December 31, 2004

The Uborka! Top Ten Books of the Year 2004

the little friend by donna tarttONE
This was the best of the 67 books I read this year. It had characters so well drawn that you can hear their voices, and a story so absorbing that it was impossible to close this book while changing trains.

Harriet spends the summer learning to hold her breath and trying to solve her brother’s murder, whilst growing up quickly in a dysfunctional Deep Southern family.

How I wish there were more books by Donna Tartt.

middlesex by jeffrey eugenidesTWO
A birthday present from Spengy, who described it as A greek tragedy in a modern american setting. Callie’s grandparents break an ancient taboo, and Callie doesn’t suffer the consequences until puberty, when her freakish nature emerges.
the secret history by donna tarttTHREE
The beautiful, dark, gripping story of a group of students whose relationships interweave and grow as they build up to and fall away from a murder.
vernon god little by dbc pierreFOUR
The back of this surprise Booker prizewinner describes it as “a laugh on every page.” While it seethes with satire, though, this novel is anything but funny. Vernon is blamed for a high-school shooting, and starts to believe his own press. Even the neatly tied-up ending doesn’t disappoint.
the northern lights trilogy by philip pullmanFIVE
I loved this trilogy, and cried at the end, as did Pete. I love the dedicated craftsmanship of the invented worlds, and the sly religious imagery. Can’t wait for the film.
the bonesetters daughter by amy tanSIX
There’s a certain amount of autobiography, and a great deal of story-telling by vignette, in Amy Tan’s books. I wouldn’t recommend reading them one after the other, but they stand eloquently alone as historical tales of China, modern tales of immigration, and timeless tales of mother-daughter relationships.
Also recommended: The Joy Luck Club
The Lovely Bones by Alice SeboldSEVEN
This story is told by a murdered girl, as she watches her family, her friends, and her killer, from heaven. The author deals boldly with the unpleasantness of the murder and its aftermath, drawing the family and its disintegration very neatly. I would say that the book starts almost too well, and the last handful of pages let it down badly; the story of the mother is never properly told. Still worth reading for the cute premise and the blatant tugging of heartstrings throughout.
In fact, this book is so good, that my mum gave me it for my birthday and then again for christmas.
notes on a scandal by zoe hellerEIGHT
Zoe Heller’s novels feel very British to me, with their uncompromisingly bleak setting and their largely unlikeable cast. The narrators of both stories commentate on other people’s lives, but are not without blame in the messes that their subjects make. The grim approach is balanced by the light, easy language that makes both books surprisingly quick to read.
Also recommended: Everything You Know
the bride stipped bare by nicki gemmellNINE
Pix loaned me this book in the wake of the Belle de Jour uproar, to make the point that they would track her down in the end, just like they did to Nicki Gemmell. Rather like the freedom we all used to get from blogging, before anyone knew who we were, this is a novel about snatching freedom through anonymity, and letting it slip through our fingers.
I only gave nine novels 5/5 this year, so tenth place is shared jointly by the best of the new-to-me authors that I read this year:
Bill Bryson
Notes From A Small Island
I was determined not to like this, but couldn’t help myself. It really was very funny, and it’s always nice to read about places I know.
Phil Hogan
Hitting the Groove
The Freedom Thing
I enjoy Phil Hogan’s Observer column, and was pleased to find that he could sustain that incisive scene-by-scene storytelling for the length of a novel. Or even two. Tony Parson’s Man & Boy is cliched, repetitive, and shallow, compared with Hogan’s versions of roughly the same story.
Iris Murdoch
The Black Prince
The Message to the Planet
Neither Nick nor I had read anything by Iris Murdoch before she died this year, so we immediately set about rectifying that. I find her work quite dense, but worth persisting just for those strings of adjectives. Both the books I tried featured an unreliable narrator and a large cast of slightly odd, fairly unpleasant people. They were most enjoyable.
Herman Melville
Moby Dick
Intended to be this year’s Ulysses, in that it was a BIG book that I’ve always meant to read. I was astonished at how much I enjoyed it. So, not Ulysses at all. Oh, and it’s about a whale.
Clare Morrall
Astonishing Splashes of Colour
This book had me in tears almost all the way through. I couldn’t not include it in my year’s recommendations. You may want to avoid it if you’ve ever lost a baby.
Haruki Murakami
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Somewhat surreal, this reminded me in some ways of one of the Michael Marshall Smith books that I was forced to read last year. Some of the dream sequences bored me, but the long stories told by characters other than the narrator were good. One of those books that I liked in spite of itself.


6 thoughts on “The Uborka! Top Ten Books of the Year 2004

  1. Apparently the film for His Dark Materials is removing all the references to God! How’s that going to work?!?

    Destructor on December 31, 2004
  2. Holy cow, we do share a reading list. At least 7 out of the 9 and then only 1 out of the final contenders. Perhaps you should add a what’s being read now list somewhere….

  3. I picked up Lonely Bones at the very worst time I could have. Read most of it but it was so hard to read that I finally gave up. The other day I saw a woman reading it on the ferry and all of those emotions popped up again. But only briefly. I’ve wanted to attempt it again.
    Thanks for this post, reminded me of books I wanted to read but forgot about. 🙂

  4. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was the first Murakami I ever read too.
    I hated it and loved it in equal measures. There were bits about the structure that I hated, absolutely *hated*, and i would walk around thinking ‘I hate this book I hate this book’ while reading it, while walking, bumping into things because while I may have *hated* it in some ways, there was not a chance I was going to be able to put this book down.
    I found the narrative voice completely compelling, the ability to be so incredibly descriptive, and so sparse at the same time was something I found incredibly refreshing.
    I would recommend Norwegian Wood, Sputnik Sweetheart – two which are more grounded in real world and slightly more accessible in that way.
    And then A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance – a kind of pair, the second being a vague sequel to the first but which, since I read it thi year, has become my favourite. I think.
    And some o the other books on the list I read as well. But I think I’ve written too much already.

  5. I would also recommend Sputnik Sweetheart, which I read over Christmas (one minute, you never hear of Murakami, the next, you can’t go two feet without running into him). It starts as a very interesting love story with a very cool narrator, before going ever so slightly surreal on your ass. Loved it.

    Destructor on January 5, 2005

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