Sneaking in with only hours left of this year, I’ve complied my ‘best of 2017 list’. It was a great year for books (and audiobooks); whispers and snippets of many of them are still rattling around in my head.
I’ve actually surprised myself with this list, and in particular with the ranking of the books. On any given day the list could’ve looked different (how did Sarah Waters not end up in the top spot? Where is Pachinko? Anything Is Possible?).
However, given 2017 is ebbing away as I type, without further prevarication I give you my favourite four audiobooks and my best ten books of 2017.
Best four audiobooks
For a bit of fun, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death hits the mark (as I micro-reviewed here). The success of this as an audiobook can almost wholly be attributed to Penelope Keith’s narration – her words effortlessly drip with irony. The simplicity of the plot and the unadorned writing also contributes to this being a great audio choice.
I still haven’t seen the HBO series of Big Little Lies, but I loved listening to this. I totally didn’t see the twist coming and when it did, I audibly gasped and – with my rubber-gloved hands perched on the kitchen sink – I had to suspend the washing up while I digested the news.
Helen Garner’s Everywhere I Look was my very first audiobook, back in January. As I said in my review, because she reads this herself I felt intimately connected with the prose and also with her.
Everywhere I Look included a short extract from Garner’s book This House of Grief; I was intrigued to learn more. I wasn’t in Australia when Robert Farquharson murdered his children, so I was spellbound as I listened to Garner’s unraveling of the story and her own personal journey.
I listened to this recently as I drove the long hours between my new job and home; it kept me company and for that I was grateful. Written long before the Serial podcast, I found this equally if not more compelling.
Best ten books
I read A Christmas Carol a few weeks ago, and adored it. At the risk of riling scholars and lay readers alike, I’d forgotten how brilliant Charles Dickens’ writing is.
Watching The Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve and its faithful retelling of Dickens’ novella (setting aside Rizzo the Rat) reminded me just how much this story is interwoven into the fabric of Christmas tradition.
As I said in my mini-review here, I loved Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett because it’s properly funny (laugh out loud funny), the characters are hilarious and yet believable and the writing is pitch perfect. Even if whales aren’t your thing, there is so much to adore about this book.
The genius of His Bloody Project struck me when I realised that Graeme McCrae Burnet has not only made up the whole story, but has managed to construct every character, every plot point, and every bit of dialogue as if he is merely recounting a true historical incident.
The layered narrative conveys much more than the plot – it highlights the schisms in Scotland between the highlanders and the lowlanders, the injustice of the feudal system as well as the subjectivity of truth.
Although Naomi Alderman couldn’t have forseen it, The Power was a great book to read in the same year in which the TV series of The Handmaid’s Tale resulted in a significant boost to Margaret Atwood’s street cred (and bank balance). The fact that Atwood endorses this book should give you a sense of it’s scope and intent.
Not sure whether this book would appeal to men, but I loved reading about a world in which women were more powerful than men in every sense, including physically and politically. It says a lot about misogyny, but more about power and corruption.
The twistings and the turnings of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters takes us from Fagan-esque London, to a gothic mansion, to a mental asylum and back to London again. The narrator changes twice, and the characters shape-shift as a consequence. Best of all, this intricate and layered plot is founded on a solid base of expert story-telling and a dexterity with words. You can read my thoughts on this book, the film, the TV series and the audiobook here.
In The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry has created a wonderful ensemble of characters, each with their own flaws and quirks that show off her remarkable writing. The combination of her writing style and these characters gives the book a lightness and humour that historical novels can’t often deliver. I had high expectations for this book, and they met them – which you can read more about here.
I read The Good People and then I listened to Hannah Kent talk about it at the Clunes Book Festival. Oh my, oh my. Thirty-two years old and a bloody legend. She is destined for some major, major book prize. While she busies herself writing her next literary marvel, you should check out this one.
Autumn by Ali Smith is poignant, fun and breathtakingly original. I liked how it made me feel – hopeful, reassured and somehow joyful. You can read my full review here, or better still, read the book. (And stay tuned for some thoughts on Winter).
I have no interest in cricket but for the duration of this book, I LOVED IT. I’m not particularly interested in the fate of dingbat sportsmen who put themselves in morally perilous positions and then expect forgiveness, but for the duration of this book, I LOVED THAT. I revelled in the evocation of growing up in 1970s/80s Australia.
I really wasn’t expecting to, but The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong totally enthralled me. You can read more about why here.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney is a darkly humorous excursion into the lives of people inhabiting the fringes of Irish society. It takes the Irish Tourism version of Ireland and warps it mercilessly into something real and meaningful but also grubby and degenerate. I urged you to read it here, and I urge you again: read this fabulous book.
As we turn to face 2018, I wonder what our wonderful publishers, book sellers and authors have in store for us. Can’t wait!
And for when it rolls around, where ever you are…