BOOKS OF THE YEAR; from Politics to Showbiz, History to Popular Culture, We Pick All the Best Reads on Offer This Christmas; FICTION

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

BOOKS OF THE YEAR; from Politics to Showbiz, History to Popular Culture, We Pick All the Best Reads on Offer This Christmas; FICTION


The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan (Lilliput/ Doubleday, [euro]9.99)

The most discussed Irish novel of 2013 actually appeared in 2012. It's appropriate that it was a slow burner, because his quiet, unflinching book was rejected by numerous publishers and only caught the public's imagination when listed for the 2013 Mann Booker Prize - a huge achievement. A richly perceptive writer, Ryan's multi-layered exploration of a post-Celtic Tiger village gives us a narrative in smithereens: 21 voices offering their take on a nation whose finances have been left in ruins.

The Aftermath, by Rhidian Brook (Viking, [euro]20) In 1945, the Allied forces occupying Hamburg encountered a landscape of absolute devastation. The city's defeated, famished inhabitants, trying to survive the freezing winter, found life controlled by a race they were indoctrinated to hate. Rhidian Brook's fascinating novel stems from an astonishing gesture by his grandfather, an officer given a requisitioned house in British Occupied Hamburg in 1946, who invited the displaced German owners to remain with his family.

Brook turns this act of reconciliation into a fictional account of the emotional and political fault lines of Allied-occupied Germany, and of the psyche of two peoples recently at war, now painfully dealing with loss and finding ways to move on.

The Convictions of John Delahunt, by Andrew Hughes (Doubleday, [euro]20) In his debut novel, Andrew Hughes brilliantly brings to life the unfamiliar world of Dublin in the 1840s. It was a city of contrasts - a cesspool of disease and prostitution, yet also a world of society balls for the rich who owned the keys to Merrion Square.

A masterly work of fiction.

The Winter Gathering, by Deirdre Purcell (Hachette, [euro]18.70) Written in her customary incisive prose, Purcell recounts how, after a woman's husband leaves her just days before Christmas, her close friends rally round to spend Christmas day with her. They find the experience so liberating that it becomes an annual ritual. Purcell's book balances the warmth of friendships against darker issues of illness and everyday family crises. This may be the pleasure you savour after the last present is wrapped and you finally put your feet up.

Big Brother, by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins, [euro]17.35) A typically powerful piece by Shriver. The heroine's desperate attempt to help her obese brother, after he has put on 14 stone in four years, sheds harsh light on our fixation with body issues.

Harvest, by Jim Crace (Picador, [euro]18.70) The novel that maybe should have won the Booker is masterly storytelling by a writer at the top of his game. Medieval England, a land of primitive superstitions, comes thrillingly to life as Crace explores the impact of outsiders on a tight-knit community.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Granta, [euro]17.35) Harvest was pipped at the post by this epic of the New Zealand gold rush. It relies heavily on astrology and has fine storytelling, plenty of plot twists and a colourful cast of characters.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker (Doubleday, [euro]13.99) An elegant retelling of Pride And Prejudice, with the focus shifting from Jane Austen's principals to the servants below stairs.

ROCK & POP Morrissey - Autobiography (Penguin Classics, [euro]11.99) The former Smiths lead singer and successful solo artist, pictured below, is regarded as one of the most literate of pop stars. It comes as no surprise, then, that his autobiography is brilliantly written. His early life in Manchester is recalled in almost Dickensian terms. He details and critiques his influences ranging from Hilaire Belloc to Lou Reed; from Oscar Wilde to the New York Dolls. Court cases, spats and, yes, love affairs are recalled with the wit for which the man is renowned and often denounced.

Rory Gallagher Kickback City (Sony/Capo [euro]41.99) This is a highly imaginative concept. …

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