This week’s Top Ten topic, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is the ten best books of 2016. By which I take it they mean the books I read in 2016 that I enjoyed the most. I’ve pontificated about this for a few weeks now but can delay no longer. So here is my list. I was surprised to see how many are Booker prize related.
- Top spot goes to Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing for her sweeping saga of life in China during the Cultural Revolution and its effects on three musicians. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and in my ever so humble opinion should have been the winner. But the judges disagreed….sigh.
- The Many by Wyl Menmuir: a debut novel which was mesmerising even if I didn’t fully understand it. Contained some disturbing ideas about the long term effectof pollution on the sea and fishing stock . It was longlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize
- The North Water by Ian McGuire: Another 2016 Booker contender, this was a rollicking if grim historical adventure set on a whaling ship.
- Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink: the only non fiction book to make it onto my top 10, this was a thought-provoking detailed examination of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on a hospital in New Orleans and the life/death decisions confronting the medical staff.
- Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb: my first experience of this Belgian-born author. After reading this terrific novella about a young girl’s humiliation when she goes to work for a Japanese company and comes bang up against cultural rules and expectations.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: Another author that I read for the first time in 2016 and what an experience. The plot focuses on a group of people who go to a concert in a Latin American country and end up being taken hostage. Although there is plenty of tension and drama, the real interest for me was in how the different hostages (who include a world famous opera singer, her accompanist and a devoted fan) all respond to music.
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami: it’s taken me many years to get around to reading Murakami. It was delightful atmospheric novel about love and loss.
- The Gathering by Anne Enright: another Booker title but this time a winner – from 2007. Irish authors often tend to focus on doom and gloom and this one is no exception since it revolves around a sister’s reaction to her brother’s suicide. It’s grim in a sense but Enright portrays the inner life of her protagonist so well I just had to keep reading.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North: by Richard Flanagan: Winner of the Booker Prize in 2014, this is a riveting story account of an Australian doctor who is haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife and his experience as a prisoner of war in Thailand.
- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: yet another 2016 Booker contender though I read this long before the Booker judges made their initial selection. It’s the first time I read anything by Strout and on the strength of this tale about a mother/daughter relationship I’ll be keen to read some of her earlier work.
First of all a big thank you to all of you who’ve followed this blog over the last year, sharing your reactions, asking questions and giving advice. Without you this whole blogging lark would be a very miserable experience.
Now what was I up to as I opened my new calendar to the first page?
I’ve landed myself in a spot I don’t enjoy where I have multiple books on the go. Two I can manage if they are vastly different genres (one fiction, one non fiction for example) or if one is in hard copy and the other on the e reader. But three is testing my limit.
I started reading Jennifer Egan’s Look At Me early in December but this story of a model’s identity issue after she is smashed up in a car accident, didn’t feel the right thing to be reading during our family Christmas retreat. The snowy landscape on the cover of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood seemed far more apt (even though there was no snow around and the weather on Christmas Day was more like spring). And things were going really well despite not being given much opportunity to read – there was always someone who wanted to play charades or dish out yet more cake. And then I got into a panic yesterday because I realised the book club meeting is next week and I hadn’t even opened the chosen title. Which is why I’ve had to abandon the first two novels and to pick up Patrick Gale’s shortlisted Costa prize novel A Place Called Winter. It don’t hate it but I don’t love it either and would much rather be reading Murakami…..
Sarah Walters is one of those names I’ve seen around a lot but never felt that motivated to read. But I spotted an audio recording in the library of her most recent novel Paying Guests and decided to give it a go. Not convinced I would enjoy reading it but it’s certainly a good one for the car as I’ve been scurrying around recently. This one is set in London in the early years after the end of World War 1 when a genteel lady and her daughter are forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet. The arrival of Len and Lily as ‘paying guests’ disrupts the household but no-one could have predicted it would all end in a sensational court case. Walters does a superb job of conveying the period detail where just to take a bath involves considerable effort and the streets are full of out of work ex-servicemen.
TV is not allowed at our family Christmas gatherings so we had to wait for our return home to catch up with the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It was much trailed because of its star-studded cast. But I found it disappointing – very slow and ponderous.
Today (Feb 17) marks the first day of the Chinese new year and the start of the year of the sheep. According to the Chinese zodiac system people born in the year of sheep are polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted. They prefer the quiet life and are apparently especially sensitive to art and beauty.
You’d think then that these artistic creatures would feature prominently in fiction. But these poor creatures have definitely been short-changed by authors. There are plenty of novels featuring dogs and horses, but our woolly friends barely get a look in. The first two options here are the only ones I could think of personally, for the remainder I had to rely on Goodreads and LibraryThing.
1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick
A science fiction novel published in 1968, this doesn’t even feature real sheep apart from a brief mention at the beginning. In it’s post-apocalyptic setting, most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. Keeping and owning live animals is therefore a status symbol so many people turn towards cheaper synthetic, or electric, animals to keep up the pretense.
2. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
A bit of a stretch I know since the lambs are symbolic rather than actual. They feature in a brief episode when FBI trainee Clarice Starling is forced into revealing her troubled childhood on a sheep farm where she tries to prevent the lambs from slaughter.
Day 1 of a new month and it’s time to take a snapshot of what I’m reading, listening to and watching
I finished The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo a few days ago. This was the book I chose to represent Burkina Faso on my book journey along the Prime Meridian. It wasn’t a brilliant novel but I am glad I read it purely because of the bravery that lay behind its creation. Zongo was a writer who died because the regime under which he lived was afraid of the power of his pen to challenge their authority. The Parachute Drop led to his arrest, torture and imprisonment. As I said in my review of The Parachute Drop this is an important book rather than a memorable one.
I’m now in that space where I need to decide what to read next. My request for The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt which was long listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize came through at the library so I started that. But it’s too heavy for me to take on my travels tomorrow to USA. My choices will be between Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (it seems appropriate to read him in the month when his newest novel – Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki – is published) and Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave which has lingered on my TBR shelf for way too long. Maybe I’ll end up with both
I’m steadily working my way through all the audiobooks of Peter May’s Chief Superintendent Roy Grace crime series that are on offer via the library system. They’re perfect for the short drive time to work or to help me through the dreaded task of ironing. The latest one I heard was Not Dead Enough, in which our detective is confronted with a doppleganger mystery as he tries to solve a double murder.
The BookerTalk household has been enjoying Philomena and The Railway Man though the film version doesn’t bear a lot of relation to the book which I found harrowing. We’ve also been allowing to pass before our eyes, some old episodes of the crime series Lewis which was born out of the success of Morse. Lewis is nowhere near as good because although the lead actor is perfectly skilled in his craft, he just doesn’t have the calibre of John Thaw. It’s ok however if you just want something at the end of the night that isn’t too taxing.