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Best Books of 2010 (the first half)


We’re halfway through the year (give or take a day or two) and I have, as usual, read a lot of books. Some of them impressed me more than others. The following five impressed me the most. I will, of course, do my usual best of the year post in December, and I suspect one or two of the books below might make that post.

Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005). I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this makes the final best of the year list – it’s one of those novels which leaves you with an itch to reread it. Not only is it a cleverly-plotted historical detective novel, but Crowley performs an astonishing piece of literary impersonation (not, I hasten to add, that I’m an expert on Byron; but Crowley certainly convinced me).

The Magus, John Fowles (1977). Fowles’ sheer readability always surprises me when I read his books. This one is no different. Fowles’ own characterisation of it as a “novel of adolescence written by a retarded adolescent” is unnecessarily harsh, although I suspect I would have appreciated the book a great deal more if I’d read it in my twenties. I’ve a feeling this one won’t make the final cut.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, DH Lawrence (1928). I certainly hadn’t expected to like Lawrence’s prose as much as I did on reading this. My previous experiences with 1920s writers had not been entirely encouraging. But I’ve since gone on to read three of Lawrence’s novellas, and I have The Rainbow and Women in Love lined up on the TBR.

The Turing Test, Chris Beckett (2008). This collection won the Edge Hill Prize last year, and Chris’ first novel, The Holy Machine, has just been republished by Corvus Press, so he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. I wrote back in February that “his fiction feels more like it’s touching the edges of genre than actively engaging with it”, which is not a criticism.

Troy, Simon Brown (2006). Another collection of genre-ish short stories. The book’s title is descriptive: each of the ten stories is inspired by a character from the Trojan Wars. They are literary fantasy and science fiction, and very well-written. I wouldn’t mind reading more by Brown. Most of the stories in Troy originally appeared in Eidolon, an Australian sf magazine, and the collection was published by Ticonderoga Publications, an Australian small press.

Oops. No science fiction. Well, yes, the Beckett and the Brown are sf, but not entirely and certainly not heartland sf. And they’re collections, not novels. I did actually read a lot of sf novels during the first half of this year, but I seem to have lost the knack of privileging sensawunda over writing chops, so no matter how mind-blowing their gosh-wow special effects they seem to lack a certain something. I can no longer read sf as adventure stories. I’ve yet to work out if that’s good or bad…

3 thoughts on “Best Books of 2010 (the first half)

  1. No fantasy, either. And you’ve been trying.

  2. I have all of Chris Beckett’s books and hope to read them soon. So far I have only read ‘Greenland.’ I thoroughly enjoyed it and interpreted it 180 degrees wrongly, as the author told me. The experience made me into a better reader.
    I was struck by your remark about genre when I first read it. I could not decide if it was a criticism of not. Now I know.

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