Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

The midway point though the last day of the year seems an appropriate time to pop up part two of my books of 2011 and my last post of the year (is it me or does that feel weird?). We have already had the books released prior to this year and we now move onto the books that were released this year in the UK (I don’t think any of them came out anywhere else in the world but just in case I have popped that clause in). I actually think that 2011 has been one of the best for contemporary fiction and this was a much harder exercise to whittle these down to just ten. So without further waffle from me here they are again with a quote from the full reviews which you can find by clicking on the title…

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

“Like its predecessor, the wonderful ‘The Observations’ (which I am going to have to re-read soon, it’s one of my favourite books which made me rather nervous about this one), ‘Gillespie and I’ is a book that is all about evoking an atmosphere, wonderful writing, an unforgettable narrator, and those clever twists you never see coming. Yet it is no carbon copy by any stretch of the imagination and stands in its own rite. I loved this book, it’s very easy to find a fault with a book, particularly one at over 500 pages in length, yet there are none I can think of. I would go as far as to say I think ‘Gillespie and I’ could be an almost perfect book…”

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

“I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is.”

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

“I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a place still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book.”

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

“Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.”

The Hunger Trace – Edward Hogan

“There is a real sense of humour in this novel, dark but often very funny, yet in many ways it is a moving tale of people and their sense of isolation or being an outsider often leading to events in their pasts be the recent or from years ago. These are events that leave a trace on you and which is described beautifully when Louisa discusses her prized bird Diamond who she saves and leads to the novels title. ‘When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.’ It is this hunger trace that runs through the main character of this novel and their obsessions which keep the real world at bay be they Louisa’s birds, Christopher’s obsession with Robin Hood or Maggie’s need to succeed despite what anyone else says.”

There But For The – Ali Smith

“…so far it’s my favourite of Ali Smith’s works to date that I have read. She has taken bits of her earlier work; great characters, observations, comedy, unusual narratives, prose and pacing and put them all together. It’s a tour-de-force as opposed to a hotch-potch. I don’t want to say this is her most accessible book, even though in many ways it is, because that makes it sound like it’s not experimental and it is. It’s just honed down, controlled and done without ego.”

The House of Silk – Anthony Horrowitz

“I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.”

In Other Worlds: SF & The Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

“…because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.”

Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

“It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how?”

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

“You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realized I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second.”

So there you have it, my top twenty books of the year. (I should add here that ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and ‘Mr Chartwell’ by Rebecca Hunt were initially on this list but then I discovered this morning they were actually published initially in 2010 and had already popped Part I up – oops, there’s two more recommendations snuck in there though.) So over to you, what do you think of this list and what were your favourite books of 2011?

11 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2011

11 responses to “Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

  1. I am not much of a reader of contemporary fiction but Gillespie and I was my top choice in that category this year — I had also read The Observations and in fact did a re-read a few months ago, to which it stood up very well. I’d very much like to read the Ali Smith and the SJ Watson but knowing my habits they won’t be new news by the time I get around to them!

  2. I like the sound of the hogan book ,all the best for the new year stu

  3. David

    Great list, Simon. The Sarah Winman is one I’ve had for ages and not yet got around to, which I must. Kathleen Winter would definitely make my list too. I loved ‘Gillespie & I’ but I think it would be just outside my top ten, as would ‘There But For The’ (which latter has curiously faded in memory while other novels that I initially thought less of have stayed in my mind and grown).
    ‘The Hunger Traces’ I thought was good but not one of my favourites of the year. ‘The Proof of Love’ would probably come in at number 48 out of 51 for me I’m afraid, but I should qualify that by saying I didn’t dislike it and its low placing is simply a reflection of how much great fiction was published during 2011 (for the record the three books I enjoyed less were ‘The Testament of Jessie Lamb’, Mary Horlock’s ‘The Book of Lies’ and Aamer Hussein’s ‘The Cloud Messenger’).

    My own top ten? I have a pair of front-runners in Simon Van Booy’s ‘Everything Beautiful Began After’ (Absolutely loved it. For all its occasional moments of pretentiousness it was on the whole beautifully written and told such a heartbreaking story. It’s rare that I’m itching to read a book again but with this one I am.) and Vanessa Gebbie’s ‘The Coward’s Tale’ (what a joyous book, and what a storyteller!).
    Close on their heels would be Chad Harbach’s ‘The Art of Fielding’ which is just enormously enjoyable. Then, in no particular order:
    ‘Alone in the Classroom’ – Elizabeth Hay
    ‘Annabel’ – Kathleen Winter
    ‘Pure’ – Andrew Miller
    ‘My Former Heart’ – Cressida Connolly
    ‘Natural Order’ – Brian Francis
    ‘You Deserve Nothing’ – Alexander Maksik
    ‘A Summer of Drowning’ – John Burnside
    Runners-up: Alexi Zentner’s ‘Touch’, Ali Smith’s ‘There but for the’, and Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’.

  4. Louise

    Gillespie and I would be in my top ten too…am I the only one that didn’t like When God Was a Rabbit?

  5. I’ve not read any of these, Simon, but have a few in mount TBR!

  6. I loved Gillespie and I too and I’ve included it in my own Top Books of 2011 list. I enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep as well. And thanks for reminding me I still need to read Annabel!

  7. Sharkell

    I have only read the SJ Watson which would also be in my top ten for the year. I have ordered The Proof of Love and The Hunger Trace based on your recommendations – I am looking forward to them but I’m not sure how to balance this with the Reading Matters Australian literature challenge…..

  8. I had a very hard time with Ali Smith’s book, but chose before I Go To Sleep as my favorite audio fiction. here is my recap: http://wordsandpeace.com/2011/12/30/year-of-reading-2011/

  9. I have a lot of lemmings now! Off to look for books.

  10. gaskella

    I finally got my hands on Gillespie and I just before Christmas when the paperback came out – looking forward to that immensely. I enjoyed ‘Before I go to sleep’ a lot, but haven’t read any of the others, although, like Kim, I have a couple in the TBR.

  11. It’s looking at your list that I realize just how much you are responsible for the increase in my wish-list 🙂

    A happy 2012, Simon!

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