I am continuing my countdown of my favourite books I read in 2018.
5. House Of Stone – Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Atlantic 2018) Read and reviewed in November
Another title (like Claire Hajaj’s #8 rated novel) that I would never have come across if it were not for the good folks at nb magazine who sent me a copy to help out with the longlisting for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards. The shortlist is due to be announced this month and this is one title that certainly should be up for serious consideration as for me it was the best debut novel I read and narrowly misses out on being my favourite novel published in 2018. Zimbabwe born Tshuma is a real storyteller and here tells the history of the last fifty years of her homeland using an unreliable narrator who plots his way through and manipulates the other characters. I said of it “Along the way there are some brilliantly memorable characters and writing often outstanding in its vibrancy and power. The horrors are not at all shied away from but there are also moments of great humour and to put at the centre the dark machinations of the narrator is a stroke of genius. It’s a prime example of how a location can be seamlessly embedded into a plot and used to inform and enrich.” This is unlikely to be as easy to find as some of the works on this list but is definitely worth seeking out.
4. Ladder To The Sky – John Boyne (Doubleday 2018) – Read in June, reviewed in July
A great year for books with ladders in the titles (cf: Anne Tyler’s # 6 rated book). Irish author John Boyne reached the top of my personal book ladder last time round with his outstanding “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” and this, his latest, is almost as good. Novels about writers tend to not be as good as they think they are but this look at the publishing industry with its emphasis on the creative process and the ownership of ideas is extremely strong. I said “this is a beautifully balanced book, another complete package, which offers a tremendous variety for the reader with humour, tragedy, twists, crime and moral dilemmas all present to form a heady brew.” For the second year running John Boyne has produced the best novel of the year published in the year I read it.
3. Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan (Square Peg 2018)- Read and reviewed in March
My favourite non-fiction read of the year. I’d highlighted this as one I really wanted to discover before publication and I was certainly not in anyway disappointed. In fact, I enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated. Lucy Mangan explores the reading material of her childhood in a superb “book about books”. I said of it; “Thank you Lucy Mangan. This book has brought me so much pleasure. I have relished every word, laughed out loud and been bathed in a warm, nostalgic glow which has made me late back from tea breaks and almost missing bus stops.” I don’t think there can be much higher praise! I have recommended this book so many times this year and will continue to do so.
2. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne (Definition 2006) – Read in September, reviewed in October
I actually had this sat on my bookshelves for quite a few years unread. I’d seen the film but I was so enthralled by Boyne’s “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” that I had to explore a bit of his back catalogue and read this, his most famous work. He really is a great find for me as an author and got very close to doing the unprecedented and being named the author of the Book Of The Year for a second year running. In fact, everything I had read by this writer has been a five star read with his 2015 children’s novel “The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain“, pretty much a companion piece to this just missing out on the Top 10 this year because of the number of outstanding books I’ve read (the other non-Top 10 5 star read was Kate Atkinson’s “A God In Ruins“). Bruno is relocated with his family away from the grandparents he loved to a house in the grounds of a place he believes is called “Out-with” peopled by men and boys in pyjamas behind a wire fence. Painfully sad and extremely powerful and an essential read, even if you have seen the film.
And the reviewsrevues book of the year for 2018 goes to:
1.The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (Penguin 1845) – Read and reviewed in December
I’m sure that this is just coincidence but for the second year running the Book Of The Year has been the very last book I’ve read. I don’t think this is because I forget the books I’ve read earlier in the year because I do carefully go through everything, it may be because I’m keen to fit in a book which has the potential to be a big-hitter before the new year dawns and this was certainly a big-hitter in every sense of the word. It took me a month to get through the 1200+ pages but it was certainly time well spent as it introduced me to a classic novel dominated by a fascinating character which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Brought to life in a vibrant translation by Robin Buss and recommended to me by my friend Louise, whose mission is to get everyone to reading this book. I certainly now think she has a point.
I’ve never read Dumas before and I’m certainly looking forward to reading more and he is a deserved addition to my awards list. Dumas becomes my first French author to join my ultimate favourites and the fourth translated work. It is the best nineteenth century novel I have read since I read “Jane Eyre” in 2000. Here is my Hall of Fame for the past 11 years:
2018- The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1845) (France)
2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)
2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)
2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)
2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)
2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)
2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)
2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)
2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)
2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)
2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)
Happy New Year and let’s hope there’s lots of great reading in 2019!
The rest of my Top 10 for this year can be found in my earlier post here