Best Books of 2004

ROSLYN rosgross at
Sat Jan 8 08:23:34 EST 2005

< So, where is it?  ;)  I'm impatiently waiting...

Hallie >

Here 'tis.

The Stand Out Novel, for me, in 2005  was _Miss Garnet's Angel_ by Salley
Vickers. It's basically about an older British woman with a very repressed
and dull life who travels to Venice and has an inner emotional and spiritual
awakening. There's nothing particularly new about this theme, of course, but 
written with such subtlety and skill that it really is fresh and enormously
captivating. My friends are divided between those who felt the same way I
did about it, and the few who didn't like it because "nothing much happened"
(I really don't get this, but that's how they feel). Anyway, I loved it. I
also read and enjoyed Vickers' other two books, _Mr. Golightly's Holiday_
and _Instances of the Number Three_. A warning about _Mr. Golightly's
Holiday_--whatever you do, don't look at the amazon. com
reviews before you read the book: some of them give away the central conceit
of the whole book and that will make a big difference to your reading. Mind
you, the fact that the whole book is based on this idea, which is
deliberately hidden from the reader until the end, is also the main weakness
in it, because in my opinion, although it's a brilliant idea, it doesn't
quite work.

Vickers' books aren't classified as fantasy--at least, I haven't seen them 
in the fantasy section of bookshops, which of course raises the age-old 
question of 'What is fantasy, and does it matter?" Vickers' books all have 
supernatural elements of one sort or other that work on
on different levels at once. One of the things I like about Vickers is that
characters open up and widen in her books, so that by the end, their
perspectives are quite radically different from what they were in the
beginning (she's not unlike DWJ in this way), and so, although they don't
offer easy answers, her books ultimately make me feel good--and in that
sense are comfort books that at the same time are very challenging.

The Book That Was The Most Intense Experience: _Absent in the Spring_ by
Mary Westmacott, who is none other than Agatha Christie. A friend lent me
this, and it was an eye-opener--I had no idea that Agatha Christie had ever
written this kind of thing, which is so different from her more well-known
mystery novels. It's about a very self-satisfied British woman who travels
to the Middle-East and has all of her preconceptions totally shattered. It's
an intense look into someone's innermost self, and the defences she uses to
stop herself from seeing it. The reading of it knocked my socks off. The
apparent similarity of theme to that of _Miss Garnet's Angel_ just struck me
as I wrote this, but actually the books have two very different
sensibilities, one basically optimistic, the other basically pessimistic
(writing in shorthand here, becuase naturally it's much more complicated
than this).

Best New Book by an Author I've Enjoyed for Years: _Sunshine_ by Robin 
McKinley. She manages to make vampires feel really alien, not just sexy and 
dangerous humans, as in most vampire fiction I can think of. The novel left 
a whole lot of loose threads, which
makes me think there must be a sequel coming, but McKinley says she doesn't
think so.

Runner-up for Best Best New Book by an Author I've Enjoyed for Years: _A 
Fistful of Sky_ by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. This struck me as the most
riveting thing she's done recently. I loved her earlier books (_The Thread
That Binds the Bones_ and _The Silent Strength of Stones_ but her more
recent ones, though full of interesting ideas, didn't seem to have the same
oomph of the earlier ones. This one did.

Best Book Recommended by Person/s on the List: Catherine Fisher's _The 
Oracle_ and _The Archon_. Nothing to say about this that hasn't been said 
already--thanks to Hallie for recommending these!

Delightful Discovery I Got Through this List (beside the Fishers): Susanna
Kearsley's_Named of the Dragon_ and _The Shadowy Horses_.  Somebody (or 
somebodies) mentioned this a couple of years ago and I finally caught up 
with them this year.

The Most Interestingly Unusual Book of 2005: A toss-up
between _The Portrait of Mrs.Charbuque_by Jeffrey Ford and _After Life_ by
Rhian Ellis. I don't know what to say about either of these, except that
they delivery something really different--the second more successfully than
the first, I think, but both are riveting reads. It's really hard to
describe either of them. In Portrait, an artist is commmissioned to paint a
subject he is never allowed to see; she sits behind a screen and tells him
about her life. The supernatural elements work on many different levels (I'm
not sure about the ending, though). In Ellis' book, in the first pages we
watch as the narrator buries the body of the boyfriend she has killed, learn
that she is medium, and what follows is a complicated and entirely
engrossing examination of the concepts of truth and self-knowledge. Once
again the supernatural elements have various levels of meaning. It's not
perhaps the book you want to read if you're ill or depressed--not that it's
*terribly* morbid--but it's an extremely 'meaty' and substantial read, if
you know what I mean.

Some other great reads:

_The Jane Austen Book Club_ by Karen
Joy Fowler. This seems lightweight--and is in fact a very easy book to
read--until you look more closely and realise that she isn't knocking you
over the head with obvious concordances to Austen's novels (though there are
a few of these) but offering subtle parallels and looking at them from all
sorts of angles. A really feel-good book that offers more than it appears.

Charlie's _The Fetch of Mardie Watt_, a creepy read which I highly
recommend. Last year I also read (thanks to Hallie) _Calypso Dreaming_ which
is also a most haunting, creepy book which I hugley enjoyed.

Jonathan Stroud's _The Amulet of Samarkand_ and _The Golem's Eye_.

The books by Alexander McCall Smith that Melissa mentioned: so far I've read
_The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency_, _Tears of the Giraffe_ and _Morality
for Beautiful Girls_. So far I think Tears is the most beautifully
constructed and written one. Now these books *would* be great to read if
you're weren't feeling well. They are very, very easy to read and do your
heart good (if your heart is constructed the same way mine is, I suppose I
should add!).


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