As the end of the year approaches, I have been looking back this week at some of the books that I most enjoyed reading in 2012. It has been a good year for fiction and there has no been no shortage of titles to choose from. If you decide to read any of the books featured on this list, I hope that you will enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading!
Break the Skin by Lee Martin was one of my favorite reads of 2012 — a beautifully written take on the age-old human need to matter to someone and the lengths we are prepared to go to in the name of love.
When I was invited to review Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel earlier this year, it prompted me to read Wolf Hall which had been on my ‘to do’ list since it won the Booker Prize in 2011. While the reviews had been very good, I am not a fan of historical fiction and Wolf Hall was in my ‘should read’ rather than ‘want to read’ bundle of books for quite some time. Like many other people, I approached it expecting a difficult book and found, to my surprise and delight, that although the setting is historical, this is in fact much less a historical novel and much more a timeless human story of people, power and influence — of intrigue and passion and breath-taking excitement and an absolute page-turner to boot.
I couldn’t wait to get started on Bring Up the Bodies and found it just as good. Anne Boleyn is truly the dark character in this novel — deceitful, manipulative and lacking in mercy — and yet, despite her failings, she wins some sympathy. Her desperation grows when she fails to produce the required heir to the throne and her power begins to fall away. A deserving winner of the 2012 Man Booker prize, the word is that Hilary Mantel has more to come in this series and I, for one, can’t wait.
A psychological thriller, Clean Break by David Klein tells the story of Celeste Vanek, a graphic designer, married to Adam and mother to a nine-year old son, Spencer. When the novel opens, Celeste is in the process of leaving home driven out by Adam’s compulsive gambling, temper and physical violence. While Adam is the villain of the piece, each of the main characters makes decisions that are morally questionable giving the reader much to think about. I enjoyed how Clean Break made me ask “what would I have done”. The characters are very well drawn and they face some interesting choices. This is a very good psychological novel. I read it in a day. Couldn’t put it down.
Perhaps you have to be a fan of Jane Austen to really appreciate what PD James has achieved in Death Comes to Pemberley. Reviews of her sequel to Pride and Prejudice were somewhat mixed. I thought this was an entertaining and clever attempt that is wry, funny, and playful — even Austenesque. Lizzy, Darcy, Wickham, Lydia, Jane, Bingley and Mr Bennett are presented true to character as Austen drew them and play believable roles in James’s fun mystery. Pure entertainment and good fun!
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a dark psychological thriller. This is the book that I most recommended to friends in 2012 and without exception they loved it too. It tells the story of Nick and Amy — a married couple celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy mysteriously disappears. Alternate chapters reveal the story from the point of view of each of the two main characters and the challenge for the reader of Gone Girl lies in working out who and what to believe. An edge of the seat read that will make you gasp!
An original and edgy read, Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway is a very unusual book — it is both exciting and dreamlike with some beautiful language and images. On the surface it is a gritty detective story but there’s a lot more going on underneath. One of those books you’ll wonder about for ages after you close the cover and one you’ll probably want to re-read.
Another unusual read, The Liar’s Gospel by Naomi Alderman presents the story of Yehoshuah (Jesus) from the perspective of four well-known Biblical figures and is set against a backdrop of rumor, fear and violence in Roman-occupied Judea. I’ve been talking about this book a lot since I read it, and anyone I have mentioned it to seems interested in reading it.
A short novel by Alison Moore, The Lighthouse, which was one of the Man Booker shortlisted novels in 2012, would be a good choice for book clubs because it has some interesting symbolism of light and dark running through. It tells the story of a middle-aged and recently separated perfumier, Futh who is travelling by ferry to Germany for a week-long walking holiday.
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry is a sensitively told story that is almost unbearably sad. As in an earlier Barry novel, The Secret Scripture, memory is an important theme and anyone who has ever had the care of an elderly relative will be moved by Lilly Dunne’s considered reflection on her life’s relationships and events. As always, Barry writes beautifully. This one is a tear-jerker.
Another relatively short but powerful novel, Toby’s Room by Pat Barker explores the human consequences of war. The plot concerns the intense relationship between a brother and sister, Toby and Elinor Brooke. Barker has written movingly about WW1 in her acclaimed Regeneration trilogy and this novel sees her returning to familiar territory.
The Soldier’s Wife by Joanna Trollope prompted quite a lot of discussion about military wives at the and the pressure that army life puts on relationships. It is a fast, easy read that tells the story of Dan Riley, an army major, and his wife, Alexa. It opens as Dan is just about to return from a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan. Although he is back from Afghanistan, to Alexa it feels like he is not really home and communication problems threaten their marriage. The drama of family relationships is the specialism of Joanna Trollope and perhaps that is what makes her so popular