My Year in Reading; The Best of The Best

What makes a book one of the best of the year? How it stays with me. How it makes me think. The extent to which I can relate to what the author is saying as truth; the extent to which the characters live and breathe.

I have read books for the Man Booker International Prize, The Man Booker Prize, German Lit Month, Spanish Lit Month, Women in Translation Month and my own Japanese Literature Challenge 11. Therefore, some of these books might be obscure to you. But, all of them are worthy.

Here are the ten books of 2017 which stood out most prominently in my mind, which will stick with me far past this year and into the next:

 

1. A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto (“A master crime writer…Seicho Matsumoto’s thrillers dissect Japanese society.” -The New York Times Book Review; special thanks to Dorian at Eiger, Monch & Jungfrau who sent it to me last year.)

2. Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias 

3. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017)

4. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (by the British author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, this is a mesmerizing, unforgettable book)

5. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017, won the Goldsmiths Prize 2017, named Irish Book of the Year 2016)

6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry 

7. Autumn by Ali Smith (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017)

8. Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn 

9. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (a Times book of the year, a Guardian book of the year)

10. Fish Have No Feet by Jon Kalman Steffansson (longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017)

A list of all the books I’ve read this year, and the challenges in which I’ve participated, will be forthcoming.

The link to each book above takes you to Bookwitty, a source which delivers books with free shipping worldwide. 
 

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn (“He would not debase himself; he would not be ruled by his children and insulted by his jailers.”)

Does Edward St. Aubyn ever disappoint? Not me. His acerbic writing style cuts as sharply as any sword; I find myself reading and rereading his lines in great admiration.

Megan looked startled and upset. How easy she was to dominate. These Dunbar girls were arrogant, imperious, and tough, but toughness was not strength, imperiousness was was not authority, and their arrogance was an unearned pride born of an unearned income.

Two of the Dunbar girls, Megan and Abigail, have consorted with Dr. Bob to have their father admitted to a sanatorium named Meadowmeade so that they can take over the Dunbar Trust. They have done it all on the sly, leaving their sister Florence to find out on her own what has become of their father, only beloved by her.

It is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, and it is wonderful.

The story alternates between Henry Dunbar’s escape, the machinations of the two elder sisters, and sweet Florence.

“I am not my family,” said Florence.

“Well, I’ll be pondering the profundity of that remark for the rest of the day, I’m sure,” said Dr. Harris. “Nevertheless,…I want to make it clear that I will not be bullied by your sisters or their representatives. I deeply regret your father’s disappearance, but not as much as I regret accepting him here in the first place. Celebrities are usually more trouble than they’re worth, but in the case of your father, who is also an immensely powerful man, his presence here has been a complete disaster.

Dunbar, at eighty years of age, is stubborn and strong, yet susceptible to haunting memories which torment him as he makes his escape through the rugged terrain. (What a perfectly fitting jacket cover!)

I read on, identifying with Florence as she safeguards her father, wondering what will become of those who seek to take his fortune. His sanity. His identity. It may be a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but Dunbar has every right to stand on its own.

This has been a terrific read to finish up December, and still there is time to see what will fit on my Best of 2017 List. There is always a place for Edward St. Aubyn there.

(Buy it here with free shipping and delivery worldwide.)

Lost For Words by Edward St. Aubyn

Sometimes you have to read the judges rather than the books.

I used to believe that doctors cured you, Presidents led you, and book awards went to the book best written.

Not anymore. (Especially since the IFFP went to The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim.)

In his inimitable style, a blend of the most delicious sarcasm and facetiousness, Edward Sr. Aubyn describes the farce involved with a prestigious literary award. Neither writers nor judges are spared so much as a scratch from his sythe.

The Elysian Prize, more than vaguely resembling the Man Booker prize, is chaired by Malcolm Craig. It is a prize “confined to the Imperial ash heap of the Commonwealth.

Judges on the committee include Jo Cross, a well-known columnist and media personality; Vanessa Shaw, who is interested in “especially good writing”; Penny feathers, who is the Secretary of the Foreign Office’s old girlfriend. “The point was to build a consensus and come up with a vision of the sort of Britain they all wanted to project with the help of this prize: diverse, multi-cultural, devolutionary, and of course, encouraging to writers.

Some of the writers are Sam Black, preoccupied by psychological contracts, writing The Frozen Torrents; Katherine Burns, a lady novelist who surrounds herself with artists, thinkers, scientists and writers, as well as multiple lovers; Sonny Badanpur, who could trace his ancestry to Krishna and wrote The Mulberry Elephant; Penny who is a judge, but also the author of the thriller Roger and Out.

Halfway through the novel we find that some assistant sent Sonny’s auntie’s cookbook, instead of Katherine’s novel, to the judges. The cookbook finds its way to the long list and subsequently the short list. I could not stop laughing at the utter absurdity, which plausibly smacks of truth, in this situation. No one seems able to admit that the cookery book is not a splendid piece of fiction.  (John Elton, the American literary agent says, “Playing with textuality can be dangerous, but the audacity of putting it in a “cookbook” is sheer genius.”)

I curiously awaited the disclosure of the Short List, as if it was something real, just to read the following titles:

The Frozen Torrent by Sam Black
The Enigma Conundrum by Tim Wentworth
All The World’s A Stage by Hermione Fade
wot u starin at by Hugh Macdonald
The Palace Cookbook by Lakshmi Badanpur
The Greasy Pole by Alistair Mackintosh

Really, it’s enough to make me laugh out loud. Or, vomit violently into a sink. Or, as one of participants says, to “go to one of the nearby bookshops to buy something good to read on the way home, to…remind him what literature was before he went to the Elysian Prize dinner the next night.”

The Patrick Melrose novels are my very favorite works of Edward St. Aubyn’s, for the raw emotion they so powerfully convey; enough to make this American woman feel she had experienced the life of a British man.

Lost For Words is an entirely different kind of novel, as it points to a gigantic literary farce rather than a grim childhood and it’s subsequent effects. While St. Aubyn’s satire in the novel may seem like a touch of sour grapes to some, to me it seems to more closely resemble Shakespeare’s line in King Lear: “Many a true word hath been spoken in jest.”

(Find Victoria’s excellent review here.)