Let’s start with fiction. To be blunt, there just isn’t enough good fiction. There is some rumble afoot that my next novel, due out whenever, should be named The Da Vinci Girl Who Kicked Harry Potter’s Vampire. Pay attention here — somewhere in there is some good reading but, alas, there also is some …. good book selling. I looked hard this year for another Any Human Heart or The Life of Pi; it wasn’t there. I couldn’t bring myself to read vampire books or anything about secret plots to find the secret society that will bring down the Vatican or put the profession of symbology on its ear. But, let me be plain — I read every book in the Stieg Larrson trilogy as fast as they were printed. So, what was the best of 2010? Here we go:
1. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
2. The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larrson
Okay, a word about the rules. I consider TGWPWF and TGWKTHN as a single book, printed (and sold, cleverly) as two books. There is a real end to Dragon Tattoo; there is not a real end to Played with Fire and I suspect Hornet’s Nest would be pretty hard to read without first reading PwF, since it picks up mid-story where PwF stops typing. So, one book. Or two. No, one.
3. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam. Never heard of it? Oh, well, it is the story of a retired barrister who became wealthy and famous in Hong Kong after not making much of it in London. “Filth – Failed in London – Try Hong Kong.”
4. Katherine, by Anya Seton. This is an enchanting historical novel about the third wife of the third son of the third Edward, a woman named Katherine Roet who had a wild affair with John of Gaunt and, to the dismay of all olde England, became his third wife and, astonishingly, the ancestress of every English monarch (sort of) from the Tudors to the present. Their illegitemae became bishops, councillors, peers, and the female line (what a phrase!) married way up. Well – written and acknowledged by medieval historians as thoroughly credible and faithful to the known sources of this not-well known woman.
5. Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby. From the author of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch, a novel about a reclusive ex-rock star whose best album, Juliet, was re-released without the studio mix, i.e., ‘naked,’ what we call ‘unplugged,’ setting off a firestorm among former fans, including one complete dweeb and his soon-to-be ex.
6. The Blue Afternoon, William Boyd. A Philippino doctor sets off to find the woman he loved thirty years earlier, knowing that finding her also would mean that the police would thereby learn which of the two of them really murdered her husband….
7. The Partisan’s Daughter, Louis de Bernieres. A hooker and a salesman tip toe around where each of them really came from. Good book, but de Bernieres fans (Corelli’s Mandolin, The War for Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts) will assume he has been taken over by aliens with literary agents.
8. Brazzaville Beach, William Boyd. I can’t drink enough of the William Boyd water. This tale of chimpanzee watchers gone off the rails in Africa is his second best book. Period. (The best? Any Human Heart. See above).
9. Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark. A starving novelist writes a novel that is suspiciously like the confessional autobiographies of people being fleeced by her employer as a prelude to blackmail. From the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
10. And, finally, The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Zafon revisits the haunts of Barcelona first revealed in Shadow of the Wind, drawing David Martin into the ephemeral web of a shadowy patron who may (or may not) have killed all (or some, or none) of the people Martin cares about (or hates). My number one book of the year and, if you are a fan of Shadow of the Wind, my two cents is — this is an even better book.
Enjoy, and buy lots of novels. Good ones. Such as… books about French Letters…
On to 2011