The Best Fiction of 2013

Here are our top ten picks for best fiction from the past year, voted for and loved by Readings staff. Displayed in no particular order.


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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites is inspired by the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who was condemned to death after being charged with the murder of her employer in 1829. While awaiting her execution, Agnes is housed on a remote farm with a family who discover that there is more to Agnes’ story than first thought. Hannah Kent’s haunting tragedy lends voice to a woman labelled a monster in her time and is worthy of all its hype. This is a stunning and moving debut.

– Jason Austin


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Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

As the reviews for Barracuda have appeared recently, I’ve noticed they’ve almost all shared something in common, a caveat here or there aside: namely that Barracuda is a wonder of storytelling. Here’s Peter Craven: ‘It swims, it soars, it is full of sap and feeling: it will enrage you, it will engage you, it will fill you with pity and wonder.’ Christos Tsiolkas has dug deep with Barracuda , into ourselves as well as himself more than ever before, and it’s a transcendent achievement.

– Martin Shaw


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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life, shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, is a stunning novel: clever, sassy and thought provoking. It follows the various stories of Ursula Todd, set against the backdrop of the last century. Atkinson departs from her detective novel days, creating a quirky and satisfying portrait of last century’s disruptions and celebrations. If you loved Behind the Scenes of the Museum, you will adore this novel.

– Chris Gordon


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The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Set in the 1860s on the goldfields of New Zealand, The Luminaries is a fantastic read. It’s a literary detective story with hidden treasure and a hint of the supernatural. If historical fiction is not your favourite genre, I think this will surprise. The world Eleanor Catton creates is so remarkably convincing and meticulously researched, and the story so compelling that you will be hooked. A deserving Booker Prize winner and a perfect summer holiday read.

– Kara Nicholson


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The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

‘Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.’ It is Marnie’s fifteenth birthday, and she and her younger sister must cope alone as best they can under the burden of their terrible secret. Marnie is streetwise but vulnerable – people want drug money from her father; sister Nelly’s violin playing and strange utterances on life are not helping; and the neighbour’s dog keeps appearing with bones from the garden. By turns shocking and extremely funny, this poignant novel, winner of this year’s Commonwealth Book Prize, is far more uplifting than it may sound – I loved it!

– Lesley Anderson


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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

I read this book in March and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. A novelist enduring writer’s block finds the diary of a Japanese schoolgirl washed up on a Canadian beach, and this simple discovery sets an expansive narrative in motion. The thematic material this book traverses is truly vast – much of it covering existential territory. It’s a masterful work of literary fiction: inventive, challenging, genre-defying, deeply affecting. A book that might – and I mean this quite seriously – change your life.

– Alison Huber


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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

A biting portrayal of a complicated female friendship, My Brilliant Friend is set in a poor and violent Neapolitan neighbourhood during the 1950s and acts as the first in a three-part Bildungsroman from the notoriously mysterious Elena Ferrante. Ann Goldstein’s rendering of the Italian author’s language is beautiful: pared back and intensely felt. Ferrante’s psychologically acute characters are raw and so close to the bone you can feel your teeth grinding. The result is shockingly good.

– Bronte Coates


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We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

This Booker-shortlisted novel is set in a shanty town in Zimbabwe, ironically called ‘Paradise’. Told from a child’s perspective, the story is raw and heart-breaking. Eleven-year-old Darling and her friends no longer attend school, but wander the streets with growling stomachs and fantasise about life in the West. Darling’s dreams come true when she moves to America as a teenager, however she is surprised by the darker elements of ‘first world’ life. This beautifully written account of cultural identity and confusion is immensely powerful.

– Annie Condon


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Tenth of December by George Saunders

Although George Saunders has an almost other-worldly mix of slang words, corporate jargon and beautiful images, almost no other writer working today is as good as capturing the flow of thought. He’s also incredibly hilarious. In these ten stories he shows us how he has become a master of the form.

– Chris Somerville


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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Fans of Donna Tartt have been waiting over a decade for this release. At the nexus of her sharply written new novel is Theo Decker, who at age 13 has his life wrenched apart. What follows is a sweeping drama with a Dickensian cast of characters and a thrilling, curving plotline. Set in present-day America, from the desert of Las Vegas to the art underworld of New York, The Goldfinch proves richly deserving of reader’s anticipation.

– Belle Place