Top 10 Books Of The Year -Part 2 (The Top 5)

Without any further ado here are the five books that did it for me in 2015.  To find the full reviews please click on the titles

5. Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (Scribner 2016) (Read and reviewed in September)

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This is the one that should have made the progression from the Booker longlist to the shortlist.  An astonishing debut.  It’s 1920s Alabama and a plan to bring electricity to Roscoe Martin’s farm goes badly wrong.  It’s the second tale of rural survival on my list but is imbued throughout with hope -throughout the darkest moments there’s hope and Reeves conveys this beautifully.

4. His Bloody Project – Graeme  Macrae Burnet  (Saraband 2015) (Read and reviewed in August)

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My pick of the Booker Prize shortlist.  Published by a tiny Scottish independent this was one that would have slipped through my net had it not had the Booker nod.  A historical novel that reads like true crime is an interesting concept but what makes this special is the real feel of the crofting community of the Scottish highlands in 1869 through  a prison journal, witness statements, official documents and court transcripts. Sold well after its Booker recognition but a win would have turned this into one of the year’s big books.  It is certainly a big book in my opinion.

3.Black Narcissus – Rumer Godden (Virago 1939) (Read in June and reviewed in August)

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Love the film but have never actually got round to reading the book.  Neurotic nuns up a mountain – what’s not to love?  I wasn’t sure if Godden would have been able to convey the technicolour lushness of the film but she certainly does.  Hopefully in 2017 I’ll be able to seek out more by her.

2. Life After Life – Kate Atkinson  (Doubleday 2013) (Read in April and reviewed in May)

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2013 Costa Novel award winner. I am the last one around to read this?  Structurally superb, risking accusations of style over substance but producing a novel which is both technically surprising and first class. “Practice makes perfect” is a theme of the novel and Atkinson here gets close to perfection.

Time for the long silence before the winner is announced (oh, can’t do long silences on a blog so I’ll get straight on with it .The reviewsrevues Book Of The Year 2016 is……….

1.  Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (Scribe 2016) (Read and reviewed in May)

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In any other year there could have been as many as three Wieringa novels in my Top 10 as the other two I have read are hovering outside the Top 10 and are both very good.  This is also how I felt last year with his “These Are The Names” published by Scribe and which saw them embarking on a programme to of bringing out his earlier Dutch novels translated by Sam Garrett. A 2009 debut this was apparently the biggest ever selling Dutch debut in his homeland and it deserves a huge audience here.  A coming-of-age novel about Frankie, who has survived a horrific accident and becomes swept up by the antics of newcomer Joe Speedboat.  Like all the best books it provokes a myriad of emotions- it is touching, unpredictable, outrageous and laugh out loud funny.  Scribe have been a great support to this blogger this year, but there’s certainly no favouritism.  This book has reached my summit on merit.

This is the second year I have gone for a book in translation for my top pick.  Last year’s Top 5 can be found here.  I have probably read more translated novels this year but that is because of authors such as Tommy Wieringa.  If there is a pattern, and I wouldn’t have said there was, but looking at my ten titles I can see that there may very well be one, it is to make my top 10, authors, set your novels in the past.  I wouldn’t have said I was a great historical novel fan but this list suggests otherwise… We’ll see what 2017 conjures up.  Bring it on!

As I read a lot more books this year than I normally do there are a number of titles that I feel bad about missing out on my Top 10 – so here are a few special mentions for recent publications.  The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale, Hot Milk-Deborah Levy, The Double Life Of Kit Kavanagh- Marina Fiorato, Eileen -Otessa Moshfegh, Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeliene Thien,  Rembrandt’s Mirror- Kim Devereux, Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker ( incidentally a nominee for the newbooks Book Noir book of the year) , Angel Of Highgate – Vaughn Entwistle, Himself- Jess Kidd (the last four authors I have had the great pleasure of interviewing this year- always one of my personal highspots of reviewsrevues.com)

In my next post I’ll honour the re-read that gave me the most pleasure this year.

See my Top 10 Books Part 1 – numbers 10-6 here

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Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (2016) – A Man Booker Longlist Review

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I’m sure that debut novels must have a tougher battle to get onto the Man Booker longlist.  Without an established author reputation they would really have to shine to stand out from the pack.  And here is one shining example.  American author Reeves has set this haunting tale in 1920’s Alabama and has created many moments that will certainly stick in my mind.

Roscoe Martin is married to a farmer’s daughter and on her father’s death is expected to take over the running of the land.  This is not in his blood and he finds himself taking out his frustration on his wife and young son.  That is until he thinks of a way of combining his passion for electricity with saving the family business.  He decides to illegally bring power to the farm by tapping into existing power sources.  He drafts in sceptical African-American help Wilson and the two change the fortunes of the farm.  Temporarily.  Tragedy and incarceration ensue and the tale is told in two narratives- a third person relating the events and a first person from Roscoe in prison.   Sometimes a story will just draw you in by having that something extra special.  I’m not sure if it is the unpredictability of Reeves’ plot, the vivid characterisation or readers’ sympathies being all over the place but this was one book I did not want to end.

There’s the harshness of rural life in Alabama and the prison existence  but throughout there is hope.  Hope that Martin will get through his sentence by balancing the grimmer work with stints in the diary and library, hope that his family will stay together and that he will eventually have something to go home for.  Throughout the darkest moments Reeves brings that hope into play, for example  an act of human kindness or a character’s relationship with a dog, and that provides a balance which makes this really work.  For me the two strongest I’ve read so far on the Man Booker longlist have been debut novels set in the past (see also review of His Bloody Project).  These are major new talents who deserve much recognition and a wide reading audience.

Update:  I am very surprised not to see this on the shortlist which was announced this week.  It’s a very good book …………

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Work Like Any Other was published in  April 2016 by Scribner.