2010 was an odd reading year. Too many strange choices, too many overlong novels and a few disappointments. However, there were a few highlights, some good and some middling. One or two of my reads were frankly quite awful. I hope the recommendations below are helpful. For what to read and for what to avoid.
Five Star Reviews: Must Reads
Early in 2010 I thoroughly enjoyed The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, a novel which places him as a major writing talent. I’m very excited about what Mr Ferris has in store for us in the future. The Unnamed is an extraordinary read. I was also highly impressed by The City and the City by China Miéville, a book which has a peculiar knack of easing the reader into the strange world it creates. These two novels are certainly the most original I’ve read for a long time.
Jonathan Coe continued to impress with The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, a novel which I thought received some unfairly harsh reviews. Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman is my music biography choice of the year, which manages to flesh out an oft told, but very sad, life story.
Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon’s most accessible novel to date, an amusing tale set during the dying days of 60s California. It put me back in touch with Pynchon, although my attempts to finally finish Gravity’s Rainbow were frustrating.
Ghost stories were aplenty in 2010 although Dark Matter by Michelle Paver was by far the best. A well written, gripping and effectively frightening novel.
Four Star Reviews: Should Reads
Both Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill and Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser are non fiction choices that I’ll recommend. Fraser’s account of her life with Harold Pinter is very revealing about the man, although any of his admirers looking for critical appraisals of his art should stick with the MIchael Billington biography.
David Mitchell delivered his latest novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, although I found it to fall short of the masterpiece I was expecting. But it’s worth sticking this marathon read out. Similarly with C by Tom McCarthy, which was certainly a clever novel but one perhaps a trifle too pleased with itself.
Paul Torday’s latest, The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers, is my favourite of his to date. Torday has a charming and unique style and this is a very moving tale that’s worth reading.
The Small Hand by Susan Hill and Life by Keith Richards are respectively the second best ghost story and music biography of the year.
The Small Disappointments: You May Want to Avoid
Both Solar by Ian McEwan and Stories ed. Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio failed to deliver. In particular the Gaiman anthology was a wasted opportunity, which featured very few short stories of worth. The best was Sarrantonio’s own offering.
The Big Disappointments: Please Avoid
Legend of a Suicide by David Vann was recommended by several blogging friends but it just didn’t work for me. The Ghost by Robert Harris and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson were tedious doses of popular fiction. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas was a dull read and The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw was pitiful. Girl With… books just don’t work for me. Enough said.
However my worst read of 2010 was Room by Emma Donoghue, the most overrated book for a long time. I found it unconvincing and the narration-from-the-point-of-view-of-a-child irritating. Can somebody please explain why this novel is supposed to be so good?
But enough grumpiness. Here’s to continued enjoyable reading in 2011. Good health!