2013: The Final Countdown

on Sunday, December 29, 2013
And so another year draws to an end. As always I leave behind a bunch of books I wish I'd read but just never had the time to yank from my shelf. One or two of them might have made this list. Apologies, then, to: Middle C by William H. Gass, Southern Cross The Dog by Bill Cheng, Wreaking by James Scudamore, Property by Rutu Modan, The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker and The Man With The Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi. I'd also have liked to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon. Oh well. Of the 90 or so books from 2013 that I read (as opposed to the other 65), these were my favourites.

THE TOP 10 OF 2013: FROM 10 TO 2

10. First Novel by Nicholas Royle. It starts as a reasonably conventional campus novel. Momentarily famous writer spends his days teaching and shagging students while trying to come up with his second novel. When a student hands in a story that might just be his life Royle shifts gears and gives us a brilliantly meta riff on identity, creation and psychosis. A highly literary Single White Female, if you will.

9. Goat Mountain by David Vann. After his last novel, Dirt, I was a little worried that Vann had run out of steam. Goat Mountain allayed that fear. Heart stopping tension when a family hunting trip turns murderous. Once again, the landscape is the real marvel, but the young boy, his father, grandfather and family friend traipsing around with a poacher's corpse makes for beautifully uncomfortable reading.

8. The Silence and The Roar by Nihad Sirees. A frightening glimpse into the suppression, exploitation and outright destruction of creativity under a dictatorial regime. After trying to help a student who has been bashed by the police, a young author is cast into bureaucratic purgatory. Kafka's nightmare vision made real.

7. It's a tie! Red Sky In Morning by Paul Lynch and Rivers by Michael Farris Smith. Two superb debuts, two harrowing reads. Red Sky In Morning might well be Ireland's answer to Blood Meridian. Brutality and injustice prevail when a good guy is forced to take terrible action. As for Rivers, no doubt JG Ballard would have been chuffed to write a dystopia as fully realised and utterly compelling as this. Can be read as a bloody ripping adventure or something far, far deeper.

6. The Devil's Workshop by Jachym Topol. Topol turns the whole Holocaust tourism concept on its head with this short, disturbing novel. A man who single handedly reinvigorated Theresienstadt is kidnapped by Belarusian operatives hell bent on making their forgotten camp into some sort of evil Disneyland. Hilarious, shocking with plenty of food for thought.

5. Carnival by Rawi Hage. Still can't make heads or tails of this completely disorientating thrill ride of a novel but I definitely know it's one of my favourites of the year. Modern life unfurled through the prism of a taxi driver cruising around town during the city's mysterious carnival.

4. Equilateral by Ken Kalfus. This whimsical tale of an hilariously madcap scheme to dig a giant equilateral triangle in the desert then light it to communicate with Mars has kept me smiling for around eight months now. Full of rich period detail and joyous storytelling, it is a ray of light in an otherwise rather dark Top 10.

3. Pink Mist by Owen Shears. I can't think of another poem (admittedly extended, and in prose form) that has ever moved me as profoundly as this. In the tradition of last year's magnificent novel Yellow Birds, Pink Mist is a searing indictment on the sheer horror and futility of war. Absolutely magnificent.

2. Harvest by Jim Crace. I have spent the last two days incessantly swapping first and second position on my list. Crace bows out of the writing game with one of the most staggering allegories of modern society ever produced. Xenophobia, selfishness, opportunism, injustice, baseless fear and hatred. It's all there in this literary mirror. Recoil in horror. The truth is very, very ugly. And yet Harvest is so beautifully executed, such a classic piece of storytelling that there is not even a hint of bitterness to Crace's pill.


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