Monday 13 December 2010

2010 - Highlights of the Year in Books

This post is a brief review of the books I have read over the year.  At least the fiction books, though most of my reading is now fiction.  Though I feel that I now mainly read crime novels I was somewhat and a little pleasantly surprised to discover that I have in fact read slightly more non crime novels, 38 to 34 crime novels.  Though most of the authors were new to me, a few of the books were by writers already familiar to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the novels by Ian Banks - The Business and Transitions, and Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd.  I also listened to an audio version of Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel I had previously read.  It was good to experience the novel in a different medium.
Of the non crime novels five stood out as offering something special.  Theft, by Peter Carey, is a very funny and at times biting account of the pretensions and corruption of the art world.  Set mainly in Australia, it is a very irreverent tale.  A Week in December, by Sebastian Faulks, is also a rather biting and witty dissection of modern life.  Here the focus is mainly on the deceit and corruption of the financial world with a look at the allure of fundamentalism.  The Long Song, by Andrea Levy, written as the memoirs of a former slave woman, tells the story of how one family survived the trials and tribulations of the years of transition from slavery in Jamaica.  Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, is another novel which gives us a woman’s perspective on historical times.  Though virtually all the action takes place in one small town, Lyme on the south coast of England, this novel deals with matters of great significance.  The outward substance of the novel is the growing scientific awareness in the early 19th century of the significance of fossils and what they mean for our understanding of the past.  However the main focus of the book is the role of women in society and the added difficulties that class makes for some women.  The final non crime novel which most impressed me was Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  This is another historical novel which deals with the momentous events in England in the 1520s and 1530s.  This tale about the intrigues in the court of Henry the Eight is told from the viewpoint of Thomas Cromwell.  Though of humble origin, Cromwell rose to become one of the most powerful men in the country.  The novel is not only a wonderfully vivid account of the events of this period, but Mantel has the ability to bring to life the rich array of characters who lived through these times.  From the King himself to servants, we feel these are real people.  I listened to Wolf Hall as an audiobook and perhaps this helped to bring the characters to life.  All were fascinating, but I was particularly impressed with Cardinal Wolsey, who comes over as a humane and witty figure’
As regards the crime novels, I enjoyed every one of them.  A major difference with crime novels is that you tend to read fewer individual  authors.  You keep coming back to favourite writers and often their work forms a series, either based on a character or a place.  The works of seven authors particularly impressed me this year.  I have now completed all four novels which make up the Shetland Quartet by Ann Cleeves.  A really good and well written series.  It will be interesting to see if she is tempted to carry on the series.  I must now try some of her other work.  Philip Kerr has created another interesting detective, though Bernie Gunther is based in Berlin.  I have read two of the later novels in the series - If the Dead Rise Not  and The One from the Other.  Both very good and I now intend to work my way through the first three novels.  These are all set in Berlin in the 1930s, a pretty exciting time for one reason or another.  Jo Nesbø is from Norway and is the author of a series of novels featuring Oslo detective Harry Hole.  I have now read a group of three novels, which seems to make up a mini-series - The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil’s Star  They all involve neo-Nazi activities and corruption within the police.  Excellent writing and gripping tales.  The next novel in the sequence is The Redeemer.  At the moment I do not know if it follows on from the previous three or has a new focus altogether.  Will find out soon.  Peter Temple is an Australian writer and I read three of his books this year, and all  were excellent.  As opposed to the previous crime novels these three - An Iron Rose, In the Evil Day and The Truth - are not part of any series.   All are to a greater or lesser extent about corruption and deceit and all are written in a lively and vivid mix of standard English and Australian patois.  One of the finds of the year.   Two other books were also not part of a series.  Deon Meyer’s Heart of the Hunter is a gripping thriller set in post apartheid South Africa, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.  I have not come across much crime novels by Italian writers, so it was a pleasant surprise to read Michele Guittori’s A Florentine Death, which I enjoyed very much.  Another author I hope to read more of this year.  The final crime novel which particularly impressed me was Blood Red by Quintin Jardine.  In part I liked it because it is set in Catalunya, one of my favourite parts of the world.  It is also a very good read.  It is the second in a series which features Primavera Blackstone a Scottish woman now living in Catalunya.  As the only woman detective in my selection this is probably another plus factor.  Well worth reading, I must now try the first in the series.
All in all a most enjoyable year of reading.  Though if the truth be told about half of the books were listened to rather than read.  I am a great fan of audiobooks.  If well read they can add an extra dimension to a book.  The pick of the year has to be Wolf Hall, followed closely by The Truth.  Good reading to one and all.

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