My Books of the Year 2013

I’ve had a great reading year in 2013. I’ve managed to read more books than the past few years, topping the hundred mark, and at the time of review thirteen of those scored ten out of ten. Not all of those will make my list below though, as the score is just a snapshot – a useful guide, but not definitive, for often it is those books that initially may not have the instant wow factor, but stay with you and keep you thinking about them that become treasured reads later on.

So here we go with my usual mix of categories – both serious and fun. Links will take you to my original review …

Best sense of place: The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
A quiet novel with emotional depth set around the great cathedral. I was lucky enough to hear Salley talk about the novel too which was fascinating.

Best at messing with your mind – The Explorer by James Smythe
More than just SF, this is a claustrophobic psychothriller that just happens to be set in deep space. I shall be re-reading it for book group in January before turning to the sequel The Echo – out in the New Year.

Best novel that’s been in the movies this year – The Great Gatsby
The critics may have thought Baz Luhrman’s GG too flashy, but I loved it. I loved re-reading the novel again even more.

Best by a newly mourned author (R.I.P.) – The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
I had been planning a project to re-read all of Banks novels this year, when the shock announcment came of his terminal illness. I re-read his debut novel – and the power of it blew me away again. He is deeply missed.

Best portrait of American life – Mrs Bridge (& Mr Bridge) by Evan S Connell
Told in a series of vignettes, this pair of novels, each from the PoV of half of a couple, capture the minutiae of suburban life just before the war so perfectly. The personalities of Mr and Mrs Bridge are quite different, so Mrs Bridge is frothy, Mr Bridge is rather stoic. You must read both.

Best portrait of English life – Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes
There were many novels I could have chosen here including ones by Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Pym and not forgetting The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield, however I plumped for MacInnes because of its youth and optimistic outlook.

Best witchy novel set in Paris – Babayaga by Toby Barlow
Russian witches in fin de siècle Paris, American spies and a police inspector who is transformed into a flea – What’s not to like. Fabulous fun.

Best rediscovery of a childhood favourite – The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner
Going to the Bodleian for it’s Magical Worlds exhibition, and then a lecture by Alan Garner at Magdalen College, rekindled my love of his children’s books from the 1960s, and has made me want to read everything he’s written.

Best historical monster – Magda by Meike Ziervogel
This short work of fiction packs such an emotional punch – telling the story of Magda Goebbels through the eyes of her mother and oldest daughter as well as herself. Meike manages to get inside Magda’s mind to understand without condoning her actions. Simply stunning.

Best one-sitting read – Glaciers by Alexis M Smith
A young woman, who works in a library, muses about her life – her friends and family, her dreams of travelling, finding the perfect dress for a party, and the man she hopes will notice her there. Dreamy and delicate prose, but strong themes of losing people – through distance, break-ups and war.

Best comic novel – The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The story of an Australian professor with Aspergers who sets out to find a wife, and ends up on a voyage of self-discovery. Simsion manages never makes fun of him – but Don is so matter of fact, he can’t help but make you laugh out loud. A delight!

Best memoir – Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
In the 1970s, Steve Martin was one of the US’s top comedians, playing sell-out tours to huge audiences. After eighteen years, worn out by it, and noticing the first empty seats in an audiences appearing again, he turned his back on stand-up. This book is part comedy masterclass and part memoir – and a fine read indeed.

Best book group discussion – Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
This is my pick of the books we’ve read this year as the one which generated the most meaningful discussion. It may not have been a novel that everyone liked, but we all had something to say about it – which suggests it is a good book group choice.

Best book group read of the year – The 100 year old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This is the book our group voted for as our fave of the year. This hit book in translation contains some of the most novel ways to die we’ve encountered, and was hilarious to boot.

… and finally – My Book of the Year is …

Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo

Mr Loverman is the story of Barrington Walker, who emigrated from Antigua in the 1960s. Barry has a big secret. His friend Morris has been his lover for decades. His wife Carmel is at her wits’ end thinking he’s a philandering womaniser, while Morris is putting pressure on Barry to do the right thing. In Mr Loverman, Evaristo has created a memorable family with a magnificent patriarch whom you can’t help falling for. Hilariously funny and exhuberant, yet compassionate and bittersweet in its portrayal of the difficulties of family life – I loved every single page.

So those are my picks of the year. It’s true to say that both Magda and The Explorer came very close to being my book of the year, but the ability of Mr Loverman to put a big smile on my face won out in the end.

Have you read any of these books?
What were your stand-out reads in 2013?
Do tell me …

31 thoughts on “My Books of the Year 2013

  1. Sharkell says:

    I like how you present your favourites in categories. I have read four – The Rosie Project, The Wasp Factory, The Great Gatsby and The Cleaner of Chartres, three of which I have read this year and, while they haven’t made my top ten list, I really enjoyed all of them. Magda was given to me for Christmas, I’m really looking forward to reading it. My top ten reads of this year are –

    All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
    Eyrie by Tim Winton
    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
    The Book of Fate by Parinoush Samiee
    Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
    A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
    Fine Colour of Rust by Paddy O’Reilly
    Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay
    The Burial by Courtney Collins
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber

  2. Col says:

    Great list! Delighted to see Mr Loverman as top choice – I bought it after your review and plan to start it New Year. So looking forward it a little more than ever. And I agree with you about Iain Banks – re-read The Crow Road and it was as stunning as ever – I will miss him too.

  3. VictoriaH says:

    Ooh there are lots here that I want to read, and Mr Loverman is at the top of my list now. Have you read Evaristo’s novel in poetry The Emperor’s Babe? It was my book of the year in 2010: You have to ignore the awful cover!

    I really like the sound of The Explorer, although I find anything set in deep space pretty terrifying. Glaciers is sat on my TBR so I’ll be plucking that down soon too. How I love these end of year lists. 🙂

    • gaskella says:

      Thanks Victoria. Y’know, I had a copy of The Emperor’s Babe, and discarded it on one of my purges – bad decision! Must get it again. The Explorer is less about the SF, more about messing with your mind (cf the film Moon).

  4. litlove says:

    Ooh lovely list! I’m very keen to read the Evan Connell novels and The Cleaner of Chartres. I agree with you about Glaciers and Mr Loverman is a completely new title to me (#headsofftoamazoforinformation). I do so love Best-of lists and your categories are great!

    • gaskella says:

      Thanks! Simon S wrote a much better post on Mr Loverman than I did. I was lucky to see her read from it at the Penguin Blogger’s Night and knew it would be wonderful from that.

  5. BookerTalk says:

    I’ve read only one of these – Cleaner of Chatres – and had a very different reaction to it than you did sorry. I like the sound of Mr Loverman and normally would rush out and buy it but I am imposing a book buying ban for at least six months so it will have to go on the wish list instead.

    • gaskella says:

      No worries. There are plenty of books other loved that I didn’t get on with – HHhH was one – I appreciated it, but disliked the author’s voice a lot!

    • gaskella says:

      Thanks Karen. Variety is what I deliberately aim for – I try to never read similar types of books too close together (usually) – although I’ve just read two contemporary novels featuring women who run away from life into the wild …

  6. Alice says:

    Slaughterhouse-Five is one of my favourite books I read this year, It is possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read. I totally agree it brings about good discussion.

    Of the other books you’ve listed I’ve read Magda, Gatsby (and seen and enjoyed the aesthetics of the film) and The Wasp Factory (another favourite of mine).

    I’ve heard good things about Mr Loverman, I may just buy it now.

    • gaskella says:

      Slaughterhouse-5 has grown on me hugely since reading it. That is one measure of a great book I always think. Glad you enjoyed the Gatsby film too!

  7. Alex says:

    It’s so interesting what appeals to one and not to another. I love the Evaristo but couldn’t stand ‘The Hundred Year Old Man’ who could have stayed behind his window as far as I was concerned 🙂

  8. heavenali says:

    I read Mrs Bridge and re-read The Great Gatsby this year – and thoroughly enjoyed both. I love the sound of Magda and Mr Loverman – but must resist buying more books for now.

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