Βιβλίο της χρονιάς για τους Sunday Times το Brooklyn του Colm Toibin. Όσοι μας διαβάζετε εδώ θα έχετε δει ότι ο Ιρλανδός Toibin είναι ένας από τους αγαπημένους μου συγγραφείς και μάλιστα από εκείνους που διαβάζω μόνον στα αγγλικά.
The Dogs and the Wolves by Irene Némirovsky This is the latest of the fine novels by Némirovsky to be published in translation here after the literary sensation caused by the discovery of her unfinished masterpiece, Suite Française, a few years ago. And it is the most autobiographically illuminating and engrossing so far. Opening in the Ukraine (where she was born in 1903), its story travels on to Paris (where her father, a wealthy banker, took refuge with his family after the October revolution). Ada, its heroine, is a gifted painter of places and people — but her canvases pale alongside Némirovsky’s superlative scenes of life in Russia and France and the characters vividly portrayed in this novel about her Jewish heritage (Chatto £16.99).
Lustrum by Robert Harris Grippingly coalescing his fascination with politics and his enthralment with the last years of the Roman republic, this second book in Harris’s trilogy about Cicero is even more of a tour de force than Imperium, its acclaimed predecessor. Chronicling a tense period in the orator’s career, it brings all Harris’s mastery of white-knuckle suspense to an acute portrayal of the beguilements and perils of power. Figures such as Julius Caesar, Pompey and Catalina stalk its pages. Its political insights are keenly relevant to today (Hutchinson £18.99).
The Children's Book by AS Byatt Easily the best thing Byatt has written since her Booker-winning novel, Possession, this panoramic fictional cavalcade covers a quarter of a century, from 1895 to the aftermath of the first world war. Focusing on a bohemian colony of writers and potters in Kent, swarming with colourful characters and pulsing with enthusiasm for the art and literature of the time, it highlights the era’s cultural concerns — especially its fascination with childhood. Imaginative brio and intellectual zest winningly combine in a book that sizzles with acute perceptions (Chatto £18.99).
My Father’s Tears & Other Stories by John Updike Published after his death at the age of 76 in January this year, Updike’s last collection of stories triumphantly reaffirms his status as a peerless fictional recorder of small-town and middle-class American life. Mortality shadows the pages (the passage of time and life’s transience are recurring themes), but they glow with undimmed imaginative vitality. At once melancholy and celebratory, rich in masterstrokes of social, psychological and emotional nuance, and, as always, gleamingly sharp in focus, this is a superb signing off by America’s outstanding man of letters of the past half-century (Hamish Hamilton £18.99).
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters A poltergeist wreaks havoc in this wonderfully atmospheric horror tale of down-at-heel gentry struggling to survive amid the crumbling splendours of their Georgian house in the depths of rural Warwickshire. But what most haunts your imagination as you read it is the zeitgeist Waters conjures up with uncanny immediacy. Again displaying her unrivalled flair for period evocation, she resurrects the war-exhausted Britain of 1947 and brings to light class antagonisms ominously rankling beneath surface respectability as a long-established way of life expires and a new one starts to take its place (Virago £16.99).
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li Closely based on real-life atrocities that occurred in an industrial town north of Beijing not long after Mao’s death, this novel reads like reportage from hell. Around the grisly maltreatment of a young woman sentenced to death as a counter-revolutionary, it opens up horrific vistas into a suffocating world of party tyranny and nonstop surveillance, where frustration is routinely vented in aggression, cruelty and spite. Its author, who moved from China to America in 1996, has produced a work not just of searing intensity but of affecting subtlety, too. A book that it is impossible to forget (Fourth Estate £7.99).
The Year of the Flood by Margaret AtwoodTeeming with new life forms (gene-spliced super-pigs, rakunks, liobams) and new phenomena (pleebrats, painballers and eco-saints), Atwood’s latest fictional excursion into a nightmare world that could be just around the corner is the year’s most exuberantly inventive novel. A companion volume to her 2003 apocalyptic fable, Oryx and Crake, it sends verbal bravura and dark wit shimmering over scary scenarios of environmental and social collapse, and the plight of survivors scrabbling to subsist among the ruins (Bloomsbury £18.99).
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro Mainly set among the scattered farmsteads and small rural towns of southern Ontario that Munro has long made her distinctive and distinguished fictional territory, the stories in this book rivetingly focus on people facing extremity of various kinds, from a crippling accident in a snowy forest to a nerve-tingling encounter with a psychotic intruder. Written with veteran assurance and a finesse that misses no psychological or social nuance, these taut, compulsive narratives are each as packed as a compressed novel (Chatto £17.99).
Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years by Sue Townsend Twenty-seven years on from the publication of his first diary, here are the latest rueful and hilarious extracts from the journals of the hapless but ever-hopeful Samuel Pepys of the Midlands. Now 39¼, he is finding life in a converted pigsty in a Leicestershire village far from idyllic. Nor are things rosy in the nation at large and beyond (his sweet-natured son Glenn is under fire in Afghanistan). Family crises escalate. Prostate problems plunge him into the labyrinths of the NHS. It sounds grim stuff, but the extraordinary alchemy of Townsend’s resilient and resourceful humour turns it all into comic gold (M Joseph £18.99).
NOVEL OF THE YEAR Brooklyn by Colm Toibin Open this novel and you step straight into the small-town Ireland of the 1950s. Around you are the little shops and pubs and convents of Enniscorthy in Co Wexford, where Toibin grew up. Its townsfolk are brought to life with a believability that all but lifts them off the page. Perfectly caught, their jaunty talk keeps scenes entertaining. But behind the animation, stagnation lurks. Eilis, the young woman through whose engaging sensibilities events are registered, has to emigrate to find work. A job in a go-ahead Brooklyn department store provides fresh opportunities not just for her but Toibin, who depicts with zest and sureness the hopeful immigrant bustle of New York 60 years ago. Then a death confronts Eilis with a dilemma. Socially fascinating, suffused with humane depth, funny, affecting, deftly plotted and written with a subtlety that packs powerful effects into simple-seeming prose, this is a novel of magnificent accomplishment (Viking £17.99)