Monday, 27 December 2010

Books of the Year: Day Two: Recent Fiction

Welcome to Day Two of my Books of the Year, and here I present to you a thick slice of contemporary fiction, taking in mysterious deaths by doughnut at Catholic boarding schools, uber-rich amoralists, ghosts, gods, surf punks, mysterious strangers, quests, more ghosts, and a Jane Austen homage. It hasn't been a vintage year for fiction, but there has been a lot of interesting stuff out there.

1. Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

I have raved about this before - lyrical, eerie, funny, this is definitely my overall book of the year.

2. The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

This is an absorbing and exciting account of an American couple's dubious ascent into the realms of billionaredom - a modern day Faust, without Mephistopheles.

3. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Sarah Water's pastiche manages to be a classic ghost story, with a pervading sense of the eldritch on every page, and an ending that causes everything to be thrown into question.

3. The Infinities by John Banville

I had dreams about living in the universe portrayed in this charming, weird novel. It's set in a slightly different world to ours - the theme being that that are infinite universes, and infinite gods of the universes, who play idly with mortals and often take mortal form (hence the picture: here the Greek gods are highly significant). The novel is, like the bones in the song, rich and strange.

4. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Completely loopy: the plot concerns a marijuana smoking detective in 70s California, who's been set to find a missing property developer. Everyone seems to be after everyone else; or maybe it's just the dope. Immensely enjoyable, even if it is as mad as several boxes of frogs.

5. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut

Finely-constructed triptych of inter-connected stories following the emotional development of the writer ('Damon') as he travels around the world. Beautifully written, and experimental too, this is a satisfying and troubling portrait.

6. Ghostlight by Joseph O’Connor

Initially, I didn't like this very much; but as I went on, I became immensely involved in the story of an old actress looking back at her involvement with the playwright Synge - so involved as to be moved almost to tears. Delicate and elegant and powerful.

7. Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt

A warm and gripping tale of a young girl's quest through France to England to find her father; vivid and truthful.

8. Corpus by Susan Irvine

These short stories are mordant, mournful comments on the art world. Ninety per cent of them are ingenious, original and funny.

9. Kehua! by Fay Weldon

The loopiness of the plot wins it a place on the list - Weldon manages to be so much more interesting than a lot of writers around at the moment.

10. The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

This is an often hilarious homage to Jane Austen, concerning the late divorce of a seventy year old woman, and the effect it has on her and her two middle aged daughters.

11. Lights Out in Wonderland by D B C Pierre

A rollicking tale of decadence and drugs, the slightly baggy middle section can be forgiven because of the zaniness and excitement of the rest.

12. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

A late addition to the list (read over Christmas), these fantastical short stories show the influence of Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones; several of them are truly brilliant, including 'The Library', about a strange TV show that only plays randomly and may or may not be a TV show: it takes place in an enormous library that has its own tundra and desert - and even boasts its own ocean.

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