This the first of three posts listing my tops reads of 2011. Basically anything read between Jan 1st and Dec 31st 2011 is eligible regardless of publication date. Here are the five best novels I read this year:
The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
Thought it was about time I read this and very glad I did. Part humourous romp, part social satire, Wells’ control of plot and pacing, along with a great eye for eccentric characters makes this a new favourite book of mine, not just of this year.
Last Night In Twisted River – John Irving
John Irving’s latest is a return to form after a string (to this reader anyway) of disappointing novels. Features a lot of Irving tropes, most notably a single parent/only child relationship and a death by baseball related shenanigans, while the story is suffused with a sense of impending loss, and the ending twists the reader’s expectations with just the right amount of tragedy, just the right amount of hope. Reminded me what is great about Irving.
The Motel Life – Willy Vlautin
Willy Vlautin’s debut reads like the perfect extension of the downbeat narratives that populate the songs he writes for Richmond Fontaine, his equally brilliant Americana band. This hard luck story of two rootless brothers pissing their lives away in Reno motels has been compared, justifiably so in my opinion, to Steinbeck. Stories told by Frank to brother Jerry Lee are Vlautin’s take on George and Lennie’s dream in Of Mice & Men. Like Steinbeck’s masterpiece, the hope here gives way to tragedy, though Vlautin never truly abandons his protagonist, allowing Frank a glimmer of hope by the closing lines. A fragile glimmer.
A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
Egan’s novel/short fiction collection (delete as applicable) is that rarest of beasts the accessible prize winning novel. Much has been made of the innovative structuring of the novel to reflect the key theme, time’s passing and its effects, the use of a different narrative style for each chapter, perspective shifting focus across the ensemble cast as the reader moves through the book and the chapter in powerpoint elsewhere. A Visit From The Goon Squad is engaging, powerful and thought-provoking at every turn. So good, in fact, it’s gone straight back on my ‘to read’ pile for re-reading soon.
Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller
Having watched the movie adaptation of this and not being particularly engaged by it despite Judi Dench’s typically brilliant performance, I was a little disheartened to find the book on my MA reading list. I figured best to get it over with and read it in the run up to the course start date and was pleasantly surprised. The book just works where the movie, for me, didn’t. It’s success is entirely due to the brilliance of the narrative voice, all the events filtered through the unreliable, bitter, middle-aged narrator, Barbara. A classic example of how a book can do so much more to engage the reader than film. I didn’t like Barbara but her voice and her ‘story’ gripped me, even with my already knowing the plot. I’m currently writing about this for my first MA essay and am being constantly reminded by how brilliant Heller’s novel is. Easily the best book I read this year.
What were your best novels of 2011?
3 Responses to Top reads of 2011 – Novels
Andrea Levy – The Long Song (a prequel to Small Island, with observations about colonialism told without making a judgement)
Jhumpa Lahiri – short stories, does that count? I love her cultural-contrast ideas.
Colm Toibin – Brooklyn. Told with no internal monologue at all! A young Irishwoman tries to settle in New York.
Paul Thoday – Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. One of the funniest books I’ve read for years.
Anne Tyler – Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant – so understated.
Anne Tyler very nearly made my top five. Brooklyn is sitting on my Kindle awaiting my attention. Will have to give the Andrea Levy and Paul Thoday a look, thanks for the tip. The Jhumpa Lahiri collection made my list of short fiction collections. It’ll be up on this blog tomorrow.
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