I must admit I am a huge fan of making lists, but the end of year ones are my absolute favourite ones! I had an excellent reading year and listing just 10 was a chore that took quite a while and some got left out (they will go into the honorable mentions list). Even placing them in numerical order was a task, although I’m sure you can guess which book went to number 1! Anyway, here we go (click on the cover for my review):
10. Valeria Luiselli – Lost Children Archive
Two sound archivists and their children undertake a road trip. Encapsulating a myriad of themes ranging from immigration to social, Lost Children Archive is a mind expanding gem of a book. Oh there’s one sentence that’s 15 pages long. Pay attention you’ll see this quite a few time in this top 10.
9. Jan Carson – The Fire Starters
I love it when a book drops out of nowhere and it is an utter joy to read. It’s not secret that I like magical realism and Irish literature and Fire Starters hit both spots.
There’s two plots. One concerns a father who is worried that his son is an arsonist. The other is about a guy who fathers a mermaid. Both plots are entwined. Weird, wonderful, symbolic and an addictive read, this was definitely a highlight of 2019.
8. Caryl Lewis, Gwen Davies (trans) – The Jeweller
The Jeweller is a quiet book but packs a nose shattering punch when you reach the end. As you can guess the book is about a jeweller called Mari, but one who harbours secrets. The joy unearthing the secrets along with Mari. Also my first taste of Welsh language literature (and hopefully not my last)
7. Toby Litt – Patience
It’s not a secret that I am a huge fan of independent presses, as I believe that they are willing to take risks and publish innovative literature. Patience falls into this category.
The narrator is Elliott, who is recounting an event that happened in his childhood. The thing is Elliott has cerebral palsy and it is 1979, when children with Elliott’s condition lived in institutions. Elliott’s communication system back then only consisted of grunts.
One day Jim, a blind mute enters Elliott’s life and the two form a life changing plan.
Patience is a book about language, faith and also about breaking free in every sense of the word. It also gave me major good feel vibes, and there are many memorable set pieces. Another big surprise of the eyar.
6. Rachel Mann – A Kingdom of Love
Yes for the first time in the Bobsphere’s history a poetry book has made it into the top 10.
A Kingdom of Love examines spirituality in a materialistic world, it’s also about the inner battle of overcoming fear of our society in order to achieve total love. Structured as a three part opus, these poems will strike you even if you are the staunchest of non believers.
5. Daniel James – The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas
Back in 2002 I read John Fowles’ The Magus and I loved the way it played with my brain, blurring the lines between illusion and reality. Many years later The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas did the same thing to me.
Who is Ezra Maas? did he really exist? how come so many people saw him? is he still alive? is he walking amongst us? Author Daniel James tries to uncover the enigma that is Ezra Maas but finds many dead ends, yet there is proof. Don’t forget that once you read it you’ll be part of this world. As the first line states ‘This book is dangerous. You need to know that before you begin’.
4. Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other
Some books just sum up the last decade. Girl, Woman, Other does that. 12 interlocking stories about 12 women in 12 one sentence long chapters. This book is about race relations, sexism , gender, nearly everything. I said in my review that this book is life changing and I still hold on to that. This novel will open your eyes. To top it off GWO is beautifully written. All the accolades like must read, must have are deserved.
3. Rónán Hession – Leonard and Hungry Paul
How can I describe Leonard and Hungry Paul? it’s about two guys who are at odds with our society. However that description doesn’t really bring out what this book is about. At times it’s funny, at times it is endearing, at times it’s gently philosophical. Saying that this not a bloke book. Leonard and Hungry Paul does tackle some complex issues in an accessible manner. In it’s subliminal way LAHP will influence your way of thinking be it The Quiet Club or You may wish to note the above. In an era where things must be grandiose, it’s good to have some subtlety now and then.
2. Ali Smith – Spring
I’m not going to say a lot here,mainly because later on next year, there will be a BIG review about the quartet, as it’s nearing the end. All I will say is that the latest volume is just as excellent as the previous two. Probably this is the most political of the lot but it’s quite playful as well.
- Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport
2019 was the year of the one sentence, no punctuation novel but Ducks, Newburyport is the grand puba of this format.
Do not let the 1000 pages and one sentence (there’s a subplot that is written in a conventional manner) put you off this book. Despite the experimental nature Ducks, Newburyport is one of those novels that will suck you into it’s world once you get used to the style.
I’ve spoken about the. merits of the book many times so the question is why did I place it at number one? The answer is that this novel spoke to me. I could relate to the fears and anxieties of the main character. Trump’s America, the future generation, the influence of the media, all the problems that have occurred in the past 20 years are enmeshed within the narrator’s monologue.
Ultimately though, I saw Ducks, Newburyport as a testament to the strength of motherhood. Who will be there to protect children, how strong is a mother’s love? This is postulated in the book and further exemplified with the intertwining subplot.
Ducks, Newburyport is not only THE book of 2019, it is one of the greatest books of all time. Lucy Ellmann has written a masterpiece, and an unbeatable one at that.
Honourable mentions : Lanny , Frankisstein , The Friend , The Nickel Boys , I am Sovereign , Witches Sail in Eggshells , Plastic Emotions , Bottled Goods , A Devil Comes to Town , Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead