As seems to be the increasingcustom at this time of year I have listed below my top ten books for 2012. There is no method in the madness and they are not in any particuar order. They are simply the books which I enjoyed reading, would happily return to read them again and, perhaps most important of all, would not hesitate to recommend to my friends. The cut off date for 2012 was Christmas Day. Why is this important? Because over the past few days I have read two outstanding books. But more of them later.
All is not as it seems in this carefully layered garden set in Malaya just before the invasion by the Japanese. Not for the characters nor the reader. It is poetic and thrilling; a story that continues to haunt you long after the final page is turned.
Bring Up The Bones by Hilary Mantel.
The sequel to the highly successful Wolf Hall, this is a lavish re-take of the ill-fated marriage between Henry VII and Anne Boleyn as seen through the fox-like eyes of Oliver Cromwell.
The Yellow Bird by Kevin Powers
Debut novel from a returned US serviceman attempting to answer the repeated question : What was it like fighting in Iraq? It has been criticised for being over-lyrical (perhaps a result of Powers’ first love, poetry) but I have returned to this book a couple of times after first reading it, and it retains its initial impact.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
The seemingly simple and straightforward story of middle-aged man embarking on a walking holiday in Germany following the breakdown of his marriage is a slight volume that overwhelms with its intensity.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave By Ian Rankin.
Perhaps not the best Rebus book but who cares? The fact that Rebus has returned is enough cause for celebration.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
A collection of seven essays (and a few jottings) Hitchens wrote in the period between being diagnosed with cancer and his death in December 2011. Shrewd, wry and often funny observations about the process of death and the “inevitable awkwardness in diplomatic relations between Tumortown and its neigh bours.”
The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
Fictionalised account of the true story of the Pendle with trial in 1612 when ten people were hanged for witchcraft. Winterson clealy had a lot of fun writing The Daylight Gate. A fabulous story told by a masterful storyteller.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.
Another gem unearthed for me by the Man Booker judges. And another debut novel. Harold is retired, living with his wife Maureen. Each day painfully, monotonously boring. Until, on the spur of the moment he decides to set off walking to say goodbye to an acquaintance, convinced that his marathon is keeping her alive.
At Last by Edward St Aubyn
The final volume of a five-part story of Patrick Melrose, scion of a classic dysfunctional wealthy English family. You don’t have to have read the earlier four books to fully appreciate this finale but it will add to the pleasure.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Subtly witty story set in the worryingly incompetent fringe world of the early-70s spies where bright young thing and Bishop’s daughter Serena Frome is recruited into the lower echelons of MI5. A minor quibble (but not enough to knock it off the Top 10) was the letter at the end. Can’t say more as I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not yet had the pleasure.