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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The High Mountains Of Portugal – Yann Martel (Canongate 2016)

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Over fourteen years after his crowd-pleasing Booker Prize winning “Life Of Pi” it looks as if Canadian author Yann Martel is back on top form with his latest novel.  He is a great story teller and like all great storytellers he is able to draw us in by weaving a tale which is surreal, believably unbelievable and manages to feel both real and allegorical.

The book is divided into three sections with three different time-spans.  Both the first and third feature extraordinary journeys which Martel has already shown us with “Life Of Pi” that this is an area where he excels.  The first section “Homeless” is set at the start of the twentieth century where a grief-stricken man whose loss has caused him to walk backwards begins a car journey into the High Mountains of Portugal.  He has borrowed one of the first cars and many of the villagers he encounters have never seen one before.  Add to this Tomas has no idea how to drive or control the car and you get a tale which is laugh-out loud funny.  I think anyone who enjoys the preposterous humour of books such as “The 100 Year Old Man Who Man Who Climbed Out The Window” will lap this up.

There’s a change of tone and time in the second section “Homeward”.  It’s the early hours of New Year’s Day 1939 and a Portuguese pathologist is working late,  This is a very dark, surreal section which posits Agatha Christie as a new apostle!

In the third immensely likeable section “Home” there is a modern day journey from Canada to Portugal with a grieving politician and a chimpanzee.  If this all sounds bonkers, well it is, but it’s also captivating.  Martel is great at putting pictures into the reader’s head.  One way of achieving this is by lists of nouns which can imbue his writing with a deceptive simplicity.  The characters (like Pi) all tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves and so are often disarmingly charming.  The three sections do tie together, although when reading them it seems unlikely that they will.  There are echoes of each section throughout which is both skilful and impressive.

I’m actually usually resistant to this type of tall tale but Martel has the ability to draw me in.  If you are involved in a reading group this would be an ideal choice as there are so many layers to discuss and so many possible interpretations for those who want to see it as something other than a rollicking good read.  When the film of “Life Of Pi” was released I re-read the book not believing that it had won me over, so odd is the concept, and it was even better on a re-read.  And this, I think, might very well be the case for this book.  If I tell you I enjoyed this more than my first read of “Life Of Pi” you will appreciate that this is very much a book to look out for.

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The High Mountains Of Portugal is published by Canongate in February 2016.  Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance review copy.