I read a cartload of fabulous books this year and it was difficult to choose the highlights. But here they are! Read this list in conjunction with my blog post ‘EOFY (Part 2) – the rest of this year’s fiction that got away’ [hotlink] for an even more comprehensive list of great books I appreciated in 2016.
The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
This quirky novel dives into the murky waters of marital betrayal. It also reveals how marriage and motherhood can seriously interfere with a woman’s dream to be an ‘art monster’.
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Charlotte and Henry migrate to Australia from England in 1963, and Charlotte is struggling. Bishop writes elegantly, incisively and with an aching thread of melancholy about motherhood, art, migration and dislocation.
Dirt Road by James Kelman
While in the US with his father on a holiday from Scotland, Murdo is invited to play with some musos. It’s the first time since his mother and sister died that he feels he might belong. Murdo is eloquent about music, God and loss.
Sweet Caress by William Boyd
As a photographer, Amory Clay enjoys more freedom than most women in the 20th century and she grasps this liberty with both hands in her career, love affairs and later life. An absorbing cradle-to-grave novel.
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
This is a breathtaking short story collection. ‘The Quiet’, set in remote Australia, still makes me shiver with its eeriness and I’ve been drawn back to other stories in the collection again and again.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
This unusual work of memoir/non-fiction takes a philosophical look at motherhood, transitioning, partnership, parenting and family — and how we might develop more inclusive and expansive ways to talk about them.
M Train by Patti Smith
As Smith writes in this memoir, ‘You think some things will go on forever—your children will always be small, your husband will always be alive—but time passes … Memory is our most fertile souvenir.’
Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell (for readers 9 and above)
Stella Montgomery gets caught up in an adventure that endangers her but brings the Victorian era in all its quirkiness alive. I’m itching to read the sequel, Wormwood Mire, out now.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
A love story and a war story come together in the 1970s when a young woman finds a diary. Superb characters and a great plot meant I was absorbed from go to whoa.
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
Rowe’s debut novel is a tightly woven tale that charts the dimensions of a family’s suffering—the sad reverb from one man’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky
This intelligent novel explores the trauma passed on to a child of a Holocaust survivor and whether she can ever be free of the grief and fear.
Crime Scenes edited by Zane Lovitt
This slim collection of Australian crime fiction held me captive as I tried to second-guess each progenitor’s motive. No dice! Each story delivered an unexpected blow to the head or the solar plexus. Great stuff.
Shibboleth & other stories edited by Laurie Steed
The title story is pitch-perfect. Others work well to broach a plethora of themes including death, deception, predation, dementia and people finding the courage to carry on.
Loopholes by Susan McCreery
If you like your microfiction funny, pointed and poignant, look no further. McCreery is masterly at writing the turning point where we learn what’s really going on and what’s at stake.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Written by a young neurosurgeon facing terminal cancer, this memoir is wonderfully expressive, deeply thoughtful and bone-achingly sad. Kalanithi’s wife Lucy wrote the book’s epilogue after he died. I cried and cried.
The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams
Williams is a virtuoso of the short story form and crawls fearlessly under her characters’ skins to show us who they really are. An intriguing and diverse collection.
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
What an astonishing collection of short stories and cast of characters! I still have nightmares of ‘Dr. H. A. Moynihan’ – a dentist who is almost as scary as Sweeney Todd. Brilliantly observed.