Looking back on the year’s reading, below are a few recommendations from books I’ve loved in 2016. The majority weren’t originally published this year and one which I’ve been lucky enough to read in advance is published in 2017. They’re all brilliant books and as usual it feels impossible to rank, so I’ve listed in the order I read them:
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (W&N, 2014)
Life, death and brain surgery: a searingly honest account of Henry Marsh’s life and work as one of the UK’s most foremost neurosurgeons. This came with oodles of hype and lived up to every ounce of it. Heartbreaking and inspirational.
Speak by Louisa Hall (Orbit, 2015)
One of those novels that deserved far more attention than it seemed to receive. The multiple narratives span several centuries, from a young Alan Turing to a creator of artificial intelligence now serving a prison sentence, tied together by the voice of a discarded AI who has learned about humanity through the stories she has absorbed.
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall (Faber and Faber, 2015)
An eccentric landowner decides to reintroduce wolves to his estate in the north of England. This is a beautiful meditation on nature and landscape, and the most evocative writing I’ve come across about pregnancy. Hall’s language is always divine, and the final images of this novel have lingered with me all year.
The House of Journalists by Tim Finch (Jonathan Cape, 2013)
Dark humour abounds in this tale of a house for refugee journalists seeking sanctuary in London, having fled from oppressive regimes around the world. I loved the clever use of narrative that pulls together the different characters’ stories, and the novel’s themes feel ever more pertinent since it was first published in 2013.
The Boat by Nam Le (Canongate, 2009)
The opening of this collection, which takes a character with the author’s name attending a writing workshop in Iowa, subverts and satirizes the expectations of what a Vietnamese-born Australian writer should write about, and stakes the writer’s claim on the short fiction form. Seven marvellous stories located around the world in an explosion of startling imagery.
Central Station by Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon, 2016)
Fractured novel exploring the lives and loves of a cast of characters living in the shadow of a future space station in Tel Aviv. Tidhar creates a wonderful tapestry of moods and emotions with some extraordinarily powerful scenes such as a robotnik soldier’s memories of war. Hope to see this on some awards lists next year.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Vintage, 2014)
In the middle of the night, a woman begins writing a letter to her best friend who disappeared over a decade ago. A gloriously written exploration of betrayal and forgiveness and one of the best depictions I’ve read of the complexities of female friendship.
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts (Gollancz, 2015)
Roberts combines philosophy and thriller in this clever, entertaining and enviably stylish exploration of Kant and the Fermi Paradox. The central narrative is interspersed with often heartbreaking accounts of characters caught up in the ramifications of the thing itself, and wonderfully written throughout. An absolute joy.
Dreams Before The Start of Time by Anne Charnock (47 North, 2017)
Charnock’s third novel is a beautifully nuanced exploration of future developments in fertility science. The science underpinning the narrative is subtle and unobtrusive, allowing the novel to shine on the neuroses of its large, three-generational cast of characters as they struggle to come to terms with the decisions of their parents. As with her previous novels, Charnock is marvellous at communicating a huge amount in a short space. Look out for this in April next year.