To those who read my blog on a regular basis it’ll not come as a surprise that I am not partial to novels containing too much violence, which in my particular case means that I can stomach the occasional bout of violence. I was therefore quite relieved upon finding that the majority of novels I read in 2016 contained a minimum of violence. I was spoilt with subtle, reflective novels that I enjoyed reading. My favourites for this year of reading are novels that hint at a difficult past, take their time to paint the picture and concentrate on the main person.
A pleasant surprise
Yes, I do know there was violence in her trilogy, a series on war in a distant galaxy can hardly avoid fights, nevertheless Ann Lecky did surprise me. I truly enjoyed reading her Sword trilogy. It presented the reader with mind-blowing concepts that made one think about aggression, abuse of bodies and the concept of life. Does a species turned spaceship still count as a living being? Your answer is as good as mine. Emma Cline was the other surprise. I feared that her hyped novel would be just that, a hype. It turned out that Cline had written an excellent novel about a young girl about to make a fatal mistake. What scared me most about The Girls was the knowledge that anyone of us could easily have been that girl.
Not my cup of tea
I did honestly try and like my third Howard Jacobson. Having finished Sherlock I could only conclude that I just do not get Jacobson. I do not get the fun factor of his novels, I do not like his style, Sherlock has been my final Jacobson. I was utterly disappointed in the two novels about Jesus written by none other than JM Coetzee. I thoroughly appreciated his previous novels (I’m not using the word ‘enjoy’ because his are not the ones to actually enjoy), I was flabbergasted to find that The Childhood and School Days of Jesus turned more and more in a philosophical treatise, one I unfortunately did not understand. After finishing both novels I really had no clue as to what Coetzee was trying to tell me. I very much doubt I’ll try a third instalment on Jesus.
The Ones I Loved
If I had been on the jury of the Man Booker Prize Graham Swift would have made it to the short list and would have won. I absolutely loved Mothering Sunday. I loved the care he took to describe a single episode that would make such a difference to two people: the detailed descriptions of both people and their surroundings, the tension that was gradually building. Your quintessential British upper class scene with a touch of darkness having over it, brilliantly put down. Having one of the main characters look back at her life at a ripe old age complemented the scene.
As a member of that same jury I would have let Lucy Barton go through to the short list. I was absolutely taken with her novel looking back at a grim childhood whilst recovering from a serious illness in the hospital. Elizabeth Strout did not need to describe the cruelty of this childhood in explicit detail. By subtly hinting at it, by showing the difficulty of showing love to one’s mother or daughter she made it very clear that Lucy Barton overcame her childhood, being left the continual outsider. I was sad that her novel was short, I would have loved to go on reading.
And again, as a member of said jury, given this year’s short list, I would definitely have voted for Madeleine Thien. I was impressed by the way she combined humanity and Chinese revolution. I was even more impressed by the fact that Thien never took sides. She described the choices her main characters were faced, she showed the effects those choices had. If she did take sides, it was on the subject of throwing that well-known first stone. She made her readers face the question ‘what would I have done in similar circumstances?’.