It is a Top Twelve list this year instead of a Top Ten list. Perhaps I should use a little less exacting care in selecting the fiction I read, so it would be easier to narrow my favorites down.
Click on the book cover to see my original review.
1. ‘Dublinesque’ by Enrique Vila-Matas (2010) – The age of print is over; we are streaming into a new age. A publisher and a few of his writer friends decide to hold a funeral for the Print Age. What better time and place to hold the requiem than in Dublin, Ireland on Bloomsday, June 21 ?
2. ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante (2014) – The saga of those two girls, Lenu and Lila, from Naples continues. The girls are in their twenties in Part III. This story from Italy in the 1970s is told with an intense angry passion.
3. ‘The Known World’ by Edward P. Jones (2003) – By focusing on a black slave owner, Edward P. Jones avoids turning this novel into a morality play of good and evil. There is no one preaching. The matter-of-fact tone only intensifies the reader’s reaction to this story.
4. ‘The Voyage’ by Murray Bail (2012) – Here is a novel that sails merrily on its way, stubbornly original and idiosyncratic. A piano designer from Sydney, Australia brings his piano to Vienna, like taking coal to Newcastle. The novel can be considered an homage to Thomas Bernhard.
5. ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (2013) Unlike Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vasquez sees nothing magical in Colombia’s recent history, only violence and cruelty. This is a moving novel of how ordinary Colombians got caught up in the vicious cocaine empire of Pablo Escobar.
6. ‘The Other Language’ stories by Francesca Marciano (2014) – Here are stories that set you down in another person’s circumstances so well that you become that person and see the world through their eyes.
7. ‘Euphoria’ by Lily King (2014) – Inspired by the fieldwork of Margaret Mead on the island of New Guinea, ‘Euphoria’ is an exciting mix of the romantic, the erotic, and the intellectual. The anthropologists are there to study the mating habits of the tribal people, yet it’s their own love triangle that consumes them.
8. ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Richard Flanagan (2014) – The prisoners of war held by the Japanese during World War II are used as slave labor to build a railroad from Thailand to Burma. The story is told from the perspective of doctor and officer Dorrigo Evans, an Australian prisoner.
9. ‘The Hired Man’ by Aminatta Forna (2013) – Here is a novel of modern Croatia, a country which is positioned well to become a world-class tourist destination but is still haunted by troubles from its recent past. ‘The Hired Man’ reminds me of ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro.
10. ‘Wittgenstein Jr.’ by Lars Iyer (2014) – Here is a humorous novel about a philosophy class at Cambridge University which is taught by an instructor whom the students call ‘Wittgenstein Jr.’ in partial derision. He is an unforgettable character.
11. ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a novel of child-like wonder which captures the miracles of nature in short breathtakingly beautiful sentences. We also get the parallel stories of a blind girl growing up in France and a scientific boy growing up in Germany before and during World War II.
12. ‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott (2012) – This is brutal noir crime fiction disguised as a high school novel. Megan Abbott nails the visceral intensity of girls’ high school cheerleading.