I have read some excellent books in 2016 both new and not-quite-so-new. Here is a selection of my favourite reads of 2016:
My reading has been dominated by female authors more than ever this year. This isn’t something I deliberately set out to achieve but it is fantastic to see so many brilliant books written by women getting widespread attention. I highly recommend The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue which could be possible contenders for next year’s Wellcome Book Prize awarded to a fiction or non-fiction book about health or medicine.
I really enjoyed The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry which is one of the most original historical novels I have read in a long time while other recent favourites with a more modern setting include Swing Time by Zadie Smith, the Brexit-themed Autumn by Ali Smith and This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell.
Following the success of A Little Life in 2015, I turned to The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, a fascinating debut novel set on a remote Micronesian island which is one of the most chilling and memorable books I have read this year.
My favourite Man Booker Prize longlisted title this year (of the four I have read so far) is His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet – a gripping and psychologically complex book initially presented as “true crime” with plenty of surprises along the way.
Favourite translated fiction
I made some fantastic discoveries through this year’s Man Booker International Prize longlist including The Four Books by Yan Lianke which satirises the Great Leap Forward in China and The Vegetarian by Han Kang, a subtle and surreal novella about a woman who decides to stop eating meat which won the Prize in May. The Story of the Lost Child was another worthy addition to the shortlist although 2016 will also be remembered as the year when Elena Ferrante’s identity was revealed much to the horror of her fans.
I have also read some translated fiction which I hope will be featured in next year’s longlist including the surreal Japanese novel The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn, an atmospheric Norwegian thriller. Elsewhere, I finally read Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, an experimental French 20th century classic which is utterly bizarre yet fascinating.
I discovered some excellent non-fiction through the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist including The Outrun by Amy Liptrot about her return to Orkney while recovering from alcoholism and this year’s winner It’s All In Your Head: Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. I also loved Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon which won the Prize in 2014.
For those interested in modern Russia, I recommend Luke Harding’s gripping account of the death of Alexander Litvinenko A Very Expensive Poison or if historical diaries are more your thing then I suggest A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt – it is one of the longest books I have read this year but also one of the most absorbing accounts of daily life in 20th century Britain.
Back in February, I read Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis which is a brilliant travel memoir from 2012 about the author’s unique experience of living at the Halley research station in Antarctica for a year as a base-camp doctor.
Finally, although not a particularly festive choice, I would urge everyone to read Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge – a powerful and compelling account of the lives of ten children and teenagers who are known to have died on a single day in the United States as a result of gun violence.
In terms of events, I went to Chiswick Book Festival in west London in September and I have been working my way through the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist after meeting the authors at a bloggers event last month. I also enjoyed hearing Philippe Sands talk about his prize-winning book ‘East West Street’ at the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction event at the Royal Academy and I hope to read it in 2017.
Which books did you enjoy reading this year?