Top 10 Books Of The Year – 2018 – Part 1 (10-6)

2018 – 66 books read, which was one down on last year.  It looked like I would beat last year’s total until it took me a month to read the final book.  That seems to be very much around the sort of total that I can manage in a year, apart from 2016 when I managed 80, my 2015 figure was exactly the same as last year.  So, now it is time to whittle those 66 down to the 10 which created the greatest impression.  For the first time ever I’ve awarded more 5 stars than places in the top 10, 12 in fact, which means that two five star reads will not even make my Top 10, which has never happened before because I’m stingy with those five stars.  It just shows how many good books I have read this year.  To complete the breakdown I read 12 five stars, 32 four stars and 22 three stars (2017’s spread was 10/31/26).  Like last year I haven’t read anything I rated below three stars (I think this is because I am better at choosing titles to read) and absolutely everything I read this year has been reviewed on this site.

Where things are different to last year is the publication dates.  Last year the whole top 10 was made up of books published either that year or the year before, here there is a wider spread as I’ve caught up with older books I’ve been meaning to read for ages.  If I read it this year then it’s eligible for a Top 10 placing.  There’s a geographic spread of writers from the UK, US, Europe and Africa and co-incidentally I’m back to the 50-50 gender balance after last year when the women edged ahead.  Unlike last year when all the authors made their first appearance on the list this year three have been celebrated here before and for the first time since 2014 when Peter James appeared twice there is an author who takes up two of the coveted spots (and also just missed out on a third novel making the Top 10).  Last year the list was entirely fiction but we have a bit of non-fiction creeping in for 2018.   If you would like to read the full reviews on this site just click on the link to be taken to the full review.

10. The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass (Vintage 1959) – Read and reviewed in June

the-tin-drumI’m still not sure whether I count this as a re-read or not, for although I know that I started to read it not too far off 40 years ago I’m not sure whether I ever finished it but I put that right this year with a different translation by Breon Mitchell which was authorised for the fiftieth anniversary of this classic of German post-war literature. Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass’ (1927-2015) most famous work.  I said of it “This is an extraordinary novel which at times I loved and at other times felt frustrated or just plain baffled by but it is incredibly powerful and would benefit from countless re-readings.”  As this made my Top 10 I’m allowing myself to hold on to my copy (the books that don’t make this list get culled, unfortunately)  so that re-reading may be sometime within the next 40 years!

9. Dead Man’s Grip – Peter James (Macmillan 2011) – Read and reviewed in February

peterjamesNo stranger to my end of year Top 10, in fact James’ Brighton-set Roy Grace novels have now made it four times from the first seven books in the series.  I felt this was his best yet and yet, because of strong competition he has just crept in the lower reaches of the list.  The other titles to make the list in previous years are the first instalment “Dead Simple” (#3 in 2008), Dead Man’s Footsteps (#10 in 2014) and “Dead Tomorrow” (#3 in 2014).  I also read the 8th book this year “Not Dead Yet”, a four star read but not good enough to do the double for a second time.  Of “Dead Man’s Grip” I said “this really does have everything I look for in a police procedural crime novel.

8. The Water Thief – Claire Hajaj (Oneworld 2018)- Read and reviewed in November

waterthiefI was sent this novel as a potential longlister for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards in their Fiction with a sense of place category and although the location is non-specific Claire Hajaj, in her second novel, creates a vivid picture of African life.  It’s a rich, haunting tale and the author almost brought this tough old reviewer to the verge of tears with superb characterisation and the unfolding of the plot, as gripping as any thriller I have read this year.

7. The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gower (Harvill Secker 2018) – Read and reviewed in May

mrshancockOne of two debut novels to appear in my Top 10 this year. Published early on in 2018 there was a lot of buzz around this book and it made shortlists for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a National Book Award amongst others and has appeared on a number of best of the year lists but has been eclipsed by some of the big hitters of the year.  I thought it was a terrific read and deserved all the accolades it has got.  I loved the first two thirds best before a little fantasy crept in when it read like a right rollicking modern slant on “Vanity Fair”.  I said “This is an ambitious novel which works beautifully.  It’s the kind of gutsy, spirited writing that I love with rich characterisation and a real feel of a love for history and literature.”

6.Ladder Of Years- Anne Tyler (Vintage 1995) -Read and reviewed in March.

tylerladderI have only read two of Anne Tyler’s 22 novels yet they have both appeared in my end of year Top 10 (“A Spool Of Blue Thread was my #3 in 2015 in the year of its publication).  I’m  not even sure I can explain the appeal of this author to me, I wouldn’t have thought that tales of American family life would really strike that much of a chord but I can tell that as I read more of  her novels she is going to appear more and more in my end of year lists.  Here a middle-aged woman who feels her family is taking her for granted just walks away to start a new life- a selfish act, which nevertheless got this reader willing her to succeed. I said “it is just the quality of the writing and the deftness of characterisation that has me hanging on every word, not wanting it to end and that is what makes it a five star read.”  If you haven’t discovered Anne Tyler yet you have a treat in store.

Next post – My Top 5 reads of 2018

The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass (1959)

 

the-tin-drum

This is one of the most celebrated works of Post-War German Literature. Gunter Grass (1927-2015) went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1999 and this is really the novel which is at the centre of his impressive reputation. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this work new translations were commissioned with Grass working very closely with ten translators taking them on location visits to get the flavour of the novel. This English translation by Breon Mitchell is the result and this has very much superseded the translation by Ralph Manheim which served for the book’s first 50 years and which I read as a teenager.

At least I think I did, re-reading it after all these years I’m not totally convinced I ever finished it. Nowadays, I read everything through to its conclusion but I’ve a feeling that the library edition I borrowed back then might have been needed for another reader or that school work got in the way because what seemed very familiar at first, in fact, almost etched into my psyche, got increasingly less familiar as I progressed through this dense, challenging novel. I certainly saw the 1979 film version around the same time and once again images from the film feel exceedingly strong although if pushed I would have no idea how much of the book made it into the film.

tindrumStill from the film

I’d hazard a guess at not much. Grass’ novel is so richly detailed and full of incidents that it would have been overpowering in one cinematic sitting. Originally titled “Die Blechtrommel” this may very well be an allegory for Europe before and after the rise of the Nazis beginning in the beleaguered Free City of Danzig, then under the authority of the League Of Nations shifting to West Germany in the post-war years but for most readers it will be the tale of the boy with the drum.

At the age of three Oskar is given a toy drum by his parents and decides to stop growing. A fall down cellar steps is engineered to explain this. He drums his way through his extended childhood and early adult years as an eternal three year old, who has the power to shatter glass with his high-pitched screams. He drums his way through the growth of the Nazi regime playing under grandstands to disrupt rallies and manipulates situations through his drumming, some so disturbing that by his late twenties he is in a mental institution from where this story of his life is being recorded.

I cannot remember a book so dense in detail (perhaps Paul Auster’s 4-3-2-1 comes close but that has a distinctly different structure) which certainly must have been a challenge for the translator who as well as the details has to get the rhythmic feel of the endless banging of the drum. It is a progression of extraordinary tales, told by an unreliable narrator, rich in characters and events, ranging from amusing to extremely disturbing, even spiteful. I did lose my way a little in the post-war years when Oskar decides to grow a little and becomes a percussionist in a jazz trio where his ability to get listeners at The Onion Club (so named because patrons get an onion to peel which enables them to cry- this to me feels like a novel in itself) to revert back to their childhood through his drumming leads to recording and touring fame. Throughout he does remain the three year old who wishes to hide under his grandmother’s skirts and focus on his obsessions which includes nurses, Rasputin and Goethe alongside the beating to smithereens many tin drums. Still with me?

This is an extraordinary novel which at times I loved and at other times felt frustrated or just plain baffled by but it is incredibly powerful and would benefit from countless re-readings. Having left it close to 40 years since I last encountered the book or the film it might be too late for countless re-readings but I think elements of it will continue to haunt me forever.

fivestars

I read the Vintage paperback 2009 translation by Breon Mitchell.