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Monday, 23 December 2013

2013 in review - my top ten

It’s apparently that time of the year when you make lists. Lists for presents you want, lists of potential New Year’s resolutions – future planning lists, hoping for an improved situation in 2014. Or lists that look at the highlights of the last twelve months, favourite places you visited, favourite books – reflection lists, ones where we learn through backward facing, contemplating what has already gone and how it impacted us. The list itself doesn’t live in the present moment, otherwise it would be blank.

On the weekend I read The Weekend Australian’s feature in the Arts section of the best reads of 2013, an article where they approached critics, writers and other “influential” people who then gave us their best books of the year. I was stunned to see only one mention of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning “The Luminaries”, one of the masterpieces of the year and only recognised by one contributor, whereas Hilary Mantel came up yet again…yawn. Another stunning observation was that besides Clive James’ translation of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy”, there was hardly a translated work mentioned. Very insular of the experts and our National newspaper.

My year highlights included numerous works in translation, I reviewed 32 books on this blog of which 17 were translated and I must say my favourite list of the year was the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize all the works I did read from that list being quality novels, pity I couldn’t say the same for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award or even the Man Booker Prize.

I’d cause quite a bit of debate by putting up my favourite of the year so I won’t be so bold but will put up my favourite 10 books of the year, only three of which were written in English (note – I haven’t included The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton as I didn’t review it on my blog – maybe one day), For the full reviews click the headings they'll lead you to the review :

A novel about the fragility of life with numerous references to Emily Dickinson with complex undertows, references and themes. Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize from a very strong list.

A moving love story told in two voices by nameless characters. With alternating chapters in different font the character’s musings on art, publishing, suicide, loneliness, depression, drug abuse, family relationships and ultimately love are a reflection on living in post-independence Croatia.

Set in a dystopian future using invented slang we have a bunch of anti-heroes entering a feud. A challenging and dark work where everything is beyond redemption. A worthy IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner.

A novel about the death of the Gutenberg ege, the death of print, the rise of the digital era. Here we have a tale of Riba a failed publisher and reformed alcoholic who plans to travel to Dublin for Bloomsday with three writers. Another example of the amazing depth of talent in the translated world.

The Prix Goncourt de Premier Roman Winner in 2010 this novel has made the long list for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. A novel about our novelist struggling with writing true historical fiction. Essentially his tale but also the story of two Czechoslovakian parachutists sent from London on a secret mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich. How can somebody truly write an historical novel – read this to find out the dilemma?

A sparse and deeply emotional tale of loneliness, emptiness and love. A very moving and tragic tale told in opposites when Tsukiko comes across her former high school teacher (or Sensei). Shortlisted for the Man Asian Prize which shows you can write an empty novel.

Set in Malaya in the mountains our narrator Yun Ling Teoh returns to the gardens of the evening mists to relive her story of being apprenticed to the former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. An historical novel which is contemplative and styled as a Japanese Garden. Winner of numerous awards including the Man Asia Literary Award. A slow contemplative read, let it sink in.

The everyday chore of existence put into 430 pages. Karl Ove struggles with his father’s death from alcoholism, with his relationships with his own past and his writing. A bold revelation of a man’s soul that stretches to six books – buy and read the first and you’ll be hooked.

From Argentina a novel that has our protagonist telling the tale of his father’s four kilometre long canvas that stretches over the 60 years of his life – bar one missing year!!! The tale unfolds through the artwork as well as being a story of self discovery. Another translated work that delved into my consciousness.

A Zen Buddhist novel? Ruth finds a lunchbox washed up on the shore that contains the dairy of a teenage Japanese girl, the letters of a Kamikaze pilot, more Japanese writings and an antique watch. An engrossing tale, a mythical balance between a number of eras, cultures and styles. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and stiff to be published in the same year as The Luminaries.


Bellezza said...

The Detour was in my top ten list, too, which I just posted last night. Can't wait to read The Luminaries and A Tale For the Time Being. Oh, loved The Briefcase, too, although it didn't make my top ten because it seemed rather pointless. Though lovely. Maybe that's the point?

Dennis Zanin said...

Great to see you put up a list for this year. I noticed there were no Pulitzer Prize shortlisted novels, did you buy any of the books from that list? I would put both the winner (The Orphan Master's Son) and one of the shortlisted novels (What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank)in my top ten for the year. I thoroughly enjoyed them.
I want to see you cause some controversy next year and give us a 10 to 1 list!

Tony Messenger said...

Thanks Denis, I read the first 250 pages of The Orphan Master's Son and couldn't get into it, I will give it another try. What we talk on the shelf (you may spot it in the photo) unread at this stage. For some reason the Pulitzer has not been my thing. Thanks for checking by and commenting I may put them in order next year if I could separate them. Bellezza I'm sure you'll like Ozeki and the slowness of the briefcase is what I liked about it, a touch of zen living in the moment.

Bellezza Mjs said...

Yes, the slow aspect is one of the many beautiful qualities of Japanese literature.

So unAmerican which is always rush, rush, rush.