of one of the Baker Street Irregulars, it becomes personal. In The House of Silk, the game is most definitely afoot! - Dani Solomon, Readings Carlton.

Read our review
Read a sample


000735911X The Hypnotist
Lars Kepler

I picked this up because of its chilling cover (cover of the year?) and I am so glad I did. This is an in-depth psychological thriller that had me completely hooked and even a little obsessed. The plot has everything: murder, abduction and of course, hypnotism. Brilliant! - Bruno Moro, Readings Hawthorn.

Read our review
Read a sample


tigers-wife The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht

The Tiger’s Wife – the debut of 25-year-old Téa Obreht – was quite possibly the most talked-about book of 2011, with rave reviews around the world (including from New York Times reviewer Michiko Kukatani). Obreht also won the Orange Prize. And our book guru Martin Shaw only stopped raving about this novel when he picked up Steven Amsterdam’s new book in November. It’s an awesomely accomplished novel, set in a Balkans country at the end of a long civil war, that expertly weaves fable, fabulism and the palpably real. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


1921640898 What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us
Laura van den Berg

The stories in this debut collection all feature women narrators – their thoughts and disappointments pitted perfectly against the sometimes mythic and isolated natural worlds in which they find themselves. Laura van den Berg’s writing is anything but formulaic; the title story by far the best I’ve read all year. - Jessica Au, Readings St Kilda.

Read our review
Read a sample


1q84 1Q84
Haruki Murakami

This book is a mesmerising read and you may find it hard to shake loose from the curious, mind-bending world of 1Q84. Revisiting familiar Murakami territory (that his fans will know and love) such as questions of desire and loneliness and the strangeness in everyday life, this epic story is the tome to get you through a long summer. - Ingrid Josephine, Readings Marketing and Events Assistant.

Read our review
Read a sample


the-sense-of-an-ending *The Sense of an Ending*
Julian Barnes

Literary heavyweight Julian Barnes won the Booker Prize for this deceptively slender volume, a novel about masculinity, guilt, regret and the passage of time. It’s been said that this is Barnes’s On Chesil Beach. Retired, divorced Tony is forced to face his self-delusion and its impact on others when he is willed a diary that sheds light on his past. Brilliant and absorbing. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read a sample


map_and_the_territory The Map and the Territory
Michel Houellebecq

Readers won’t find this novel as controversial as, for example, Atomised, Houellebecq’s most famous book to date (perhaps because of the relative absence of sex in The Map and the Territory), but they will find it just as provoking and enjoyable as anything that has come before. - William Heyward, Readings St Kilda and Carlton.

Read our review
Read a sample


summer-without-men *The Summer Without Men*
Siri Hustvedt

The latest from the author of the elegant psychological thriller What I Loved – a novel on the ‘best-ever’ lists of many readers. Steeped in homage to the whip-smart ‘battle of the sexes’ romantic comedies of the 1930s, with an all-female cast (à la The Women), this is the story of what happens after protagonist Mia’s husband says he wants a ‘pause’ in their 30-year marriage, triggering a nervous breakdown. A wonderful inter-generational novel, full of warmth and wit. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


caribou-island Caribou Island
David Vann

A claustrophobic wilderness novel? A portrait of a marriage pushed to breaking point? An Alaskan Revolutionary Road? The masterful Caribou Island is all these things and more, confirming bright new(ish) literary talent David Vann (Legends of a Suicide) as a major novelist. It’s one of those novels you admire for its craft even as you turn the pages at light speed, dying to know how it will all play out. - Jo Case, Readings Monthly Editor

Read our review
Read a sample


Special Mentions

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Snuff by Terry Pratchett

More books, reviews and listings here.


Other ‘best of 2011’ lists:


 Read review
All That I Am

All That I Am

Anna Funder

$22.95Buy now

Finding stock availability...