Happy New Year, everyone!
So here we are at the end of another year, and I always like putting up a post of my best reads. Partly I like it because I hope someone out there will be happy to read it, but mostly, I think, it's interesting for me to look back and see the whole year in retrospect.
The first thing that struck me, looking back through my posts, is how relatively few books I have reviewed this year. This doesn't mean that I've been reading less, but I have certainly got more selective about what I actually write about. Luckily, for the purposes of the present exercise, I always review books I've really loved, so what got left out wouldn't have appeared on this list anyway.
The next thing I noticed was that I have read so much more contemporary fiction this year. For a long time my reading was pretty much centred anywhere between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, so lots and lots of Viragos and Persephones. I haven't made any sort of conscious decision to move forward in time, and you'll still see a couple of 19th century classics and one stunning Persephone on the list, but it's been fun coming closer to the present day.
So, without more ado, here's my top ten for 2013. They are actually in descending order of when I read them, not of how much I liked them, though The Goldfinch would have been number one either way. The links should take you to the full reviews.
This was not only my top read of 2013, but undoubtedly one of the best novels I have ever read. Does that sound excessive? Probably, but I do think it's true. It left me wondering if I'd ever find anything that would remotely measure up.
This one came as a complete surprise. I had never heard of it, and ordered it on a whim when the publisher had a sale on. It was brilliant -- dark, funny and tragic all at once. A first novel by a writer who hasn't produced one since. I shall be looking for her next, if she ever writes another.
A birthday present, this one, and another surprise. I'd never even heard of Jane Gardham, though I now know she is a well-known and very celebrated novelist. I loved every minute, and also loved the two others in what turned out to be a trilogy.
A Jane Austen spin-off, something I usually avoid. But this is so clever and so readable -- Pride and Prejudice seen from the perspective of the servants. I liked it a lot and look forward to the supposedly forthcoming movie.
The only non-fiction on the list -- and probably one of the only non-fiction books I've read this year. A terrific account of the lives and exploits of a group of well known novelists in London during World War Two. Evokes the period wonderfully, and so interesting to read the background stories behind some of the novels I've read and loved.
I wasn't sure how much I'd like this one -- I absolutely love Kate Atkinson's Case Histories series, but had not been so taken with her earlier novels. This one is a cracker, though -- fascinating, unusual, a great read.
Persephone kindly sent me this one, and I was bowled over by Helen Hull's beautiful prose and subtle, complex observation of her characters and their feelings. I described it as 'a novel about love, about marriage, about parenting, about families -- but also about the melting pot of America, about social class, about morality and about belief' -- great stuff.
I guess one reason I have reviewed a bit less this year is that I spent months reading Trollope's extremely long novels. The Barsetshire series, of which this is the last, are all so good that it was hard to pick a favourite, but this was probably it. It's certainly a page-turning, nail-biting read, with one of the most brilliant, infuriating, tragic characters at its centre.
After Barsetshire, I couldn't give up Trollope, so I went on to the Palliser series, which, generally, I liked less. But I did love Phineas Finn, who is such a delightful character. His endless love affairs, or at least attempted love affairs, take up much of the plot, but I found myself surprisingly fascinated by mid-19th-century politics. Excellent novel.
I spent the early part of this year on a William Boyd fest. Having got his most recent novel, Waiting For Sunrise, as a Christmas present, I wanted more, and went on to this one. It's a thriller of sorts, but such an intelligent and interesting one, full of strange characters and unusual situations. Lovely.
So -- I wonder what books 2014 has in store. Let's hope it won't be a disappointment after what seems to me to have been a particularly good year.