10. Trespass by Rose Tremain (longlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize)
I will remember 2010 as the year I finally read Rose Tremain. This hauntingly beautiful novel has stayed with me.
Favorite passage: "Even here, where life went along more slowly than in England, she could sense the restless agitation people felt to make real and tangible to them the fugitive wonders that flickered into their mind."
The verdict: I loved both the story and its deeper thematic ideas. Trespass is an accessible literary novel with immense depth. It's rare I want to reread a book as son as I finish it, but I'm certain there are more subtleties and clues I've overlooked.
9. Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman (shortlisted for the 2009 Orange Prize)
I am a huge fan of historical fiction based on real people, and Feldman is one of the genre's best (her other fictionalized historical novels include The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank and Lucy, about FDR.) She took the tough issue of the Scottsboro boys and inserted a driven, Northern, female journalist into the action.
The verdict: I loved Scottsboro, but it wasn't always an easy read. Knowing it was based on a true story was absolutely gut-wrenching for me. I loved the character of Alice, and I loved the way Feldman placed the Scottsboro case in the context of not only Southern history but also international history.
8. So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (finalist for the 2010 National Book Award)
This novel snuck up on me. As I was reading it, I thought it was an issue book, and I am not one who needs convincing about the sorry state of the U.S. healthcare system. Beneath the political seriousness, however, Shriver deftly crafted a moving novel that has stuck with me long after I read it.
The verdict: So Much for That is both timely and timeless. This novel may age in fascinating ways as the U.S. healthcare system changes, but it will remain a brilliantly nuanced character study that also examines contemporary public health policy and politics.
7. The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (winner of the 2010 Giller Prize)
Partly war novel and partly a daughter's ode to understanding her father, Johanna Skibsrud's writing catapulted this novel to my top 10. Skibsrud is my age, and it's the first novel I've read that tackles the Vietnam War from the perspective of its veteran's children. She's a poet, and her prose is luminous.
Favorite passage: "I had thought in those years, I suppose, having learned the lesson from my mother well, that it was foolish to ask for too much out of life, afterwards only to live in the wake of that expectation, an irreducible disappointment. But what pain, I thought now, could be greater than to realize that even the practical reality for which you had assumed to settle upon, did not hold--that even that was illusory?" (p. 53)
The verdict: The Sentimentalists is a novel I will buy to re-read again and again. It's easily one of my favorite reads of the year, but it's not a book that will appeal to everyone. If you adore non-linear narratives, character-driven novels and gorgeous, comma-filled prose, then you will adore it.
*Being published in the U.S. on May 2, 2011!
6. If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous
If You Follow Me was perhaps the most anticipated novel of 2010 for me. Curtis Sittenfeld first mentioned it in print in April 2009, 11 months before its release. With high expectations, I was still wowed. At the time I said, "Great literature transcends its characters and plot and brings greater understanding and critical thought, and If You Follow Me is that kind of great literature." I still agree. I loved the story and the understanding of humanity it brought, and it's one I hope to read again and again. It's a novel I've handed to more than one friend and said, "drop everything and read this novel. You'll adore it." And they have.
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Attempting to describe this novel is incredibly difficult, and it's simpler to say, "just read it. Trust me." I'm still hedging my bet and crossing my fingers it will win the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and get the award distinction it deserves.
Favorite passage: "Coz liked the couch, he'd told her, because it relieved them both of the burden of eye contact. 'You don't like eye contact?' Sasha had asked. It seemed like a weird thing for a therapist to admit. 'I find it tiring,' he'd said. 'This way, we can both look where we want.'
The verdict: Although difficult to describe, this novel is easy to love. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, short stories and good narratives.
4. White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize)
I was pulling for this novel to win the Orange Prize, but sadly it did not. It's the story of the marriage of George and Sabine Harwood, a young British couple who move to Trinidad in the 1950's. The novel begins in 2006, then jumps back in time to the couple's first days in Trinidad. I love unconventional narratives, and Roffey used time and language so beautifully to exemplify time and place.
Favorite passage: "I loved George but our marriage was always under threat. Other men wanted me and other women wanted George. This was both thrilling and worrying."
*Being published in the U.S. on April 26, 2011!
3. Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize, 2010 Edgar Award finalist, & 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist)
Black Water Rising is a literary mystery set in 1981 that examines social issues. It's beautifully written, suspenseful and it's take on social issues is still relevant today.
Favorite passage: "Oppression was pandemic, like a cancer; wherever it existed, it would spread. And maybe justice could work the same way; maybe it could spread too. Which meant that the problems in Africa, say--poverty and the imperialism that created it--were as important as the problems here at home; they were actually one and the same."
The verdict:It's a smart, page-turning literary thriller packed with history and social intrigue. I loved it. I adored it. I cannot shut up about it's brilliance.
2. Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel
I read Stiltsville based on Curtis Sittenfeld's recommendation (she does not let me down.) After feeling some malaise with my Booker Prize reading binge, I wanted something deeply American to read, and I found it. I was amazed how much I loved this novel, but it has all the elements I adore. It's the story of a marriage. Each chapter is a different year in their marriage. Although it's told chronologically, there are years skipped. Often the years correspond with crucial moments of Miami and Florida history. It's both the story of a couple and a place, and I adored it. I bought it for more than one person this year.
The verdict: "It's the most emotionally engaging novel I've read in quite some time. I often struggle writing reviews for books I adore, and I found nothing to criticize in Stiltsville. It may not be a universally appealing novel, but it has become one of my favorites, and I eagerly await Susanna Daniel's next novel."
1. Room by Emma Donoghue (shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize)
It should come as no surprise the book I rated 6 stars out of 5 is my favorite of the year. For those who haven't read it, I still don't want to share any tidbits of the story. I fear I wouldn't have loved it quite as much if I knew some of its surprises before-hand.
The verdict: "Room is intense, but it's so well written, relatable and humane. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I do recommend, however, that you don't start it until you have time to finish it. It is a one-setting novel."
- All ten are by women. (Freedom almost made the cut, as I'm loving it more and more after the fact.)
- Four are debut novels (Sentimentalists, Black Water Rising, Stiltsville, If You Follow Me)
- Two were recommended by Curtis Sittenfeld (Stiltsville and If You Follow Me)
- One Giller Prize read
- One National Book Award read
- Two Booker Prize reads
- Three Orange Prize reads (and I won't be surprised if Trespass and Room make at least the longlist in 2011)
- All ten were new-to-me authors in 2010!
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