It will come as no surprise whatsoever to you that I love them. I got some brilliant ones for Christmas which will kick-start my 2018 nicely, but right now I’m looking back (with the help of Goodreads) at the books I read and loved in 2017. These aren’t necessarily books that were published in 2017. I’m never that contemporary. But here’s a shout out anyway to those stories that have stayed with me.
I read quite a few graphic novels but didn’t find many of them lasted long in my memory. A couple of classics I hadn’t got around to before in the shape of Alan Moore’s Promethea and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth certainly made their mark. Guy DeLisle’s Hostage was really interesting, using those little boxes in regular order on each page to show how easy it is to become dislocated from time when the same events are happening over and over.
Short story collections: I think I read more of those than usual, and really enjoyed –
Sarah Hall’s Madame Zero, with its exploration of why life is strange and uncomfortable in all aspects, from social to sexual to political to post-apocalyptic and back again. I loved it.
Malcolm Devlin’s You Will Grow Into Them, which showed how darkness sneaks up on you and crawls inside. Brrrrrr. Also, my favourite story in that collection – Her First Harvest – led me to seek out the stories of Katharine Mansfield, which strangely sit well alongside Devlin’s (I read them straight afterwards). Social mannerisms looked at with a knowing eye, in both cases.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen was very moving, but with a style that felt so quiet and unforced. Trying to live within different worlds with varying expectations, and find yourself in that duality; these were complex, beautiful reads made to look easy.
Gary Budden’s Hollow Shores – a powerful reading experience about loss, and belonging, and growing. The final story brings everything together in a way that made me really think about how memories work, and form us, just as landscape brings its influence to bear upon us all too.
And here are some of the novels that worked their magic upon me –
James Smythe’s The Machine really got inside my head and set up shop. Love, loss, need, fear: all laid bare in a little room containing a huge machine that sucks out memory and puts it back in. I found it really powerful and disturbing.
Nina Allan’s The Rift was, for me, all about travelling and then reliving, moving and staying, and the gaps between those who leave and those who remain. But you could read other reviews of it and get a totally different explanation for what it’s about and that shows just how amazing it is. It means what it means. Find your own truth in it.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was the dirtiest noir adventure with a narrator who has a wonderfully proper and yet somehow also very repulsive voice. How does that work? I’m not sure; I’m still thinking about it and puzzling it out.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons. It’s brilliant. Stories within stories, with a colossal, unknowable threat hanging over them all. I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it.
Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute. I’m a huge Shute fan anyway, but thought I’d read all his greatest novels and would find this to be a lesser work, when I found it in my local library. I was wrong. It easily became one of my favourites for being a honest investigation into how WWII enabled some women to find meaning and display bravery in ways that would otherwise be barred to them, and how difficult it was to return to expected roles once the fighting was over.
If Then by Matthew De Abaitua – I read this during my summer holiday, which meant I got completely involved in it and devoted hours to its fascinating setup, and the great big leaps it chose to then make into brain-fizzing territory. It was wonderful company.
Christopher Priest’s The Gradual was time travel in a way that made complete sense to me, involving red tape and mysterious yet banal bureaucracy, just as any journey does. The inner reality of the protagonist remains constant while the world changes, and leaves him behind. We’re all travelling in time, after all.
So now forward in time at the usual rate. 2017 was a great reading year; roll on the next, and happy new year to you. I hope 2018 is filled with fine print and tall tales.