A Girl Called Pearl, A Year in Books, Alexander Baron, Annabel Abbs, Arturo's Island, City of Secrets, Eimear McBride, Elena Ferrante, Elsa Morante, Emma Cline, Emma Donoghue, Fallen Land, Harper Lee, Javier Marias, Jean Rhys, Jill Dawson, LaRose, Leonard Michaels, Louise Erdrich, Lucia Joyce, Madonna in a Fur Coat, Magda Szabo, Michelle Morgan, News of the World, Patricia Highsmith, Patrick Hamilton, Paulette Jiles, Sabahattin Ali, Sara Taylor, Stewart O'Nan, Sylvia, Taylor Brown, The Beach at Night, The Crime Writer, The Door, The Girls, The Joyce Girl, The Lauras, The Lesser Bohemians, The Lost Daughter, The Wonder, Thus Bad Begins
This extraordinary second novel from Eimear McBride charts the unlikely romance of a young Irish drama student and a world-weary actor, set in gritty, hedonistic North London during the 1990s. Together the lovers confront their demons, and the narrative is both emotionally brutal and often highly erotic.
In Thus Bad Begins, Javier Marias weaves a spellbinding tale of deceit and betrayal; seen through a voyeur’s steamy lens and set against the heady backdrop of post-Franco Madrid, where the rules have changed but the past is never far away.
Louise Erdrich has been writing novels for thirty years, all set on (or nearby) an Indian reservation in North Dakota with many recurring characters. LaRose contains a wealth of luminous storytelling, and although Erdrich’s vision is sometimes harrowing, she also offers humour, and finally hope.
A road trip novel with a difference, about a mother and teenager driving across America to settle old scores and make peace with a troubled past. Meanwhile Alex, who narrates With tenderness and humour, Sara Taylor finds hope in desperate circumstances.
The lurid subject matter of The Girls spawned high expectations. But as the title suggests, it is not the dimestore guru but his followers who are the central focus. Cline lays bare the extreme vulnerability of teenage girls in a subtle, but affecting debut.
Originally published in 1943, Madonna in a Fur Coat is a short but spellbinding novel about a shy young Turk who falls for a beautiful, enigmatic woman in 1920s Berlin. In this dreamlike narrative, Sabahattin Ali conjures a world of joy and pain.
Another reissue, taking us back to a grimy, bohemian New York in the early 1960s, where Leonard Michaels revisits a doomed love affair, enacting a kind of dark magic with his elegant, shimmering prose.
An English nurse is summoned to watch over a ‘fasting girl’ in rural Ireland, and finds a closed world held in thrall by poverty and superstition. Blending psychological realism with literary devices, Emma Donoghue breathes new life into the Victorian sensation novel.
Short and near-perfect in its execution, News of the World traces the journey of a young white girl taken captive by Indians, and an old man given the daunting task of returning her home. Paulette Jiles once again proves her mastery of the Western genre.
Fallen Land is a semi-mythic tale of a boy, a girl and a horse, set against the bloody backdrop of the American Civil War. Taylor Brown’s lyrical prose sweeps the reader along just as his characters are driven ever onward by their pursuers in a timeless ode to survival.
The life of Patricia Highsmith is merged with her own dark fiction in this bold and stylish novel, set in rural Suffolk where Highsmith lived and wrote during the mid-1960s.
Novelist Annabel Abbs retraces the ill-starred life of Lucia, daughter (and muse) of James Joyce. Retold in dazzling style, Lucia’s descent into madness is both tragic and infuriating.
This year I also enjoyed City of Secrets, Stewart O’Nan’s thriller set in post-war Jerusalem, and two books for children: Michelle Morgan’s charming A Girl Called Pearl, and Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night (a companion piece to her dark adult novel, The Lost Daughter.)
Among this year’s older treasures were Magda Szabo’s remarkable novel, The Door; Elsa Morante’s bittersweet fairytale, Arturo’s Island; and Twopence Coloured, an early work by Patrick Hamilton, set in the tawdry world of repertory theatre.
And finally, 2016 was the year I discovered Alexander Baron, rediscovered Jean Rhys, and said goodbye to Harper Lee.