The Top Ten List of Fiction I’ve Read in 2011

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.

That’s all, Folks..

15 responses to this post.

  1. Wow. That’s a list I would like to go through myself, Tony!! I will keep this in mind – thanks for the list again!


  2. Hi Soul Muser,
    It is always fun to go through the year’s books and try to determine which books you liked best. Despite hearing a lot of complaints about the fiction published this year, from my point of view it has been a very good year.


  3. Thanks for this list, Tony — an interesting selection. I’ve only read “Room” from your Top 10 and “cloudstreet” from your additional choices.

    I do keep meaning to read “The Old Romantic” because I know how much you loved it, and given I’ve read her previous book “This Human Season” — which I awarded five stars to — I just know I’m going to enjoy anything she’s written.


  4. Hi Kimbofo,
    One of the books on my list that seems to be on quite a few of the other year-end lists is ‘Swamplandia’ by Karen Russell which is really a fun book to read. I did enjoy all the books on my list, and there are a couple more I would have included if there had been room such as ‘A Crime of Guilty Passion’ by Ron Hanson and ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ by Geraldine Brooks.


  5. The Sense of an Ending and We the Animals are already on my TBR (and I will get to them soon, hopefully). To that, you have many enticements. Most immediately, your number one springs up my TBR. The Old Romantic sounds absolutely delightful and your enthusiasm always means good things for a book and me.

    I have read very little published this year (trying to catch up on so many past greats I have on hand). So, you’ve whet my appetite for getting to these recent works. Thanks!


    • Hi Kerry,
      It was an extremely enthusiastic review of ‘The Old Romantic’ by Tom in the Common Reader that caused me to read that novel in the first place. When I completed the novel I was as enthusiastic as Tom was, and I still can’t figure out why it wasn’t even longlisted for the Man Booker.
      Every year there are excellent works of fiction published, not necessarily the ones which get the most publicity right away.


  6. A fascinating list providing ample scope for some amazoning. Glad you put The Old Romantic first – it really was rather good wasn’t it. I like your review of In the Garden of Beasts – I ordered it from the library and for some reason didn’t write a review of it, but it is very good.

    Now, to think of my own top ten . . .


    • Hi Tom,
      The ‘Beasts’ book is probably only the third time I’ve allowed a non-fiction book on my end-of-year list. The other two times were a book by Primo Levi and ‘Goodbye to All That’ by Robert Graves which was just too good to leave off.


  7. I’ve put your top two on my January order list — given that a previous list of yours introduced me to Maile Meloy, you have a very high credibility rating. I trust it will continue — 🙂 .

    Happy holidays!


  8. Hi Kevin,
    I’m extremely happy that you attach such credibility to my list. ‘The Rules of Civility’ seems to be making a bigger splash on the West Coast of the United States than on the East Coast being on both the LA Times and the SF Chronicle best seller lists. On Amazon they always mention ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain as a similar book, so I might get that one soon too.
    I’ll be eagerly watching 12/19 for your end-of-year list.


  9. […] time. Which is why I happily follow in the steps of Wood, Coetzee and others, here, here, here, here and here. Theirs are very good lists by the way. Much better than mine so please pay them a […]


  10. Great list Tony … sound like I should read The old romantic. I still haven’t got to The room, but will be reading Sense of an ending this year. I’ve read another book by Larson – Isaac’s storm – and loved it. Would love to read more of his. Good reading to you in 2012!


    • Hi Whispering Gums,
      Isaac’s Storm – not familiar with that one. He is famous for ‘The Devil in the White City’.


      • Yes, I’ve been wanting to read The devil … Isaac’s storm is about that big storm in Galveston in 1900. It’s stunningly written (I think!).


      • I had forgotten who Larson was. I thought The Devil in the White City was very well-done and engaging. Creepy too. I will have to bump In the Garden of Beasts up several spots. (Your recommendations automatically go on the longlist TBR.)



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