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?