Last year was the year of the short story with six entries either short story collections or novels made up of linked stories. This year the novel returns with a vengeance with no short story fiction in the list at all. This list is not a random list; it is a ranked list with #1 my number 1 choice, #2 my number 2 choice, etc.
These are the same rules as last year. I’m restricting the Top 10 list to books which were published since 2000 and then listing afterwards a few of the older books which I found rewarding during the year. Like last year, I don’t think the newly published fiction should have to compete with time-tested classics.
Here is the Top Ten list.
1. “The Old Romantic” by Louise Dean (2010) – This novel is a wicked joy with the meanest and sharpest dialogue of the year.
2. “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles (2011) – I guarantee that this most charming of novels will make you wish you were in New York City in 1937-38.
3. “Room” by Emma Donoghue (2010) - What can I say that hasn’t already been said? A five-year old boy and his mother locked in ‘Room’.
4. “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes (2011) – A London schoolboy grows up and learns not to trust the life story he’s been telling himself for many years.
5. “Swamplandia” by Karen Russell (2011) - A delightful story of the BigTree family and their alligator wrestling amusement park in Florida.
6. “We the Animals” by Justin Torres (2011) – A dramatic family story that has a visceral impact which will leave you thinking about your own family.
7. “Netsuke” by Rikki DuCornet (2011) – A novella of relentless sexual obsession from the viewpoint of the guilty party.
8. “The Tragedy of Arthur” by Arthur Phillips (2011) – If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then this humorous novel flatters William Shakespeare..
9. “In the Garden of Beasts” by Eric Larson (2011) – Not fiction, a “novelistic history”; a story of love, terror, and a United States family in Hitler’s Berlin.
10. “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” by Heidi W. Durrow (2010) – A compelling original coming-of-age story that takes place in both Chicago and Portland.
Now as promised here are some excellent novels I read in 2011 that were first published before the year 2000.
“cloudstreet” by Tim Winton (1991) – The crowd-pleasing wild story of two Australian families, the Pickles and the Lambs, who share the same house.
“After Claude” by Iris Owens (1973) - Perhaps the bitchiest novel ever written about an anti-heroine named Harriet.
“Hard Rain Falling” by Don Carpenter (1966) – A tough realistic novel about two young guys in Portland, Oregon who are outside society, outside the law.
“The Vet’s Daughter” by Barbara Comyns (1959) – A unique primitive novel about the veterinarian from Hell and the rest of the family.
“The True Deceiver” by Tove Jansson (1982) – A simple menacing novel which is like a cold dark morning in Finland.