In the tradition of the last few years…
Not PUBLISHED this year, READ this year, savvy?
Oh God this list has caused me some heartache! What a cracking year for reading this has been for me! I know that the LeedsBookClub itself has had some wonderful discoveries over the past twelve months, but these are what I personally have awarded, I did it in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and I’m doing it all again today, M’Ok?
Discovery of the Year
Tan Twan Eng-The Garden of Evening Mists, The Gift of Rain
See, this is why I don’t get those there book bloggers doing their ‘lists of the year’ at the beginning of December-you never know what’s going to happen in the last month of the year and this is a case in point. I got The Garden of Evening Mists in the post (thank you, more please) at the beginning of December and spent a long week seeped in its beauty. His second novel, set in Malaya from the Second World War onwards this is just such a beautifully written book, its just such a shame it wasn’t written twelve years ago or so when everything was set in Asia as it would have been a massive best seller. The story of a Chinese woman living in Penang, captured by the Japanese and held in a concentration camp throughout the war at terrible cost to herself and her family, who decades later returns to the mountain province and the garden Yugiri, where she stayed for years during the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s, in her South African friend’s tea plantation, this book is big, complicated and multi cultural. You think you in a multi cultural society, you ain’t got jack on 1940s Malaya, the setting also of his first book, The Gift of Rain, which I am currently ploughing through. The writing is exquisite and the plots fascinating. The amount of detail poured into the books shows just how clever and committed a writer Tan Twan Eng is and with his first longlisted and his second short listed for the Booker, I have massive hopes for his third novel. Fans of metaphor ridden prose and history should wake up and get into these books. Its a teeny tiny publisher as well, which is always nice.
Series of the Year
The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
I had to review Pat Barker’s latest novel Toby’s Room this summer, so thought it might actually be a good idea to read one of the five of her novels cluttering my shelves first and boy am I glad I did. This kick-started a good three month period where I apparently read nothing but books set in the First World War, always a treat, and I was so happy with the massively positive response I got off people who loved these books as much as I do. The second one, The Eye In The Door, is just spectacular and was robbed of glory by the weaker third book The Ghost Road which somehow managed to claim all the prises. With the anniversary of the beginning of the war in a couple of years, you need to get into Pat Barker, her detailed descriptions and psychological analysis of the soldiers who fought and the people back home are extraordinary.
Up All Night Award
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Oh this book, this beautiful beautiful book. My favourite by far of the Orange Prize (or whatever its called now) winners, this re-telling of the Iliad is sexy and sublime, you need to speed read it because you literally will not be able to put it down. Myself and a whole load of other people cannot wait for her next one. Also, do a big of background reading on Madeline Miller herself, as she is pretty damn ace.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I’ve read this book twice this year, recommended it to pretty much every reader I know, gone on and on and on about it on the Twitters and Facebook and pretty much every other place I can, wept over it, sighed over it and lamented frequently that Katey Kontent isn’t real, and I can’t actually get twatted on gin with her. This is literally the saddest of thoughts as I have never loved a fictional character as much as I love Katey Kontent and that includes the otherwise LOML Ralph Leary from Ralph’s Party.
Set in 1938 New York, if you have any sense whatsoever you will buy yourself two copies of this book because the first will be saturated with tears. If you are twenty seven, you owe it to your future self to read this book NOW. If you are younger than twenty seven, buy it and put it in storage, if you are older, buy it, read it and feel whimsical. I will blattos be re-reading in the new year, if it wasn’t completely socially unacceptable I’d blow off my party and re-read this book tonight. This book is my new Persuasion and you KNOWS I don’t say things like that lightly.
The I-Know-I-Know-Its-Brilliant-But Award
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
I know, I’m a failure as a human being and an utter utter thickie. I couldn’t get past about 300 pages. I was bored, and I’m sorry. I will try again next year.
Best Recommended Read
SHARED between Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier and Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Both of these books are @sianushka’s fault, and it would be impossible and wrong of me to pick from between the two. Again, this goes to show how December reading can make or break your year. From the moment I read Frenchman’s Creek back in the spring I had this on the list, but Moon Tiger, which I read in four hours on the 20 December figuring if the Apocalypse was to come the next day at least I’d spend my last night doing something magical as opposed to Management Theory Homework, was such an experience I needed it on the list.
Frenchman’s Creek has already had my splurge treatment, but I haven’t been able to do the same with Moon Tiger so I’m going to do so now, and apologies for the twenty or so people on Twitter who were following by reading of the book and are subsequently buying it already.
Read it. Read it now.
Winner of the 1987 Booker again this book would have completely passed me by had it nt been for a recommendation. I was reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (and how the hell it took me so long to get round to that I’ll never know) and @sianushka suggested that I follow it with Moon Tiger as a lovely companion read. What an understatement. I’m not going to say exactly what reading this book reminded me of but let’s say I started the evening with questioning worrying doubt, then experienced true love and complete euphoria, followed seamlessly by an hour of relaxing into acceptance of a life well lived. Bloody hell this is a well written book. The structure of it, it’s tighter than Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. The main character is a posher cleverer version of me, which always helps in relating to a history, and the way it portrays a life as lived by a particular kind of person at a particular time is spot on. I’ve read a lot of books set during various wars and this one gets the grief part right. I was weeping so much by the end of this book and it was by far my favourite pre-Apocalypse evening I’ve ever spent. If you are a speed reader, you need to experience this in a night, it is worth it, but take tea breaks because it does get a bit heavy at times.
Worst Book of the Year
Nine Uses For An Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning
This pissed me off because I really like Sarra Manning’s writing, she used to write for J17 and now writes YA chick-lit, some of which is really really good. I’ve read other stuff she’s done for ForBooksSake and the Graun and she’s a witty funny clever woman. This book however is a exercise in patience as the most neurotic and boring narrator navigates her way through what is obviously a horrible long term relationship and evil friendship with an annoying bint. Surprise surprise bint and boyf end up shagging, but instead of having some sort of St Paul revaluation and dumping his ass Hope tries to patch things up for another 300 pages. The actual hero is crap, her parents are Comedy Sidekicks from Hell and the whole thing is just a big mess. You wouldn’t get pissed with Hope in real life and it therefore fails in the fundamental law of chick lit-you have to like your protagonist, not just want to shake her. Shame as the cover is beautiful.