Best books of | Books | The GuardianOf the many books that have engaged me this year, three stand out: James shows in a brutally honest memoir how someone can be saved, and The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota Picador depicts a life that many of us choose to ignore. Sarah Akhtar, Stoke-on-Trent. The writing conveys both his sympathy for the plight of the men who had endured the war and its longer term consequences, and the book marks the period in his life when he moved from being a good artist to a great one. Chris Allen, Buckingham. A chance encounter with Stewart on Radio 4 led me to one of the most unexpected and enjoyable reads of The book fizzes with erudition and is delightfully leavened by the companionship of his aged and doughty father, who infuriates and is deeply loved in equal measure. Kate Anderson, Sheffield.
Best books of 2016
This being an Ali Smith novel, it also found solace in the consolations of friendship and art, spinning a typically lightfooted meditation on mortality, mutability and how to keep your head in troubled times around the tale of an uncertain young woman and her elderly childhood friend. But times were good for fiction: this was a rich 12 months, with plenty of big names and big ideas — though not always wrapped up in the same package. The sprawling Here I Am Hamish Hamilton ranges over such weighty subjects as America, Israel, marriage and masculinity, with diversions into obscene uses for a doorknob. And in the third year of eligibility, a US author won the Man Booker prize for the first time. This cerebral rollercoaster ride of a novel was praised to the skies in the US but brought to British attention by a Booker list that was full of surprises, and also gave a welcome push to small publishers. Some bold experimenters returned this year.
Olive is an extraordinary creation — stubborn, rude, insensitive, irascible but also principled, well-meaning, full of thwarted love. Frances McDormand is wonderful in the role in the TV version which, for once, is just as good as the novel. At its heart is a father-and-daughter relationship that feels uncannily real and wonderfully touching. She is always very readable without succumbing to what seems to be established as a despicable ideal in nonfiction publishing: to write about complex subjects in a jaunty tone. I heard Margo Jefferson speak at the Bristol festival of ideas and loved her blend of wit, intellect and feeling. Not only could I not stop reading it, it changed the way I looked at everything around me once I was finished. She takes on so many characters, so much history, and such a vast sweep of time without a single unnecessary word.
O nce again, a year has gone by in which I realise I have one of the best jobs in the world. The only pain in it is having to restrict my choice to one book a week. First: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro Faber , a strange, shifting tale, superficially utterly unlike any other Ishiguro, set in post-Arthurian England, in which an aged couple travel to see their son in a distant village. Bizarre and haunting. So what? Schoolchildren there read Balzac in French for pleasure.
This nearly faultless novel also reflects on the competing truthfulness of Balzac versus Dickens. Solar Bones Tramp by Mike McCormack is the monologue of an ordinary man which — skilfully, gradually, tenderly — discredits the meaning of ordinariness. A novel without a single full stop, it is easily the most all-consuming and splendid sentence I have ever read. Mia Gallagher is another Irish writer who deserves greater attention from overseas. Her second novel is as rich in texture as it is vast in reach.