Books of the Year 2017: Part Four

Cover imageFor anyone wondering if these posts are ever going to end, we’re nearly there. Patrick McGrath’s The Wardrobe Mistress was the highlight of September’s reading for me. Set against the background of East End fascism in 1947, still bubbling away despite the suppression of the Blackshirts, McGrath’s novel explores the anguish of grief through Joan, widow of the late lamented Charlie Grice, star of the West End. McGrath is a master storyteller, unfolding his tale of grief and madness against the vividly evoked background of a frozen London struggling with the continuing depredations of post-war austerity.

October saw novels from two of my favourite writers, the first by Jane Harris eight years after the wonderful Gillespie and I. Based loosely on true events, Sugar Money tells the story of an attempt to bring a group of slaves back from Grenada to Martinique in 1765, restoring them from British to French hands. The star of the show is the novel’s twelve-year-old narrator, Lucien, a bumptious sardonic smart Alec in counterpoint to his quietly resourceful brother charged with what he knows is a foolish and dangerous task. A rattling good yarn which manages to entertain while never losing sight of its subject’s horrors.

Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour couldn’t be more different. McDermott is one of those quietlyCover image brilliant authors whose work often seems underrated to me. Set in early twentieth-century Brooklyn, her new novel is the story of Annie, rescued from poverty by the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor when her husband commits suicide leaving her pregnant and bereft. It bears all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from a McDermott novel: understated yet lyrical writing; empathy in spades; astutely drawn characters, all gathered together to form a quietly glorious whole infused with gentle humour. A treat to savour.

My third October choice is Alex Christofi’s Let Us Be True. I was a little lukewarm about this book when it arrived but it turned out to be absorbing, insightful and beautifully written. Largely set in Paris during the middle of the twentieth century, it’s the story of Ralf who becomes smitten with Elsa and remains so for decades after their brief affair ends. With a light touch, Christofi explores the way political events can shape ordinary lives through the framework of Ralf and Elsa’s relationship, a vivid backdrop to their stories told from each of their perspectives. A smart, thought-provoking novel which ends, I’m pleased to say, on a hopeful; note.

Cover imageNovember’s star was also a surprise. The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao spans twenty or so years in a Brazilian housewife’s life, beginning in the 1940s. Euridice is a clever girl who excels at everything. Her older sister Guida is the worldly one, beautiful and flirtatious. Left with parents who pin all their hopes on her when Guida disappears, Euridice marries a respectable banker who fails to understand her brilliance. One day, out of the blue, Guida knocks on Euridice’s door. Euridice’s story is expertly told, liberally laced with a smart, playful humour sharp enough to flag the serious side of this salutary tale about the dangers of becoming a good girl. An absolute treat which rounds 2017’s favourite reads off nicely.

And if I had to choose? Usually it’s a struggle but this year there’s no contest: Jon McGregor’s beautiful Reservoir 13,  a gorgeous book that will stay with me for some time.

If you’d like to catch up with the previous three 2017 books of the year posts they’re here, here, and here. A click on any of the titles above will take you to my review. Time to look forward to what’s on offer in January next…

27 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2017: Part Four”

  1. I really want to read Sugar Money as I enjoyed The Observations and agree with your comment about the author’s ability to create a distinctive narrative voice. I also loved The Wardrobe Mistress. I didn’t get on so well with Reservoir 13 – I admired it, liked the repetition and the juxtaposition of events in the village with the natural world, but found myself feeling slightly adrift when there was no obvious conclusion.

    1. I think if you enjoyed those two you’ll like Sugar Money, Cathy. Lucien has a brilliantly sardonic voice which changes as he realises the dangers facing the mission. A shame about Reservoir 13. I suspect it’s because I’m not a crime reader that I didn’t expect a resolution but I can see that it would have been disappointing if you did.

  2. I too have read Reservoir 13. I loved it’s quiet yet powerful observations. Have you read – Days without End , by Sebastian Barry ? Truly remarkable .

    1. Absolutely! I usually struggle to come up with just one but this year choosing the best of the bunch was more straigtforward. I had been avoiding Days Without End having had a couple of disappointements with Sebastian Barry’s novels after enjoying The Secret Scripture but perhaps I should try it.

  3. I think you’ve just about sold me on Reservoir 13, though I think I will have to get my copy from the library. Fascinating list of selections, of what looks to have been an excellent reading year.

  4. One of the things that I also appreciate about Jon McGregor is his enthusiasm for other writers’ works; it seems that, every time I hear/see an interview with him, he’s recommending someone else’s (usually a few someone else’s) books! I haven’t read Reservoir 13 yet, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. His approach to storytelling thrills me.

    1. You’re in for a treat! I know that some readers have been disappointed that there’s no resolution to the ‘mystery’ but if you’re already a McGregor fan that’s not why you’ll be reading it. I always think that writers who are generous to others are the best kind and it shows that they read a lot, too. So necessary for good writing.

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.