For as enjoyable a reading year as I’ve had, my list of top-tier books is relatively short, so I’m organizing things a bit differently this year. First of all, the high-lit picks in no particular order:
It’s as if all Atkinson’s fantastic books, with their sprawling, intricate structures and layered events and sequences, have been preparations for this monumental achievement. Life After Life, which not only suits but augments the tale inside the cover. An obvious play on “life after death,” it’s also suggestive of “one life after another, after another, after another…,” which perfectly sums up the novel’s complex and yet clear and present structure. Not to be missed.
Phillipp Meyer’s American Rust was my book of the year a couple of years back, and he was my author discovery at the same time, so I ran to The Son. After a rather stumbly beginning, in terms of action, insight, language, and just plain first-rate writing The Son isn’t just a book. It’s an event in itself, and all said and done, a significant one.
The Hired Man Anne Lamott once stated that “If your narrator [fascinates] … , it isn’t … going to matter if nothing much happens for a long time.” She might have been writing about Aminatta Forta‘s The Hired Man. The book opens thusly: At the time of writing I am forty-six years old. My name is Duro Kolak. Kolak lives in a Croation village named Gost. An English lady and her two teen-agers–a boy and a girl–arrive to take up residence in an old house he has been tending to. She hires him to do repairs. Slowly, Forta pulls aside the layers of gauze that reveal the many stories behind the Duro’s story. An intense experience like a meal to savor slowly. Bite by amazing bite.
A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama. Tsukiyama has an Austen-like simplicity to her prose that renders even the most tortuous plots clear and simple, yet leaves not an ounce of emotion out of it. What’s more she draws the details of place, of history, and of landscape so clearly that the reader is right there with every sight, smell, taste, and sound as the characters move through their stories. It’s a tale painted with a small brush, but exquisite and powerful in its effect. Very fine stuff.
Daniel’s back after a long absence, and I’m happy to see him again. At Night We Walk in Circles is is about theater, revolution, jealousy, and Alarcon manages the complex whole with a fine-tuned ear for irony, humor, and pathos: a painful and exhilarating literary experience.
Ngoze Adichi’s character’s Ifemelu’s journey to America and back home to Nigeria as narrated in Americanah is full of adventures and lovers and analysis and makes for a thoroughly absorbing and thought-provoking novel. I love Ifemelu, her inventive life and wit and language and the fresh perspective on this country she brings to every page. I don’t think it’s a perfect book, but I wouldn’t trade in a word of it. It took me away.
The Rapist is an excellent title for Les Edgerton’s wonderful and terrifying novella, but don’t expect a simple and lurid crime tale. Truman Ferris Pinter is no ordinary criminal. Even if we’re not the rapist, we’re all trying to hide something. Edgerton seems to suggest that it’s no use, that we’re all the unreliable narrators of our own lives, all defilers of truth who must pay somehow, somewhen. Not a pleasant notion, but when you finish The Rapist, you’ll feel as if there’s a truth in it you can’t avoid, no matter how much you’d love to.
My name is Serene Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. … Within eighteen months … I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover …
No author gets into his/her characters’ minds more deeply and thoroughly than McEwan, and so deeply and thoroughly does he accomplish that feat here that it’s almost as if he decided as a writing challenge to outdo even himself. And you won’t know the significance of that last comment till the very end, which I will not reveal here in the interests of protecting your enjoyment.