Books of 2013; Part I

With two days of 2013 to go, I thought it was time to share my books of the year. In the tradition I have set over the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, there will be two posts of my books of the year. Today it is the books that were published before 2013 and tomorrow the ones that were published for the first time in the UK this year. Interestingly today’s list has proved so much easier than tomorrows as it seems I didn’t really read many books published before 2013 – and when I did only a few of them blew me away, those ones were…

10. Chocolat – Joanne Harris

I have to say that even though I had seen the film, though it has been a while, ‘Chocolat’ as a book was a whole lot darker and less twee than I thought it would be before picking it up. One of the many things that I admired so much about it was that under the tale of outsiders coming to a place, and quietly causing mayhem, there was the huge theme of people’s individuality and that being different should be celebrated and not ostracised, yet ‘Chocolat’ is also cleverly not a book that smacks you over the head with a moralistic tone.

9. The Detour – Gerbrand Bakker

‘The Detour’ won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year and having read it you can easily see why. Bakker creates a story that is subtle and slow burning yet all at once brimming with a sense of mystery and menace. It is also a book that will linger on with the reader long after you have read it and, if you are like me, long after it devastates you with both its prose and most importantly its story. A much recommended book.

8. The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

Greene shows what a master he is not only of atmosphere (war torn and spy strewn London) but of writing a book which takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions as much as it does thrills. Some of the book I found profoundly moving, both the descriptions of the destruction the war inflicted and also in an element I can’t explain here for fear of spoilers. Greene also made me laugh out loud on several occasions which, with all the tension and twists, proved much needed and added a great contrast of light amongst the dark.

7. Riotous Assembly – Tom Sharpe

The more I have thought about Riotous Assembly, the more impressed I have been left by it. The humour gets you through some of the tough bits, some of the bits that people would normally find hard to read and digest palatable by their humour yet equally devastating, if not more so, when the reader realizes the truth in it. So yet there maybe the boobies (and more) and bullets (and more) in it that I was expecting, but the way in which they are used is both titillating and thought provoking.

6. The Long Falling – Keith Ridgway

If I had a little bit of a literary crush on Ridgway’s writing after reading ‘Hawthorn and Child’ last year, I now have something of a full on crush on it from reading ‘The Long Falling’. It shocked me from the first chapter which slowly meanders before a sudden twist, which happens a lot in this book actually, yet unlike some books that first amazing chapter is bettered as the book goes on and for all these reasons I strongly urge you to give it a read. I loved it, if love is the right word? I was also thrilled that this was as brilliant as the previous Ridgway I read yet a completely different book in a completely different style.

5. Good Evening Mrs Craven; The Wartime Stories – Mollie Panter Downes

I think Mollie Panter-Downes writing is astounding. I really remember liking it last time but this time I loved it. There are the wonderful, often rather quirky, characters some of whom, like Mrs Ramsey, Mrs Peters and Mrs Twistle, keep returning in and out of the stories which helps build the consistency of the world Panter-Downes describes as they run from 1939 to 1944, the tone changing slightly as the book goes on. She can bring a character to life in just a mere sentence or two and the brevity of her tales and how much they make your mind create is quite astounding.

4. The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing

Lessing’s writing is unflinchingly brilliant. As I mentioned about the sense of menace and oppression is wonderfully evoked as the landscape and weather match the atmosphere of impending doom the book has and also Mary’s mental state. Mary is also an incredible creation, one of the most complex characters I have read. She is never completely likeable nor dislikeable, yet you find yourself fascinated by a woman who in turns goes from victim to venomous, from independent to weak, from sane to crazy, from racist to not and back again. It is confronting and equally compelling and highlights the society at the time and the conundrum and conflict a country and its society found itself in and in some ways, shockingly, still does.

3.Mariana – Monica Dickens

If someone had told me this is what the book was going to be about before I started I might have been inclined to think that this book really wouldn’t be for me. Yet I loved every single page of it and was completely lost in Mary’s life. Part of that was to do with the character of Mary that Monica creates, she isn’t the picture perfect heroine at all, she can be moody, ungainly and awkward, a little self centred on occasion but she is always likeable, her faults making her more endearing even when she can be rather infuriating. Part of it was also all the characters around her, I want to list them all but there are so many it would be madness, some of them delightful, some spiteful but all of them drawn vividly and Monica Dickens has a wonderful way of introducing a new character with the simplest of paragraphs which instantly sums them up. All of these characters are part of the many things that make you go on reading ‘Mariana’, every page or two someone new lies in store.

2. HHhH – Laurent Binet

I don’t think I have learnt so much about World War II from a book I have read in all my 31, nearly 32, years. Considering that I studied it for about five years in my history lessons at school this is quite something. I had no idea about some of the smaller but utterly fascinating facts behind this time period; that the Hitler wanted authors such as Aldous Huxley, Rebecca West, HG Wells and Virginia Woolf; that the Nazi’s built their own brothel (Kitty’s Salon) to film other Nazi’s to see if they were true to the regime or not. Nor did I know of some of the utterly horrific things, like what an ineffectual plonker Chamberlain was, the plans for Nazi attack cells in all the cities all over the UK and the horrendous atrocities such as Grandmothers Gully in Kiev.

1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

… there is very little doubt in my mind that ‘The House of Mirth’ is an absolute masterpiece and could easily be one of my favourite books. I loved Wharton’s prose, her humour and the fact she did completely the opposite of what I was expecting with Lily’s story which alas I can’t discuss in detail for I would completely spoil it for you if you have yet to read it – if that is the case you must go and get it now. Lily Bart walked fully off the page for me and I found myself thinking about her a lot when I wasn’t reading the book. Reading it is an experience, and I don’t say that often. One thing is for sure, I will not be forgetting the tale of Lily Bart for quite some time and I believe I will be returning to it again and again in the years to come.

So that is the first of my selection of books of 2013. I have only taken a small quote from my thoughts on each book, to find out more click on the link to each book. Which of these have you read and what did you think? I have realised I need to get into more of the books from the past and less of the shiny new ones, but that is for discussion more in the New Year. Any other books by these authors that you would recommend I read in 2014?


Filed under Books of 2013, Random Savidgeness

12 responses to “Books of 2013; Part I

  1. gaskella

    Excellent stuff! I’m going to try to find my copies of Mariana and The House of Mirth and put them by my bed for my TBR reading over the next three months – been meaning to read both for ages.

  2. Great books there Simon – I have a “best of” post scheduled for tomorrow – and there are only two books on it published this century – I haven’t read enough things published in 2013 for a list of just books published this year.
    From your list I too loved the Mollie Panter Downes and Mariana fromm persephone books and I adored The House of Mirth when I read it. I also read Ministry of Fear this year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. LauraC

    I definitely recommend more of Joanne Harris. The next Chocolat book is “The Girl With No Shadow”/”Lollipop Shoes.” It was a decent book, but I much preferred “Peaches for Father Francis”/ “Peaches for Monsieur le Cure” (Chocolat #3). You must read that one, and also “Five Quarters of the Orange,” which I loved as well. I must read some more of her-it has been quite a while.

  4. David

    I’ve only read three of those authors – Greene, Panter-Downes and Lessing. My sole experience with Lessing (‘Mara and Dann’ was not a good one so I wouldn’t recommend that, but DO read Mollie Panter-Downes’ ‘One Fine Day’ which is just a beautiful novel. Edith Wharton is an author I must get around to reading.

    Splitting your favourites into pre-2013 and 2013 is interesting (and it means you get to have a top 20 – sneaky!). I’ve certainly been making a concerted effort to read more older books this year, but intend to read even more next year. My own pre-2013 top ten for this year would be:

    ‘The Mountain and the Valley’ – Ernest Buckler; ‘Lonesome Dove’ – Larry McMurtry; ‘One Fine Day’ – Mollie Panter-Downes; ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ – Raymond Carver; ‘Lost Voices’ – Christopher Koch; ‘Watching the Climbers on the Mountain’ – Alex Miller; ‘My Sister; My Love’ – Joyce Carol Oates; ‘The Submerged Cathedral’ – Charlotte Wood; ‘People You’d Trust Your Life To’ – Bronwen Wallace; ‘Through the Safety Net’ – Charles Baxter.

  5. The House of Mirth is so, so gorgeous. I like the Custom of the Country very much too, though it’s more biting. And two bloggers I respect have raved about Summer, one of her novellas.

  6. I haven’t yet read Chocolat, but I read Joanne Harris’s Gentlemen and Players for my book group this year and really enjoyed it.

  7. I think this would make an excellent reading list for the new year. I will have to dig through my TBR to see if I have any Graham Greene there. I could swear that I do somewhere.

  8. Interesting list. Mariana and the House of a mirth made mine a few years ago. Do read the Fifth a Child if you haven’t yet. It made my list and was also my first Lessing. I want to read Chocolat since you mentioned its darker than the movie.

  9. I have Mariana on my list for next year — I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. I like the idea of splitting up your faves this way… I’ve put mine all together, but my top two reads are one published this year, and one published in 1753!

  10. Great list you have! I’m definitely interested in reading Hhhh. I’ve many things about the book so I will have to purchase this.

  11. Whoop, The Grass in Singing! It was one of my top 10 the year I read it too. 🙂 You have seriously tempted me with Hhhh, which I really didn’t think I wanted to read until I heard you all talking about it on Hear Read This…and I know I’m going to have to buy Mariana too. These end of year posts are so dangerous.

  12. Great thanks to you and some of the other book blogs I have found from your site I’ve had a wonderful year of reading and kept my (delighted!)local librarian very,very busy hunting down books that have been suggested. I found that above all I am a Barbara Pym fan. As well I’ve enjoyed Graham Greene, Susan Hill and Joanne Harris to name a few. Happy New Year from Canada!

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