This is the second part of my end-of-year round-up. For the first part, about first novels, see here.
I guess it’s that time of year, when we all take stock of what we’ve done throughout the year, and decide whether it was all worth it.
Despite my several-month-break in the middle of the year to write a thesis, I’ve managed to squeeze in some good books. And some not-so-good, but this isn’t the place for that. I’ve done something a bit different this year, and instead of a top 5 or a top 10, I’ve just gone with some novels I enjoyed very much. There are no criteria for the list and, as always, these things are purely subjective. I should note, this isn’t just stuff written in 2012 – it’s anything I’ve had a crack at over the past twelve months. So maybe some of these don’t need more people piling praise on them, but I’m only just coming to them.
In an inspired move, I’ve split the list into two: first novels, and others. This post is dedicated to the others.
Writing one novel is a huge achievement. Writing more than one, then, can only be applauded for doing it all over again. Some never have (I’m looking at you, Harper Lee), while others go again, only to be lost to the remainder tables. For those authors that do it again, and then again, it’s proof that a combination of hard work and talent can get you anywhere. Here are some later novels that I’ve very much enjoyed reading this year.
The Glass Canoe, by David Ireland
Reprinted this year in the rather excellent Text Classics series, David Ireland’s Miles Franklin winning novel about a pub in Sydney is a forgotten classic that needs to be read more. A tale about men in Australia, Ireland’s surprisingly tender look at a blokish culture that no longer exists, the inherent tension in the subject matter – that it’s probably a good thing people like this don’t exist anymore, but it’s also a little sad – makes for interesting reading.
The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka
It’s like picking your favourite child, but if I had to pick my favourite book from this year, I think Julie Otsuka’s tiny novel would take the crown. The only novel I’ve ever read in first-person plural, she manages to condense several decades worth of history into less than 150 pages, while maintaining a huge cast of protagonists. I don’t want to give away too much, but if you get a chance, please, pick this up.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
Of course, having said that, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay would have to be a close second, though the two couldn’t be more different if they tried. Ostensibly a story about comic books in America, Chabon tackles the persecution of Jews in twentieth-century Europe, as well as gay rights, as well as magic tricks and superheroes. And though it’s a brick, it’s easy to read and enjoy. Definitely a worthy Pulitzer Prize winner.
The Uncle’s Story, by Witi Ihimaera
What happens when you are gay, and your culture completely rejects you because of it? That’s the question at the heart of Ihimaera’s novel, which takes place in two time periods: the Vietnam War, and present-day New Zealand. The two men at the heart of this novel, one in the 60s and one now, are both dealing with the same question, but in different contexts. It’s an interesting way of viewing the shift in gay rights over the last 50 or 60 years.
The Valley of Masks, by Tarun J Tejpal
Though I’m glad Please Look After Mother won the Man Asian Literary Prize this year, my favourite book on the longlist is still Tejpal’s third novel, an almost sci-fi tale about a cult living in the mountains of India. Denied individuality and pleasure from a young age, these people are turned into trained killers – though as the unnamed protagonist discovers, not everything is as it seems.