2013: The "Best Of" Bridesmaids

on Thursday, December 26, 2013
Another bumper year, another night spent shuffling cue cards trying to sort out what would make my Top 10. I wish I could have put these in. Then again, I also wish I could fly. To my own tropical island. With a talking lemur called Alfi. Whatever. If you haven't read these books Alfi will find you and poop in your fridge.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton: Anyone who picked up Catton's debut The Rehearsal knew that she was destined for huge things. With The Luminaries she delivered both literally and figuratively - 850 pages of ingeniously constructed New Zealand Wild West storytelling and a Booker Prize to boot. After all the bitching about the prize that's been going on of late, it's nice to remind yourself that sometimes the judges hit on a truly worthy winner. Given the strength of this year's Booker field, that's really saying something.

The Son by Philip Meyer: Nestled somewhere in this hefty tome is 2013's book of the year. Unfortunately the extraordinary tale of Eli McCullough's kidnapping by a Commanche raid party and subsequent initiation into their brutal way of life is padded out by two far lesser interesting tales that run as parallel threads throughout. A salutary lesson for writers and editors alike: learn to recognise the magic.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin: The shortest book ever to be nominated for a Booker Prize, Toibin's masterful act of biblical ventriloquism must be read to be believed (pun only sort of intended). Drawing on traditional narratives, apocrypha and some very smart personal theorising, The Testament of Mary is refreshing, daring and immensely enjoyable.

Bough Down by Karen Green: She doesn't mention his name even once, but Green's meditation on the death of her husband David Foster Wallace and her attempts to come to terms with it through art is nothing short of breathtaking. Don't dare call it a misery memoir; Bough Down is life affirming art in its own right.

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran: Think what you want of Australia's enfant terrible (though not quite the enfant anymore), but he sure has a knack for finding a great story. Moreover, he is willing to risk his life to become part of it. Unsurprisingly, Murder In Mississippi reads like a classic Safran series put to the page - fast, funny, sharp and socially important. Don't let the nebbishe whimsy fool you.

The Making Of by Brecht Evens: It's not that hard to take the piss out of the literary world. Let's face it - we're all a bunch of wankers. But this extremely entertaining graphic novel managed to nail the absurdity of it all in a way I haven't seen since Martin Amis's The Information. Gorgeously drawn and hilariously spun this was not only the best graphic novel I read all year but one of the best books period.

A Few Flower Girls: Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich, The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, Bruno Kramzer by AS Patric, Saving Mozart by Raphael Jerusalmy.


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