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
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy