Truth be told, I haven’t read lots of contemporary fiction this year.
I’ve spent most of 2013 catching up on classics I should almost certainly have already read, as a former English Lit student. It turns out the classics become much more appealing as soon you’re not required to read them (or paying for the privilege).
Anywho, here are 2013’s finest:
1. May We Be Forgiven, A.M. Homes
A.M. Homes could never be accused of playing it safe, and her latest offering is no exception.
This story is full of unlikely plot threads that don’t seem like they should hang plausibly together, but somehow do. There’s a federal sting operation, suburban sex scandals, one murder, two manslaughters, a geriatric wedding and a South African bar mitzvah.
It’s a bit of a saga, but it’s a bloody well written one.
2. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman
I’m willing to admit that I only read this in preparation for the Netflix series, but I ended up preferring the book.
OITNB is the true story of a woman convicted for a ten-year-old crime, of carrying drug money across a border. She leaves her otherwise middle-class existence to enter a prison facility for just over a year.
It’s a pretty sobering look at the US prison system, in particular its gung-ho attitude to chucking people in jail in the name of the ‘war on drugs’.
3. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
I read this hoping it would be as good as The Kite Runner and One Thousand Splendid Suns and happily, it was. ‘Nuff said.
Did your schoolteachers ever send a report home saying that you didn’t ‘participate’ enough? If so, there’ll be plenty of nods of recognition in this one for you.
It’s about our tendency to idealise outgoing personalities over introverted ones. Most interesting, though, is her explanation of how our society evolved to value these traits.
If non-fiction’s not your bag, you can get the gist from her brilliant TED talk.
5. Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
Set in 19th century Iceland, Burial Rites hones in on a convicted murderess, as she waits for her death sentence to be delivered. During this tense pause, she is forced into the care of a family. They are appalled at having a murderess in their midst. As her sentence approaches, she begins telling her story to a priest, her last confidente.
It becomes even more fascinating (and chilling), when you find out it’s all based on real historical events. Not to mention impressive, when you think of the extensive research Kent must’ve done to make this novel happen. It was (quite rightfully) shortlisted for the 2013 Guardian First Book Award.
Unfortunate side effects may include a burning urge to visit Iceland immediately.
6. The Lifeboat, Charlotte Rogan
The Lifeboat is a lot like Lord of the Flies, if you replace the island with a boat and the children with adults.
Beginning at the end, as the main character goes to court to justify the ruthless decisions that were made on the boat, it’s a fascinating study of what happens when our survival instincts kick in.
7. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
This love story spans Nigeria, America and Britain.
Obinze and Ifemelu both have what they consider a privileged upbringing in Nigeria. After a prolonged strike at their university, they leave Nigeria to try their luck abroad. Ifemelu goes to America, Obinze to Britain.
In America, Ifemelu discovers the pitfalls of being ‘black’. She writes an anonymous race blog (on WordPress, too!) to vent her frustrations. Excerpts from her blog are scattered throughout, and I found myself wishing it were real so I could read it.
8. Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi
This one’s my current read, but I’ve already fallen head over heels. It reads much more like poetry than prose, so it often needs unravelling, but it’s worth it, promise!
The bar was set sky-high for Selasi’s debut (endorsed by Salman Rushdie, no less), and it lived up to its hype. The paperback’s coming out in early January, and the cover design’s just as gorgeous as the hardback.
It takes its title from the Nigerian chant aimed at Ghanaian immigrants during the political tension of the 80s. As half-Nigerian, half-Ghanaian, Selasi straddles that void.
Her story shows Africa in a totally different light, a la Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s awesome TED talk.