Top 10 Books of 2016

Four of my favourite books this year have been Australian, five from the US and one from the UK. Seven have been by women: go girls! Most are contemporary realist fiction; one is a fake collection of biographical essays, another has dystopian elements and one defies genre boundaries altogether.  They stood out from the many other good books I have read this year for the quality of their prose, the originality of the ideas or forms, the wit and the insights into being human.

In no particular order, my favourite reads of 2016 have been:

This year, Charlotte Wood has swept the board in terms of Australian literary prizes with her novel The Natural Way of Things, and deservedly so. A dystopian story which explores misogyny in contemporary society, it is so gripping and frightening I felt like I was holding my breath all the way through it. And the prose is astonishingly beautiful and powerful.

LaRose is the third novel I’ve read by Chippewa writer Louise Erdrich. I really like the insight into the contemporary lives of First Nations people outside Australia, which I know very little about, and Erdrich writes with great honesty and rawness about family relationships, in this case about a young boy who is split between two families.

Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers: Sixteen Australian Writers and their Extraordinary Lives is a hilarious  satire about the world of writing, in the form of the biographies of these entirely made-up people. It is wry and witty and full of puns and industry in-jokes – hugely entertaining.

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites is a hard act to follow but The Good People does not disappoint. Another historical novel, it tells the story of a grief-stricken woman in a small village who turns to folklore and superstition to heal her crippled grandchild. Beautifully written, suspenseful and heart-wrenching.

Picture being sixteen years old and your parents taking you to a remote island which has no mobile phone coverage and NO INTERNET. Can you even begin to imagine how pissed off you’d be? Robyn Mundy’s second novel Wildlight is a coming-of-age story, as well as a moving story of first love, sibling rivalry and wild weather.

Lauren Groff’s Fates & Furies is the story of a marriage, told first from the point of view of the husband and then the wife. Secrets and lies! A smart and fascinating excavation of contemporary life and relationships.

The Followers is Rebecca Wait’s take on the cult narrative and it’s a bloody ripper. As there’s a cult in Monkey See, the novel I’m writing,I ‘m into all things cultish  and I loved the way Waits explored the sinister manipulations of which a charismatic figure is capable.

I am a giant fan of Patrick DeWitt. His latest, Undermajordomo Minor, was a delightful black comedy – a gothic horror, as well as a romance. Quite unlike anything else, which is such a rarity.

Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life is the utterly devastating story of the legacy of a man’s childhood sexual abuse. It is also a book more filled with love than any other book I can think of. It is not an easy read but it is so worth it.

A new Jonathan Franzen book is always cause for excitement in my world and Purity very much lived up to my expectations. Franzen is acutely perceptive about what goes on in the hearts and minds of individuals as well as the tides that move communities and societies and this insight is what makes his work so compelling.

What excellent things have you read this year?


10 thoughts on “Top 10 Books of 2016

  1. I read two of them – the Charlotte Wood and the Jonathan Franzen. I enjoyed them both.

      1. The two other standouts for me this year were Charlotte Wood’s The Writer’s Room and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life and Ian McGuire’s The North Water were also good.

        1. How good is The Writer’s Room? I have underlined the heck out of that book! So much wisdom. I especially loved The Tegan Bennet Daylight interview. I’m sure it’s a book I’ll come back to again and again.

  2. I am always playing catchup with recently published books so my top reads are not necessarily new titles. Standouts for me this year include The Notebook Trilogy by Agota Kristof, Stoner by John Williams and Ancient Light by John Banville.

    1. Oh, me neither. It’s practically impossible to stay on top of what’s current and sometimes it’s nice to let the dust settle before you decide whether a book’s really for you. I liked Stoner but I had heard so much about it when I read it that It didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s such a quiet book! There were things I appreciated about it but it didn’t move me – and I love to be moved!

  3. La rose was so devastating ad moving. Sometimes I cried on the tram reading it. And yet you heal with the characters. It’s an experience to read it. Franzen is always a worthwhile read – Purity is densely engrossing. I saw him speak in Melbourne this year. He was at times opaque, at times revealing. I loved Dewitt’s “Sister Brothers” and will read this one. I read Fates and Furies but felt annoyed with it in the end. The characters were not enough to keep me enthralled. This year I have loved the Bailey prize winning “Glorious Heresies”, Levy’s “hot Milk”, booker shortlisted “Eileen” and “His Bloody Project”, the bristling relevance of Ail Smith’s “Autumn” blew me away and “The Portable Veblem” made me laugh.

    1. You DO heal with the characters – that is such a good way to describe it. The end was so uplifting to me. Have you read any other Erdrich? The Round House is my favourite but I want to make time to read more from her back list. I also saw Franzen speak this year. He was much funnier than I thought he would be. I realised that what often comes across as snooty in print is tongue-in-cheek in person. I’ve heard nothing but raves about Hot Milk – I have to look at that one. How to Be Both is the only Ali Smith I’ve read – I definitely want to read more. Thanks for taking the time to share your stand out reads, Julianne.

      1. Okay I had better read The Round House! The way Erdich writes and demonstrates the interconnectedness of community – how that very thing that creates a community is complex and involves history, place, religion, tradition and how that very thing that makes a community can devastate an individual a\but how it can also pull you up = that just really struck me as important in La Rose. McInerney’s “The Glorious Heresies” explores a similar idea but in such a different culture and context – both write their communities with such generosity and understanding. And yes – Framzen is funny! I do find his books funny. I read Purity and the Corrections this year. Currently reading Heather Rose “Museum of Modern Love” and am blown away. Have you read it???

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