December 6, 2010
Once again, in 2010 a majority of my reading was literary fiction. These are the eleven novels I have raved about most to friends, family and blog readers.
What was your favorite novel of 2010?
Marcy Dermansky's second novel Bad Marie is delightfully dark, cuttingly funny, and elegantly written. Marie may be an unlikable protagonist, but seeing her world through her eyes is a fantastic, suspenseful, and truly unforgettable experience.
Bad Marie is one of the handful of books I am recommending to everyone as a clever, fast-paced, and enjoyable summer read.
Miguel Syjuco's debut novel Ilustrado won the 2008 Man Asian Prize as a manuscript, and before the book was even published his work was compared to the writing of Haruki Murakami, Roberto Bolano, and David Mitchell.
Ilustrado is a stunning novel that lives up to its hype. Syjuco's storytelling deeply resonates as he explores the lives of noted (fictional) Filipino author Crispin Salvador and his student, friend, and future biographer, Miguel. Smart, witty, and compelling, this is both an auspicious debut and possibly the year's best novel.
Adam Levin's debut The Instructions is one of the year's most engrossing novels, and has already earned the author a host of comparisons to David Foster Wallace. Don't be put off by the book's 1000+ pages, they fly by with rare humor, fully realized characters, and an intriguing plot.
In a year filled with books that feature engaging and precocious protagonists (Emma Donoghue's Room & Brock Clarke's Exley immediately come to mind), The Instructions fits right in with its ten-year old Gurion Maccabee, who may or may not be the Messiah. Maccabee is one of the year's most fascinating literary characters, his voice will haunt you long after you close the book.
Teddy Wayne's novel Kapitoil succeeds on so many levels, it's hard to believe the book is his debut. Told innovatively through its Qatari protagonist's journal entries, Kapitoil explores both corporate greed and the power of language in this smart and heartfelt novel.
The year's most horrifying novel won't be found in the horror section, unless Grace Krilanovich's debut novel, The Orange Eats Creeps, is mistakenly shelved there. This postmodern gem is both intense and surreal, and one of the most spectacular debut novels I have read in a long time.
Narrated by a five-year-old boy who has lived his life confined to an eleven foot by eleven foot room, Room is one of the year's outstanding and most surprising novels. Emma Donoghue paints his sometimes horrifying world through innocent, bright, and wide open eyes, and her playfulness with language is evident throughout the book.
Most amazing is Donoghue's depiction of the closeness of the mother-child connection in the harshest of conditions. Combined with the inventive use of language, this makes Room my favorite novel of the year so far.
More than a literary thriller, Emily Mandel's second novel The Singer's Gun is a finely wrought novel both contemporary and timeless that defies genre classification. Mandel's spare yet lyrical prose is always beautifully written and her characters are always believable in this fast-paced and moving work.
Upon receiving Paul Murray's hefty (600+ pages) Skippy Dies, I was a bit daunted. Big books don't phase me (I am in the middle of Adam Levin's gargantuan The Instructions at the moment), but there are only so many hours in the day and I was afraid I wouldn't have time to read it.
Fortunately, Skippy Dies is one of the funniest novels of the year. The book held me rapt from its first page with its genuine humor often tempered with tragedy. Murray is a master storyteller, his characters (young and old, major and minor) brim with life, and the book's unexpected turns both surprise and astonish.
Shteyyngart is as brilliant a satirist as anyone writing today. I honestly doubted he could better his last novel, the rightfully lauded Absurdistan, but I was wrong. Super Sad Love Story is an instant classic of dystopian fiction. At once horrifying, humorous, and saddening, the book is also surprisingly touching when examining the relationship between its dual narrators.
I picked up Super Sad Love Story intending to read the first 20 pages or so (my normal routine these days when culling books for the Book Notes and 52 Books, 52 Weeks series). Finding myself alternately laughing and exclaiming, "Wow!" at Shteyngart's ever clever prose, I simply couldn't put the book down. This novel is one of the year's most arresting works, and Shteyngart's most accomplished book yet.
Joshua Mohr's debut novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me impressed me with its "exacting prose and poetic insight." Mohr's second novel, Termite Parade, is dark, chilling, and skillfully told through its trio of unreliable narrators. The psychological tension is palpable between each of these characters in one of the year's most thrilling works of literary fiction.
Jennifer Egan's latest novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, has been garnering critical acclaim and has landed on almost every list of the year's best fiction. These honors are well-deserved, the book is ambitious and possibly my favorite novel of the year.
A Visit from the Goon Squad is skillfully told by multiple narrators and leapfrogs back and forth in time from chapter to chapter. However, the non-linear storyline is never confusing. In Egan's masterful hands these characters' linked stories form an impressive whole. I think my friend Jodi Chromey was dead on when she wrote of the book, "What makes Egan so wonderful is that she manages to be experimental and fresh while never making the reader question whether what she’s doing is total bullshit or totally genius." I couldn't have said it better myself.
also at Largehearted Boy:
previous lists at Largehearted Boy
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks book reviews