Hi everyone! I still can’t quite believe we are in the final days of 2017. The year seems to have flown by. After reading other top 10 lists, I decided that my final post of this year will be a look back at my favourites and I can start 2018 with some new reviews.
Before I start I should mention that the books here are ones I read for the first time in 2017, and were not necessarily published this year. I also started my blog in May meaning there is one book on this list that doesn’t have a review and, finally, the numbers 10 – 2 are randomly ranked as I just couldn’t decide between them. However number 1 is my favourite book of 2017.
I will shut up now and dive into the books!
10. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
This is The Daily Show’s host reflecting on growing up in the final years and immediate aftermath of apartheid. He tackles serious issues, such as racism and domestic abuse, yet there are other stories of happiness and hope. His mother is a very admirable woman and their relationship seems to be the driving force behind the book.
I found the memoirs incredibly readable, with Noah successfully explaining the laws of apartheid in a clear and concise way. Even if you are not familiar with South African history it is still an easy book to follow. Despite the horrors depicted within, it is also incredibly funny and witty. If you have seen Noah’s stand-up you may know some of the stories here, but there are plenty of new ones so it doesn’t feel like a regurgitation of his set. Overall I found Born a Crime a very enjoyable read.
9. All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy
Set in the Deep South our protagonist is teenager John Grady Cole. Hearing that the ranch he has lived on all his life is to be sold, he runs away to Mexico with his best friend Lacey Rawlins. Along the way they befriend another boy, Jimmy Blevins, and the novel follows the three of them and their adventures in this new, strange land.
This is probably one of the most beautifully written books I read in 2017. The final image in particular was stunning, and I remember rereading that last paragraph a few times before finally putting the book down. I also admire how McCarthy evokes the sadness of a passing of a way of life but doesn’t make the novel mawkish. It seems more of a tribute to that lifestyle than anything else. The beautiful language and imagery catapulted All the Pretty Horses to my favourites this year.
8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
Capote’ famous novella centres around a brownstone apartment building in 1940s New York. Our narrator is reminiscing about his time with his downstairs neighbour, the vivacious Holly Golightly.
Again the language used here is beautiful. The word choice appears so simple but there is plenty of meaning and depth when you reflect further. It is a well-crafted novella with not a word wasted. The characters as well I found really well done, in particular Holly Golightly. She could so easily have slipped into the trope of Manic Pixie Dream Girl however Capote gives her enough personality that she never does. While I was not particularly enamoured with the short stories in my edition, the novella more than makes up for them.
7. The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet
In a sleepy backwater town in France the waitress Adele Bedeau goes missing. Assigned to track her down is Inspector Georges Gorski, who is still plagued by an unsolved murder years previously. We also follow Manfred Baumann, a regular at the restaurant Adele works for and who may know more than what he tells Gorski.
I found this a very gripping literary thriller. Macrae Burnet has written so many twists and turns into the narrative it is hard guessing what has happened. Yet the disappearance of Adele seems to act as a simple plot device, as a way for us to read about Baumann and Gorski. The characterisation of the two of them is brilliant, and you start to notice the parallels between them. The ending as well I thought was great. This was an excellent first novel for the Gorski series to start with and hopefully I will pick up the sequel in 2018.
6. Lara – Anna Pasternak
My most recent read and one I think will probably go up in my estimations the more I reflect on it. Anna Pasternak tells of the affair between her great-uncle Boris and Olga Ivinskaya, who would become the main inspiration for Lara in Doctor Zhivago. Yet the novel, due to its ‘anti-Soviet’ nature, places their families in danger, with Olga being sent to labour camps in Potma twice.
I think Anna Pasternak has written a very touching tribute to Boris and Olga. Despite all the horrors described in the book, their love is the main force in the story and certainly the thing I remember most. Pasternak also successfully blends in quotes from the people who lived through this period, as well as facts and her own observations. Therefore you get a very well-rounded view of the events taking place, and the thoughts and feelings of those in them. Even if you have never read Doctor Zhivago, this book is still worth checking out.
5. Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
Our narrator is Thomas McNulty who has emigrated to America from Ireland. Here he befriends and falls in love with John Cole, and the novel follows their life together. They start off as dancers at a local bar before joining the army and fighting in both the Indian Wars and later the American Civil War.
I will never understand why this didn’t make the Man Booker shortlist this year. It is simply stunning. Barry tackles a lot of big themes e.g. war, sexuality and love and successfully weaves them into an incredible narrative. His word choice and imagery are extremely evocative, especially when depicting warfare and the aftermath. The characters, particularly Thomas McNulty, are really well-written. You care about these characters and their plights. It has made me want to check out more of Barry’s work.
4. Montpelier Parade – Karl Geary
This is a debut novel following Sonny Knolls who lives quite a downtrodden life in Dublin. He works part-time at a butchers and occasionally helps his builder father. While they are fixing a collapsed wall Sonny meets Vera, a beautiful older woman. The two of them quickly form a relationship but it soon becomes clear that Vera has secrets of her own.
This book nearly had me in tears. I found it an incredibly emotional read. Sonny was such an interesting, sympathetic character that even if he did something wrong you still rooted for him. There was also a frustration that people seemed reluctant to help him better himself. Geary’s writing style was simple but so effective. He also nails the classist attitudes prevalent in society and that is shown through the characters of Sonny and Vera. I’m delighted that the novel is started to receive more attention, and I can’t wait to see what Geary writes next.
3. The Dark Circle – Linda Grant
Set after the Second World War, twins Lenny and Miriam are sent to a sanatorium in Kent after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. There they meet a whole cast of characters of differing age and class. Word starts to spread that a potentially life-saving drug is around the corner, and both the patients and their relatives outside are desperate to get their hands on it.
I think this is my favourite out of all the Bailey’s Prize shortlist books that I’ve read (sorry The Power fans). The characters of Lenny and Miriam have stayed with me since I first read it. In particular, I really loved Lenny’s character development. You watch him go from a teenager to a young man and Grant conveys it brilliantly. You connect to the characters and hope that they can survive their illness. While I’m still unsure about the ending, the characters more than make up for it. There are still passages that I go back and reread.
2. Solar Bones – Mike McCormack
Told in a single sentence, we follow Marcus Conway as he reflects upon his life. He reminisces about his father, as well as his relationships with his wife and children. He also looks back at the political landscape of Ireland, such as elections and the economic crash.
Again I think this was robbed of a place on the Man Booker shortlist. McCormack tells the story of an ordinary man through extraordinary prose. I never found it boring, though I can see why its critics think that. Not a lot happens. But I really enjoyed Marcus’s reflections on his life. He is a very complex character, someone you like and dislike at various points, but his thoughts are always fascinating. I found myself reflecting on my own life and relationships after I had finished.
1. The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
One day Dr Faraday is called to the crumbling Hundreds Hall to attend to a sickly maid. While there he meets the owner Mrs Ayres and her two children, Roderick and Caroline. The maid warns him of a sinister presence in the house and he laughs it off. However increasingly bizarre and spooky events start to occur, events that Faraday struggles to find a reasonable explanation for.
I loved this novel. I don’t know what I have been doing putting off reading it. Waters does a wonderful job of creating suspense, leaving you finishing one chapter and wanting to instantly jump into the next. The characters are also a joy to read. Dr Faraday is a fantastic unreliable narrator and the Ayres family all felt like individuals. There wasn’t a bum note here at all. My praising of this novel probably verges on cringy, which you can read down below.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoy the rest of festive season and I will see you in 2018 for more bookish chat.