Top 10 Books Of The Year – 2016- Part 1 (10-6)

In 2016 I managed to read 80 books which is the most I have ever read in one year.  (Last year’s total was 67 and my best ever year (2013) I read 72.  So, although I’m very pleased with myself it has proved to be much harder to come up with just 10 for my annual review of my year in books.  Anything that doesn’t make the top 10 gets culled from the bookshelves or off the Kindle so I’ve had to put much deliberation into this and come up with a list of ten books with only one author having made my top 10 on a previous occasion.  Unusually for me all of the chosen books are fiction. 7 of the 10 were authors whose work I have never read before  and there’s some debut novels in there as well.  I haven’t restricted myself to those authors whose works were published in 2016.  If I read it this year then it’s in the mix.  Last year 6 out of my 10 were published in 2015 and this year 50% of them were published in 2016, showing how exciting publishing still is and that there’s still great books coming out every month.  44 out of the 80 books I read this year were 2016 publications- a considerably higher percentage than ever before.  The only thing I have read less of is re-reads.  I’ve only revisited four books this year.  I’ve selected the very best of these which I will announce in two posts time.  There’s a satisfactory 50/50 split gender-wise on my list and all of the 10 have been reviewed on this site- click on the titles to link to the full review.

10. Jonathan Dark Or The Evidence Of Ghosts – A K Benedict (Orion 2016) (Read and reviewed in February)

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An audacious, brave blend of modern crime, ghost story and fantasy which really works.  I thought/think that this has the potential to become a big seller but perhaps it has been difficult to market its genre-busting appeal.  I love this book for both its strengths and flaws.

9. The Lost Europeans – Emanuel Litvinoff (Apollo 2016 )(Read in May and reviewed in June)

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In 2016 Apollo republished 8 of “the best books you’ve never heard of” and this debut originally from 1958 by a London born writer was the pick of the bunch.  Post war Berlin is brought alive through paranoia and guilt.

 

 

8. Miss Jane – Brad Watson (Picador 2016) (Read in September.  Reviewed in November)

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Set in early twentieth century Mississippi this tale of rural survival sparkles because of the title character.  Miss Jane, because of an anatomical defect is an outsider yet shines through.  Probably the character I was most willing on to better things this year. Beautifully understated.

 

7. The High Mountains Of Portugal – Yann Martel (Canongate 2016) (Read and reviewed in January)

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Martel’s “The Life Of Pi” was my 7th favourite book of 2003 and was even better on a re-read.  Thirteen years on and he’s here  at number 7 again and I expect that this will also re-read very well.  Three stories, all of which are quite bonkers, two exceptionally charming (still not too sure to make of the middle section).  Martel has me believing the unbelievable- the mark of a great storyteller.

6. The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox- Maggie O’Farrell (Headline 2006) (Read in January.  Reviewed in April)

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Many thanks to newbooks who decided to have a Maggie O’Farrell retrospective prompting me to seek out this author via this extraordinary novel I had missed out on.  I sat on this review for quite a while because I didn’t know quite how to put my feelings about this book into words. I made it one of my 100 Essential reads.  It’s beautifully written and I am so looking forward to catching up with this author’s back catalogue.

 

 

Next post – The Top 5, includes a twentieth century classic, a translation, a debut, a Booker Shortlister and a literary award winner.

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100 Essential Books – The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox- Maggie O’Farrell (Headline 2006)

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When I discovered that newbooks magazine would be having a Maggie O’Farrell retrospective (nb 88- available now from here) I thought I would go some way to putting right the oversight which means that up until now I had not read any of her books.  I found her 4th novel dating from 2006 sitting on the local  library shelves and although this was my first Maggie O’Farrell it will not be the last.

Esme has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for over sixty years.  When the hospital is due for closure her grand-niece who has never heard of Esme’s existence takes responsibility.  This is a beautifully written novel imbued throughout with a sense of what might have been.  Esme’s life before her time in hospital flashbacks through her mind, her sister Kitty’s thoughts ramble in the haze of Alzheimer’s and Iris, the niece, has her own issues holding her back.

It is a novel of restraint, both in how the characters have been held back by their circumstances and the spare effective style.  I felt completely captivated by Esme’s unpredictability and her personal tragedies and was horrified by her family’s ignorance and ill-treatment of her .O’Farrell builds the story beautifully and the plot twists and turns are shocking yet realistic.  Motives and actions that might seem far-fetched in the hands of less talented writers are made convincingly plausible. I found it very difficult to put the book down and the catastrophe of Esme’s needless sixty year hospitalisation will stay with me for some time.

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I love an author willing to let a cat in on the act!

Maggie O’Farrell is from Northern Ireland and currently lives in Edinburgh.  She won the Costa Best Novel award in 2010 for “The Hand That First Held Mine”.  In 2013 she was shortlisted for the same prize for “Instructions For A Heatwave”.  Her latest novel “This Must Be The Place” is published in May 2016.  I have some catching up to do.

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The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox was published in 2006.  I read the hardback published by Headline.  The paperback is published by Tinder Press.