Everyone else is doing it so I am too… best books of 2009

This year I wrote down every novel I read. I wanted to see how many I get through, and have a record. I’ve read some great books over the years that I would like to revisit but only remember fragments – a mum teaching her daughter to use a washing machine, a girl eating a sugar mouse – and wish I still had them. If anyone recognises either of those scenes do let me know.

Some were forgettable, but here are my personal favourites.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood – Anyone who loves Atwood will enjoy this. Three friends, all burned in various ways by the same woman, are shocked when she returns from the dead to cause havoc once again. A brilliant, over-the-top tale about the vicious side of female friendship.

I’ll Go To Bed At Noon by Gerard Woodward – The middle novel in Woodward’s funny, tragic trilogy about booze-soaked family life in North London.

True Country & Benang by Kim Scott – Scott comes from the Nyungar people of the south-west of Australia, and his two stories are about his search for his Aboriginal identity.

The first, True Country, is the story of a young teacher working in a remote Aboriginal community; the next is a wider novel about the history of white/Aboriginal relations in Western Australia. Benang in particular is unlike anything else I’ve read in terms of language and expression.

Kitchen – Banana Yoshimoto – sweet Japanese love story with lots of great food descriptions. Speaking of which, the German Film Cherry Blossoms, (or Kirschbluten in German) set in Japan, is one of the strangest, loveliest films I’ve seen this year.

The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper – true account of police brutality in remote Aboriginal Australia, combines journalistic attention to to detail with a novelist’s eye for character, atmosphere and the unspoken.

Direct Red: Similar form to The Tall Man – a novelist’s eye applied to real life, this time the working life of a female surgeon. Not one for the squeamish.

The Good Parents by Joan London – Australian family drama with a missing child at its centre. Just out now in the UK.

Misery by Stephen King. Found it in Oxfam, god I love that place. I do relish a bit of Stephen King, and he knows how to spin a yarn.

An Experiment in Love – Hilary Mantel’s coming of age novel, set in London. Like everything of hers I have read, I loved it. Speaking of which, I had a funny conversation the other night with a bloke who said he read a lot, as in, hundreds of books a year, and we had a bit of a Mantel backlist rally. I was holding up well and then he casually mentioned that he’d just started reading Pushkin in the original Russian. Kind of stopped me in my tracks….

This is How – MJ Hyland. The story of exactly how a moody young man goes from working as a mechanic and living in a creepy seaside boarding house to serving a life sentence for murder. Her intense first person, present tense writing works for me, though I imagine it might not for everyone.

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters’ gothic ghost story. Not quite as terrifying as the reviews had me anticipating, but beautifully written. I recently saw her read and her sentences have a lovely lilting rhythm that comes out even more when spoken.

When We Were Bad – very, very funny story about the quiet implosion of an upstanding Jewish family in North London. Extra points for its lush food descriptions.

The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville. A novel imagined from an actual notebook left by an astronomer who sailed to Australia on the First Fleet and befriended the local Aborigines. It took me a while to get into, but his story is fascinating, and her writing is so, so good.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I’ve already raved about this.

The Member of the Wedding – Carson McCullers. I do love Southern gothic and this is the best book I have read this year.  A sort of female Catcher in the Rye, it is the story of Frankie, a bored twelve-year-old who falls in love with her brother’s wedding and his fiance, and plots to escape from her own small life by joining their marriage. You don’t read it so much as dream it. Weird and magical.


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