You know it’s been a rollercoaster year for books when they find a sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird locked away in a safe 55 years after that first universally celebrated novel’s publication.
Ok, so Go Set a Watchman wasn’t quite what we hoped it would be, but there’s no denying the massive literary quake it set off worldwide, and if that means more people talking about and, ultimately, buying books, then we’re down with that.
Similarly, the death of celebrated fantasy comic novelist Terry Pratchett hogged headlines, with his final Discworld offering far more positively received, and we also farewelled the legendary crime writer Ruth Rendell.
These books are our chosen highlights in a year of newsworthy efforts, but feel free to chip in with the tomes you just couldn’t put down.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
Truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes a novel can seamlessly thread its way through both. That’s the case with this year’s Man Booker Prize-winner. Spun on the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1973, it’s populated with fascinating characters both real and invented, winding its way marvellously through three decades of Jamaican history.
How to be Both
This magnificently queer book is set in two very distinct time periods, depending on which copy of the book you pick up. It either begins in the past or the present then zaps, unfinished, between the pair like a lightning bolt – rending it in two in a blast of discombobulating heat and light. Scoring a clutch of awards, How To Be Both is a must-read.
Between the World and Me
In an increasingly popular and devastatingly effective format, author Ta-Nehisi Coates addresses his teenage son Samori in an open letter that looks into the dark heart of America’s race relations. In a world where African Americans have to constantly remind their compatriots that black lives matter, Between the World and Me is timely indeed. Intimate and stunningly on point.
Girl in a Band
Sonic Youth front woman and new wave artist Kim Gordon has led one hell of a life, and the great news is she’s captured her whirlwind adventures through rock-and-roll glory days, broken romances, a family history of mental health problems and the challenges of motherhood with an innate eye for detail that makes this memoir positively sing.
The Natural Way of Things
This instant Australian classic is one part Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one part Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games with a dash of William Golding’s Lord of The Flies for good measure. Set in a desert compound where women of ‘ill repute’ are imprisoned together, it’s a searing indictment on creeping misogyny. Darkly invigorating.
Emily St John Mandel
What will you hold onto once everything has gone? What is it that makes us truly human? They are the painful questions at the heart of Emily St John Mandel’s striking dystopia that bothers itself less with the details of a great plague that wipes out most of mankind and more with the fragments of what’s left behind. How do we connect to our shared past in a world that can never be the same again?
A Decent Ride
Scotland’s master of the outrageous returns to Edinburgh’s seedier streets after his side trip to Miami in The Sex Lives Of Siamese Twins. Featuring incorrigible taxi driver Juice Terry from Glue and a cameo from Trainspotting’s Sick Boy, it’s a riotous misadventure that unravels as a dubiously named hurricane bears down on the city. A Decent Ride will shock some, but thrill most.
Zoe Norton Lodge
The Checkout’s Zoe Norton Lodge is a criminally funny lady. The sort who shouldn’t be allowed to jot down her recollections for fear of entire train carriages spontaneously combusting with inadvertent snot fired from nostrils flaring at her outrageous wit. We roared uncontrollably the whole way through this unreliable narration of her childhood growing up in inner western Sydney.
The Eye of the Sheep
In a great year for Australian fiction, Sofie Laguna’s Miles Franklin Award-winning The Eye of The Sheep aims straight for the heart with its delightful central character Jimmy, a six-year-old-boy trying to manage a mind that spins out of control even as it imbues him with incredible knowledge. All about family, and how that structure is so often very complicated, it’s a delightful read.
Banish all negative thoughts associated with ‘celebrity memoirs,’ for that is not what this is. Instead, the much-loved Australian comic, writer and actor puts down her fraught family history with a lyrical touch that’s seriously enthralling. ‘Reckoning’ will have you feverishly anticipating what might come next from this sterling literary talent uncovered.