2014: "Best Of" Bridesmaids

on Sunday, December 28, 2014
Well, there are only three days left until the end of the year and short of me inhabiting the body of Bill Murray and reliving them on an endless loop I'm going to have to bite the bullet and make some decisions. I had nineteen books in contention for the top ten and, though I failed year ten maths, I still managed to work out that nine had to go. Thankfully, I always allow myself a safety net so that the also-rans get a look in. You will no doubt remember them in the years to come, just like you remember who came second in every sporting contest, or who ran for political office against George H. W. Bush or who came third in the fourth season of Austalian Idol. Or second. Or first. Anyway, here are the books that very almost reached my top ten of 2014:

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano. Somewhere in literary heaven I suspect there's a drinking game being played by Roberto Bolano and Irene Nemirovsky. Every time a publisher manages to squeeze another book out of their rotting corpse they down a tequila and run around the table with their pants around their ankles. I'm not sure who is winning but, fair to say, they are both totally smashed, on the floor, with ghost puke dribbling from their mouths. Bolano's posthumous output (so to speak) has been pretty patchy but A Little Lumpen Novelita stands as one of his best. It simmers with all the seediness, melancholy and straight out action that I tend to love about his stronger books. Better yet, it ends well before it wears out its welcome (Hello 2666 and The Savage Detectives). You can almost smell the smoke and hear the frantic clatter of his typewriter.

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. It was an audacious stunt that really ought to have failed. Three books released over the space of a single year - hard sci-fi nerdgasms positioned for readers of literary fiction. The first, Annihilation, was a creepy delight; the tale of a doomed expedition into the mysterious Area X, where nature has begun to reclaim what we humans have destroyed. The second novel, Authority, was less successful and dragged a little but the world VanderMeer had created was so mesmerising that I was willing to forgive the book's weaknesses. Thankfully, Acceptance proved a return to form, providing many answers but leaving the reader to ponder our collective path to mutual destruction. With echoes of Lem's Solaris and Margaret Attwood at her best, VanderMeer showed us the literary heights to which genre fiction can sometimes soar.

Wolf In White Van by John Darnielle. I'm not a rabid Mountain Goats fan but I was sufficiently intrigued to pick up lead singer Darnielle's debut novel. A surprising work from someone his age (it reads like it was written by a twenty something), Wolf In White Van is a hymn to the golden era of gaming - you know, the pen and paper, D&D, pre-Playstation variety. Sean Phillips is a beautifully rounded, tragic character and though I wasn't entirely convinced by the novel's ending I loved the interplay of Phillips's real and imagined worlds. A tender elegy to loneliness and displacement.

Young Gods by Katherine Faw Morris. When an author chooses to have their publicity shot with a fuck-off monster of a dog you know you're in for a rough ride. When that author happens to be a sweet as pie blonde youngster like Faw Morris you can bet it's time to double down and reach for the biscuits. Young Gods is a brutal knife fight of a novel, fuelled by drugs, booze, bile and double-wides. A suckerpunch debut by a very promising writer. Now get that dog away from me.

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson. Graham Greene storms Africa in this fast-paced political thriller with serious literary chops. It's the kind of thing we take for granted from Johnson but that doesn't make it any less of a ripper.

A few flower girls: Wherewithal by Philip Schultz, The Boy's Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew by Eli Glasman, To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris and Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer.


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