As you read the list below bear two things in mind… firstly I read some of them towards the end of last year so more accurately it should be “books of this year – and a little bit of last year – so far!” – secondly there is a wonderous prize at the end of this – I intend to take the winning author to my local Starbucks in Chelmsford, here in sunny Essex, and buy them a latte – so it’s my rival to the Costa Prize – just with less TV coverage (though it’s not too late to sponsor my prize if the good people at “Sky Arts” or Mariella Frostrup are reading this???????????) and with fewer celebrity judges (unless you count my daughter and our dog!)
Anyway the nominations from the Threshers Bush jury are (incidentally “Threshers Bush”” is not a sexually transmitted infection in case you were wondering – it’s actually the name of the village where I live!)
Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro – I’m always put off by the little author pics of Ishiguro in his books – he looks too cool and clever to be read by someone like me – yet no matter what I read by him I’ve never yet been disappointed – and these great stories were no exception
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – Jacob ought to be a nerd but actually if I was a kid again and I was in the playground picking a football team then Jacob would be my first choice because he and the story he inhabits are wonderful – I wouldn’t care if he’s got a weak left foot and can’t tackle – he’d be in my team every time!
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – I’m late coming to this book I guess as it was a Booker nominee in 1996 but its a book by a bona fide 100% genius in my view. This wonderful tale of 4 people whose lives become connected under the State of Emergency in India in the 70’s makes you laugh, cry, feel desperate for the characters and then feel such joy and hope for them, it makes you angry at the way people treat their fellow man and of course it makes you realise that awful politicians aren’t unique to the UK or anywhere else! It’s possibly the most moving book I’ve ever read – apparently Graham Swift won the 1996 Booker ahead of this with “Waterland”. I’ve not read that – but it would have to be something unbelievably special to beat “A Fine Balance” for me for this is quite simply one of the best books I’ve ever read!
The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller – Essentially a re-telling of the classical Greek myth of Achilles, the siege of Troy and the battle between Hector of Troy and Achilles, son of the god Thetis, But a re-telling with a wonderful difference – it is written from the perspective of Patroclus, lifelong companion of Achilles and in the book, not only do we read of their adventures but of the passionate love affair between the two men. This book took a story I love, re-worked it for today and made it better than I ever thought it could be. A wonderful book.
The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge – I read this as part of a “Beryl Bainbridge Week”. Never having read Beryl before I’d no idea what to expect – this is a book so edgy and sharp if you feel on it there’s every chance you’d lose an eye! It’s a kind of Liver Birds does very Black Comedy – brilliant stuff
Heartburn by Norah Ephron – One of two forays into what I’d perceived as “fiction for females!”. How wrong was I. I loved every bit of this quirky, sometimes desperately sad book – the recipes throughout it (it’s about a cookery writer!) are actually real – it was a huge sigh of relief for me when I was told this and had it confirmed it wasn’t some gigantic ruse to poke fun at any man who read it!
The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach – A wonderful book. If this is an example of “the great American novel” then I can’t wait to read the others!
The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – Simply beautiful. Though there’s a darker heart to the book it is still a beautiful story given the most spectacular of settings in the Cameron Highlands and told in the most exquisite prose I read all year – the sentences flow more beautifully than a John Banville novel – they are that good!
AND MY BOOK OF 2012
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – My second foray into the world of what I’d regarded as a book for women – again more wrong than I could ever have anticipated. I cried through three quarters of it, laughed at the other quarter and was spellbound on every single one of its 423 fabulous, wonderful, terrific, special pages!