Top 10 titles of 2012

Philip Tew, Selection and Access Librarian, shares his top novels of 2012.

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Those across the river Christopher Buehlman
I normally wouldn’t go near a zombie novel but this is something different. It’s set after World War I when an academic and his wife settle in a small Southern town where, years before, horrific things happened on a slave plantation. What happens later is linked to the terrible events of the past and what lies beyond the river.
Canada Richard Ford
One of my favourite writers but this time there is little of the humour that comes through in previous works. It’s very downbeat in its tale of a boy growing up with the legacy of his parent’s na├»ve attempt to rob a bank. He’s sent across the border to Canada which turns out to be another country in every sense. Dark and gripping.
The art of fielding Chad Harbach
Who would think a novel about a champion baseball player would resonate outside the U.S. This one, a surprise bestseller, has a smallish cast of characters led by a young champion shortstop at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. You don’t even have to know much about baseball to enjoy it.

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The uninvited guests Sadie Jones
She’s written three novels and each are totally unique. This one is a strange tale about a group of visitors to a large Downton style mansion. It is a ghost story but a subtle one and quite droll and funny. I did guess the denouement but it was still a lively and original tale.
The dinner Herman Koch
Could be described as the Dutch version of The slap. It’s a quite chilling tale of two couples at a fancy restaurant and it operates on the principle of the unreliable narrator in that the man telling the tale is a good liberal (like all of us!) and we can’t help but be on his side until we find out what has happened and his reaction to it. A creepy and convulsively readable novel.
Capital John Lanchester
State of the nation novels are in vogue these days and some are better than others. This is a good one and Britain as it is today is skilfully evoked through the story of a street in London and the people who live in it. Immigration, ethnic differences, the world of the rich, people living beyond their means and people struggling to understand the present and – unlike so many of these cast of characters novels – very convincing in its varied characterisations and never burying itself in detail.
The cutting season Attica Locke
This is a mix of literary novel and mystery. Beautifully written with a fascinating background of the legacy of slavery (set on a former plantation now turned into a sort of theme park). The murder at the centre of the book is that of a migrant worker and is linked to the same sort of mindset that let slavery exist in previous times.

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The other half of me Morgan McCarthy
An inseparable brother and sister growing up in a mansion in Wales with a drunken self absorbed mother and a rich businesswoman/philanthropist grandmother are the main characters of this excellent first novel. It’s not a perfect book but her skill with characterisation and place is very impressive.
The land of decoration Grace McCleen
A fascinating first novel about a young girl whose father is a member of a fringe religious sect which preaches End Day beliefs. The girl is bullied at school and finds a refuge in the little world of her own of the title and the father runs afoul of unionists at the factory where he works. A touching and very promising book.
The revelations Alex Preston
His second novel (his first was a state of the nation novel about the financial crisis) is about a group of well off young people who are drawn into a Christian movement led by a charismatic priest (apparently the movement is based on the real life Alpha course). A pretty unsympathetic bunch of characters but their story is always interesting.

Best Reads of 2012

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And other novels I liked a lot were Anne Tyler’s The beginner’s goodbye. Tim Lott’s Under the same stars, Ayad Akhtar’s American dervish and the latest mysteries by the ever reliable Sara Paretsky and the zany Christopher Fowler.

Most disappointing were Jubilee by Shelley Harris which had a great idea but drowned in its number of characters, Toni Morrison’s plodding and very disappointing Home, Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in red weather, which tried for a Gatsby feel but fell short (and it must have disappointed the publishers as there was a lot of buzz about it before publication), and Jess Walter’s Beautiful ruins which was very disappointing given how good his previous books were (this one suffered from too many narratives and time changes). I did try the latest Martin Amis but gave up on his bilious attack on the social classes below his own. And looking ahead into 2013, I can make a wish that the whole 50 shades industry finally falls over and booksellers are left with warehouses full of it (in the same way that the series of full of it!)