Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Best Fiction Picks for 2011

As usual I read close to 90 books this year. One day I’ll make the hundred mark.

 So much good fiction appeared this year, I could not read all I purchased.  Still pending are: The Antagonist by Lynn Coady, Infrared by Nancy Huston, Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee, Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers and The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, one of my favourite writers.

Since I am spending the last month of the year recovering from surgery, I’ll have plenty of time to tackle the mountain by the bed side.

What follows are thirteen works of fiction I personally found satisfying and delightful. Tomorrow the clunkers, the books I felt should not be tossed lightly aside but instead, should be thrown forcefully across the floor.

Here in no particular order:

1.      Baking Cakes in Kigali  by Gaile Parkin.  This book is set in Rwanda and, through linked stories, touches on many of Africa’s woe’s: war, genocide, rape, genital mutilation, poverty, AIDS and yet it also a very feminist novel, a rarity these days.  The protagonist is a woman who has a cake-making business with numerous customers, several grandchildren to support and a cast of neighbours who live in the compound and who provide plenty of stories.
2   State of Wonder by Anne Patchett.  A fertility drug is being developed deep in the Amazon. So well written that it carries one along into the heart of darkness of a fantastical jungle.  It is a story of ethics, particularly medical ethics and the world view that anything is good if it will serve a greater good, or if you convince yourself it will serve a greater good. The title should be State of Confusion.

3.      Old Filth by Jane Gardam.  Read it in two days. Story of a life, uneventful life on the surface, but in reality, full of secrets.  Gardam took her basic idea from Kipling’s story of the raj child.

4.      Smokin Seventeen by Janet Evanovich – still funny after all these years.  One of the best comic writers takes the same cast— bail bond enforcer Stephanie Plum, her two hot lovers, pistol packin’ Gramma Mazur plus a selection of New Jersey wise guys—and tosses up a hilarious salad of a story.

5.      The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Black maids in white Jackson, Mississippi.  Many great things abound in this book, primarily the details of the maids’ work and their relationships with the white families.  The emphasis is on women, white and black, the economic disparities between the two groups and the all-pervasive racism of  white society. A sub-plot outlines the impossibility of a black woman raising a light-skinned baby and the casual meddling of the white women in the lives of the blacks, refusing to let them see their own children, deciding who they could speak to and so on.

6.      The Gate at the Top of the Stairs by Laurie Moore. A very original writer with a great story to tell. Tassie, a baby sitter for an adopted child, finds herself learning more and more about the parents as their pasts come to light.  The themes are the terrible destruction caused by love gone wrong and the tragic results inflicted on children.  The dialogue is sparkly and the musing of Tassie more so.  Moore’s metaphors tumble one over another in a waterfall of original writing. 

7.      A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe. A fine book with a good story, great characters, excellent history and that feeling about it, the lure of a good story, so that you are pulled in, in this instance into the old west, and you want to stay or return immediately when you put the book down. 

8.      The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt A Western marvelous romp, tender and clever and very funny.  The plot is excellent all through but the ending must be one of the funniest in Can Lit.  A distinctive voice animates this fine novel.

9.      The Reversal by Michael Connelly.  An excellent book, one of his best. The Los Angeles lawyer becomes the prosecutor in a fast-moving plot with the usual Connelly twist at the end.

10.  The Free World by David Bezmozgis  The vicissitudes of a Jewish family in Rome who left Communist Latvia and are trying to come to terms with the free world.  Great characters and peppy writing all around.

11.  The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott. A terrific novel of early vaudeville.  A very satisfying plot with lots of wonderful characters and nice turns and twists.  A big favourite of mine this year. One of those books you do not want to end.

12.  The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje.  Three young boys become friends during a voyage from Ceylon to India.  They eat at the “Cat’s Table,” the least prestigious table in the dining room, learn all about their table mates and get into plenty of mischief.   A deeply humanistic novel which celebrates long term friendships.

13.  Underground by Antanas Sileika Lithuania, in the mid 1940’s is a setting for a romance that outlasts the brutal events of the times and the vicissitudes of war and revolution. Beautifully written.
Antanas Sileika

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