Books of the year 2013: Fiction

 

In the year when Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize sealed the status of the short story, don’t forget that in Britain we belatedly discovered another doyenne of the form. Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (Pushkin, £8.99) collects stories from the Massachusetts writer into an eye-opening compendium radiant with wisdom, humour, mischief and – not least – a sense of the tragic history behind individual lives.

Elsewhere, big proved beautiful again – but in different ways. Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning The Luminaries (Granta, £18.99) cunningly designs a mosaic of tales from the New Zealand gold rush so that its span of diverse voices and histories achieves a TV-series quality, with braided, episodic plotlines. Almost as long, but tighter in focus and even richer in texture, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little, Brown, £20) alchemises one little Dutch painting, and one act of shocking violence, into a sumptuous, generous and entirely captivating chronicle of lost love, passing time and the abiding consolations of art.

Another wide-screen novel with the gift of intimacy, Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel (Allen & Unwin, £12.99) twins parallel lives – one Australian, one Sri Lankan – into a double narrative that strides over decades and continents to explore the upheavals of our globalised age. That modern traffic of peoples and identities also drives other memorable novels: in Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah (Fourth Estate, £20), with its blended notes of satire and romance as Nigerians mutate – or don’t – into Americans; in Taiye Selasi’s auspicious debut about the turbulent emergence of a transoceanic “Afropolitan” caste, Ghana Must Go (Viking, £14.99); and in Tash Aw’s highly topical, sharply observed but affecting portmanteau novel of aspirant Malaysians seeking their fortune in boom-town Shanghai, Five Star Billionaire (Fourth Estate, £18.99).

The protean and mutating conflicts of the 21st century challenge novelists to rethink the literature of war and peace. Nadeem Aslam did just that, his humane lyricism stiffened by political insight, in a novel of brothers who bring succour to the ravaged landscapes of post-9/11 Afghanistan, The Blind Man’s Garden (Faber & Faber, £18.99). A gigantic experiment, bracing, thrilling and worthy of a medal for narrative heroism, Richard House’s four-volume The Kills (Picador, £20) plays an epic set of variations on the shadow war for loot and influence behind the chaos of Iraq.

The most accomplished novelists can illuminate the present while making their chosen past live, move and talk. In Harvest (Picador, £16.99), Jim Crace leaves the precise era unspecified as he writes, with all his near-hallucinatory skill, about an English village destroyed by the advent of agribusiness. This intensely local story becomes, by the rhythmic majesty and fervour of its writing, a universal one. Another spellbinder in prose, Rupert Thomson with Secrecy (Granta, £16.99) proved that he can evoke the past – in this case, gloomy, declining Florence in the 1690s, where an accursed sculptor flees his noble enemies – with all the eerie and sinister panache of his contemporary fictions. 

Other resurrection artists also raise the dead in style. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (Picador, £12.99), a remarkably assured debut, takes a tale of crime and punishment in 1820s Iceland and through it opens a window, lit with harsh brilliance, on to an alien world. In The Breath of Night (Arcadia, £11.99), Michael Arditti  returns to the Marcos-era Philippines and, via his radical-priest hero and the later investigation of his deeds, fashions that English rarity: an intelligent and engaging novel of faith.

With All the Birds, Singing (Cape, £16.99), Evie Wyld merges into her mysterious tale of a lonely shepherdess a savage Australian back-story that lends a haunting extra dimension to a novel of troubling beauty. Lighter, but far from frothy, Jonathan Coe hits his comic stride again in Expo 58 (Viking, £16.99). His English innocent abroad at the Brussels world’s fair of 1958 focuses a witty, allusive but acute farce of postwar change and its personal fall-out.

Robert Harris, as he reliably does, raises the tone and pushed the boundaries of the bestseller lists with a deeply researched but still suspenseful recreation of the Dreyfus case in the voice of Colonel Picquart, the fearless army whistle-blower. An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson, £18.99) is a wholly admirable novel about a wholly admirable man.

As ever, JM Coetzee manages to dodge every category with mesmeric cunning. Does The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill, Secker, £18.99), with its poor, philosophical migrant and his precocious adopted son, count as a religious parable? A political dystopia, or Utopia? A dream-vision about paternity and prophecy? In any case, this limpid, gnomic and surprisingly witty tale will take root in your imagination.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam