A Reading Year – Fiction
It has been a busy year, both personally and at work.
A new child, and Covid year-two made for a lot of competition timewise (not that I'm conflating the two), but I still get a few minutes to read in the dark while my child drifts off to sleep.
I feel like I’m missing a few things here. Not least of all collections, because I tend to dip in an out of short story collections. But I can highly recommend Alan Baxter’s rural horror novella collection The Gulp – which actually made me lift my feet of the couch a few times – Angela Slatters incredible and gorgeous The Tallow Wife and Other Tales. I’m still dipping in and out of The Voice Impersonator by Thomas Bernhard.
(Hopefully, these little capsule reviews make sense, I know they don’t at all do the books justice, but I am TIRED)
The Arrest - Jonathan Lethem.
I haven’t read a lot of Lethem, I tend to lean towards the odder titles, and this post-apocalyptic tale was odd and wonderful, played to the genre’s strengths, and reminded me very much of a contemporary In Watermelon Sugar, which I read just as Covid kicked off last year.
Memory called Empire - Arkady Martine.
So much wonderful space opera is being written at the moment, and this was great. Made it a very easy hand-sell at work.
The Fisherman - John Langan.
I fell into this book, a few years behind everyone else, but it’s satisfying and scary with some scenes that still stick nearly a year later. As a meditation on friendship and love and their attenuation in the face of cosmic horror it works wonderfully. It’s a modern classic and one I’m glad to have read.
Riddle Master of Hed - Patricia Mckillip.
Reading this was like reading a dream, complex, powerful, imbued with meaning that is always just out of reach. So glad I encountered it.
Strange the Dreamer - Laini Taylor.
Yet another book that touches on the deep wells of fantasy. Dreams and love and the terrible things people do to one another. I think this is one of Laini’s best books.
Serpentine - Philip Pullman.
It’s a gorgeous looking book, but all I want are the novels.
Purgatory Mount - Adam Roberts.
Every Adam Roberts book I read I enjoy. Philosophical, funny, a sense of the grandeur of SF and the quickening of change. This book has stuck with me, and felt extremely timely. Philosophy with momentum.
All The Murmuring Bones - AG Slatter.
My favourite of Angela’s books, and that’s saying something. A rich brew of folklore, fable and magic, dark as the deepest woods and the Mariana Trench.
The Bone Ships- RJ Barker.
I had no expectations going in with this one, but it was great. And the sequel is even better. I’m holding off on the third book so I have something to read on my holidays.
Ghost Bird - Lisa Fuller.
Lisa is a star, and her thriller does so many things so lightly and cleverly. It’s a bold, exciting novel by an indigenous Australian novelist who I think is going to be a powerful presence over the next few years.
After Ghost Bird. Charlie was born.
Jefferson - Jean-Claude Mourlevat.
How anyone can write such a charming read around a brutal murder is beyond me. But he does, and it’s a great novel about friendship and sacrifice and doing what is right.
Slow Horses - Mick Herron.
I don’t read a lot of spy novels, but this was great. Funny, bleak and very British.
Greenglass House - Kate Milford.
A delicate and warm mystery, that I want to re-read to see how it did what it did.
My Brother Ben - Peter Carnavas.
A truly beautiful middle-reader about brothers. It is sweet and tender and wise and made me cry a little bit and call my little brother.
The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison.
Another book with heart. A truly kind a gentle fantasy, that made me sob a bit.
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler.
Another departure for me, I don’t read much crime, but this was great. Fowler’s evocation of the Blitz and the London theatre scene is a delight. Elderly detectives before they were cool.
By Force Alone - Lavie Tidhar.
Lavie’s had a great few years.
Every book he writes gets wilder and cleverer, and honestly, looking at his output I’m exhausted. I loved this take on King Arthur which managed to be both ridiculous, humane, cruel and contrary, which pretty much sums up the Arthur Mythos. I laughed, I cried, I was mildly disgusted. Loved it. Also I cannot recommend enough his anthology Best of World SF.
Beholden – Cassandra Rose Clarke.
I really enjoyed this novel about sisters and gods and a grumpy sailor/pirate who gets thrown into the mix. It has a bit of the McKillip dream-like quality, which is very much a good thing. A classic style fantasy that turns a lot of those traditional elements on their head. It’s by Erewhon who are publishing The Stone Road next year, honestly, they’re doing amazing things, and I’m thrilled and surprised to be part of that list.
Psalm for a Wild-built Robot - Becky Chambers.
I loved this. It’s a gentle read, not a lot happens, but it feels true and wise (AND A LOT HAPPENS). Having a new child really makes this book appealing it’s ostensibly low stakes, but that’s only if you think of people’s lives and happiness as low stakes.
Cloud Cuckoo Land - Anthony Doer
Didn’t think I would like this at all, and ended up hooked. A great mix of historical and near future fiction. The siege of Constantinople stuff is remarkable. A book with heart.
Treacle Walker - Alan Garner.
Another book that felt like a dream, or maybe I was just exhausted. It’s rare for a book to touch a real vein of folklore so completely, but Garner’s great at that. It’s a book you see the truth in, rather than understand.
Blacktop Wasteland- AJ Cosby.
There’s some of the best pacing in a book I’ve ever read here. This is heightened crime drama, that takes sharp turns into the unexpected. The ending is inevitable, but only when you get there. Looking forward to reading his next.
Bear – Marian Engel.
Come for the bear sex, stay for the beautiful unfolding of a landscape. It’s a mix of well-observed characterisation and gorgeous nature writing. And the prose is wonderful. I was surprised by how much I loved this book, but that could be said for a lot of things I read this year.
It doesn’t seem like a lot, but then I’m grateful that I managed to read even this much. I’m sure I’ve missed things. I’m currently deep in a re-read of John Crowley’s Little Big, which is one of those clever comfort reads that seems to be different every time I re-read it.
Big shout out to Brain Jar press who have published some absolutely cracker chapbooks this year. Getting one of those every month or so was a delight.
Highlights have been the above-mentioned Brain Jar Presses Writer Chaps – so many of my favourite writers sharing their varied approaches to writing.
And there were so many wonderful picture books old and new. I might write about those later, but needless to say it is a very fine time to be a picture book reader.
I’ve read a lot of non-fiction this year too, but I tend to dip in and out of that even more than short stories.
And, the kids are stirring... Hopefully you all found books this year that stuck with you, delighted you, or just gave you a break from this peculiar often rather cruel world we have found ourselves in.