I read some amazing books in 2017, both new and old. But it was also a year tinged with considerable disappointment.
First, the good news.
George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo was my favourite new book of the year and I’m thrilled to see it bringing in the awards – including the Man Booker. Nominated for the Booker too was Moshin Hamid’s Exit West, a powerful fable for our times, and the other standout new novel of my reading year.
A special mention too must go to The Town, the debut novel from my good friend Shaun Prescott. It is objectively excellent, and it’s a delight to see that it’s been picked up internationally.
Other new books I enjoyed included Tom Rachman’s Basket of Deplorables, a return to the interlinked short fiction of his stellar debut, The Imperfectionists. Naomi Alderman’s The Power also heralds the arrival of a smart new feminist literary genre writer in the vein of Margaret Atwood.
Some older books also delighted. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day is every but the masterpiece it’s made out to be, and it was a wonderful surprise to see him win the Nobel Prize for Literarture last year. Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan is now most definitely on my radar after I read and enjoyed his Vengenace is Mine, All Others Pay Cash. On the genre side, John Langan’s The Fisherman and Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest were great – although very different – modern horror novels.
Now for those disappointments.
Some of my favourite authors released books this year that just didn’t measure up to their best work. Richard Flanagan had an almost impossible task to follow up his masterful The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but he fell well short with First Person. Jeffrey Eugenides and Elizabeth Strout both released patchy short story collections; Arundhathi Roy’s long-awaited second novel was painfully overwritten; and the same can be said for Salman Rushdie’s Golden House, which was far from the return-to-form that was promised. And John Darnielle’s follow up to The Wolf in White Van – Universal Harvester – was confused and unsatisfying.
What’s more, much of 2017’s acclaimed literary fiction left me a little cold. In 2018, I’m going to try to be more circumspect about the literary hype-machine.
I conclude with some housekeeping. You’ll be hearing a little less from me in 2018. Reading will be taking something of a backseat to writing, as I try to convert some ideas into real projects. So expect roughly half the number of reviews.