Thursday, 24 November 2011

My Books of the Year

I’ve probably read fewer books this year than is customary. This is the fact of writing both a novel and having something published, or that seems like a fairly plausible excuse. I’ve also read slightly fewer new novels than I’d have liked – this is not due to their being enough interesting titles out there, but just the way things have fallen. Still, there has been more than enough to make it an interesting year, even if you discount the pettiness that surrounded the Booker prize.

American novel of the year: The Illumination – Kevin Brockmeier

My full review of this ran in the Independent (read it here) but some seven months after having read it, my appreciation of it has if anything deepened. A strange, quiet and wilfully opaque novel, it is a book that deserves a wider audience, the kind of novel you hope a stranger will press on you while waiting for a night bus in the rain.

Non-American novel of the year: Open City – Teju Cole

With echoes of Aleksander Hemon and WG Sebald set against the backdrop of a peeling New York, Open City already seemed destined to be a book I would admire. It did more than that; it enveloped me. The central character, Julius, is a flanuer with a taste for solipsism, for uncommon views on familiar architecture and intellectual ideas. The book that should have been this year’s Booker Winner. In another year, it may well have done.

Short stories of the year: The Angel Esmeralda – Don Delillo

No other book has made me seriously think about the nature and purpose of fiction more than this collection of nine stories. Collated from over three decades, this chart Delillo’s trajectory, map out his themes and shine a light on some of the best prose written in this and the last century.

Discovery of the year: Jernigan – David Gates

Gates’s debut novel was first published in 1991 and is a dark, downbeat yet always viciously funny account of a man heading for a very public breakdown. Like Yates before him, Gates tears lumps of his characters, all of whom are ignorant, unpleasant, deluded and yet utterly believable and real. At the centre of the book, however, is the voice: Jernigan’s. Short and shocking, it is a classic that deserves to be dusted off just as Yates was ten years ago.

Biggest disappointment of the year: IQ84 – Haruki Murakami

I finished it. Some of it I actually enjoyed. Some of it was well written; some of it utterly wretched. Finishing it was shrug-inducing. I wanted to love it. I wanted to proudly say it was better than the Wind-up Bird. Instead, it made me wonder whether my memory of his work was in any way reliable…