Claire’s and Tim’s Top Ten Books of 2019

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Here we are again, the end of another year of reading. More bookshelves built, more books bought, borrowed and lent. This year, as well as the bookshelves, Tim216 Aug 04 built me a free little library so that I can swap books with my neighbours and anyone who happens to come past. These are springing up all over the world and you can find the locations of many of them here.

This is the fifth year that Tim and I have been tracking our books and coming up with a list of our ten favourites of the year (read, rather than published). You can see previous lists here: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

Some facts and figures about my list, compiled from the 94 books I read this year:

  • Five female authors, five male (of the 94, 63 were by female authors)
  • Three books published this year
  • Earliest was first published in 1919
  • One book not published until next year
  • One book in translation
  • One book of short stories
  • Seven books set in the USA; one in the Netherlands; two in England
  • One non-fiction book

My Best Reads of 2019

Top three (in no order)

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann

HalibutontheMoonThis is a tough but brilliant read. Vann has returned to the story of his father, this time as a complete novel covering a few days when Jim sees a therapist, and with his brother, visits various relatives and friends. We follow Jim’s most intimate thoughts, and can only watch his self destructive actions as he contemplates suicide. The story is agonising, the writing expressively perfect.

 

Mrs Bridge by  Evan S. Connell


MrsbMrs Bridge was Evan S. Connell’s debut, and it’s so damn good. Over the course of 117 chapters (some as short as a paragraph), we follow Mrs Bridge as she goes about her day-to-day life as a housewife and mother in 1930s Kansas City. She’s been brought up in a certain way, and wants to bring her children up in that way too. She can be bigoted and racist, but she knows this isn’t right, and yet she can’t seem to work out how to break out of her narrow boring existence of the country-club circle. Oh, and the ending is superb. I might be reading this again in 2020.

 

The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion

Journal 2I can’t remember the last time I underlined as many lines, as in The Journal of a Disappointed Man, or laughed as much, or cried. Actually cried, quiet rolling tears, while my husband slept beside me in bed.
This journal starts in 1903 when Barbellion (a pen-name) is 13 and wants desperately to be a naturalist (the journal is full of wonderful descriptions of nature), but has to follow his father and become a local journalist. Still, he is determined, and despite ill-health and being completely self-educated takes an exam and gets a job at The Natural History Museum in London (unfortunately, and rather amusingly the job he is given is to measure the legs on lice). He becomes increasingly ill, but (after much indecision) marries and has a child. All the while recounting his illness, and his thoughts on life and death. Eventually, while still in his twenties, he learns he has multiple sclerosis, only because he opens a letter from his doctor that was not addressed to him. He worries about money, and how his wife and child will manage, but he lives to see his journal published. He dies age 31.
So it is desperately sad, but W.N.P (or Bruce) is funny, and clever, and witty, and thoughtful, and despairing. 2019 marks 100 years since his death, and yet he seems so very real and close. (I came across this book via the Backlisted Podcast. Check it out.)

The Best of the Rest

 

Sleepless Night by Margriet De Moor (translated by David Doherty)

SleeplessThis novel is a subtle, enigmatic and beautiful elegy to a husband and marriage that ends in tragedy. De Moor’s writing is sensual and spare, whether she’s writing about love, a walk in an ice forest, or baking a cake in the middle of the night. There are layers of meaning here, which with adroit subtlety De Moor lets the reader puzzle out.

 


Valentine
by Elizabeth Wetmore

ValentineValentine – another debut – won’t be published until June 2020, and you should definitely look out for it. A wonderful cast of female characters are living in a small West Texas town in 1976 just as an oil boom hits. The terrible event that links them together is finely woven, the thread sometimes even disappears, but it’s the women’s and girl’s lives, their hardships, that kept me reading. Beautifully written, this novel and author surely is going to go far.

 

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

RabbitI’ve come very late to this modern classic, and at first I almost put the book down because I loathed Rabbit, the main character, so much. But I’ve always said I don’t mind reading about horrible characters and then anyway Updike’s writing won me over. Utterly.
At twenty-six, seemingly on a whim Rabbit deserts his wife and child, and hooks up with a young woman he lusts after while criticising her for accepting him. Everything gets messed up, of course. (Excuse the terrible cover – but it’s the edition I read.)

 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

the dutch houseThis is the story of Maeve, as told by her younger brother, Danny. Before Danny can fully remember her, their mother leaves them in the care of their father who soon remarries. They live in the Dutch House – an ornate monstrosity with huge glass windows and all the furniture and belongings that a previous Dutch family left behind, and then they are forced to leave. For a while I kept waiting for something big to happen, but once I let that go, I completely fell for this book; fell in love with the family and Patchett’s writing.


Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
by Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs PalfreyThink of a funnier Barbara Pym and you’ll be halfway there with this novel. Mrs Palfrey goes to live at the Claremont Hotel in London in the 1960s, after her husband dies. The hotel is down at heel, as are many of the aging residents. Mrs Palfrey’s grandson doesn’t come to visit her . . . until he does. I laughed out loud many times, mostly at the spot-on observations of people and growing old. Highly recommended.

 

The Understory by Pamela Erens

the understoryThis is another debut, with wonderful lucid and understated writing. It tells the story of Jack an ex-lawyer who has been living illegally in his dead uncle’s apartment in New York for fourteen years. He has compulsive tendencies – visiting Brooklyn bridge every evening, a certain secondhand bookstore, and the same diner for lunch every day. When his new landlord wants to evict him, Jack meets and becomes obsessed with the architect employed to redesign his building. Each chapter alternates between this narrative and one from a few months on when Jack has left New York and is staying in a Buddhist monastery tending their bonsai trees (poorly). I loved it.

Jesus’s Son by Denis Johnson

JesusA perfect collection of short stories all with the same main character. ‘Fuckhead’ is in his early twenties and he’s a drug addict and alcoholic. And no, a series of stories about drug-fuelled craziness narrated by this kind of man wouldn’t normally interest me, either. But the free-wheeling mind-altered narratives are so fresh and scary, and sometimes even funny. Don’t be put off by the subject matter, just read it.

 

Tim’s Top Ten Reads of the Year

Tim’s Top Three (in no order)

  • Half Wild by Robin MacArthur (Tim says: Brilliant intertwined short stories set rural Vermont.)
  • Lila & Theron by Bill Schubart (Tim says: Weirdly, also set in rural Vermont, spanning most of the twentieth century, a small-scale epic story of love and hardship.)
  • Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (Tim says: The unflinching story of a man’s decline. Brutally honest and heartbreaking.)

Best of the Rest

  • Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
  • My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates
  • Mendocino and Other Stories by Ann Packer
  • In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
  • The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
  • The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich
  • Turbulence by David Szalay

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Let me know what your top ten reads of the year were, and I’ll do a post about some of them at a later date.

 

Claire’s and Tim’s Top Ten Books of 2018

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It’s that time again for my, and my librarian husband’s, top ten books. These are selected from books we read this year – not books published this year. You can read our lists from 2017, 2016, and 2015 by clicking on the years.

Here are some facts and figures about my list:

  • None of my top 10 books were published this year (although I did read plenty of recently published books)
  • I read 94 books this year (including a couple of manuscripts)
  • Three of the books on my list have been made into wonderful films: The Hours, The Wall, and My Abandonment (filmed as Leave No Trace), (and You Should have Left is in production)
  • Neatly, five female and five male authors made it onto my list (of my 94, 56 were female)
  • Two of my top ten are English translations from German: You Should Have Left and The Wall
  • The shortest book I read – You Should Have Left – made it onto my top ten. It’s 111 pages, but they are tiny pages. The longest I read was Night Film at 640 pages.
  • I listened to two of the novels on my list, and loved them so much I bought a physical copy: After the Eclipse (also the only non-fiction book on my list), and Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • For an article I wrote in October about haunted house novels, I read several ‘scary’ books that I hadn’t heard of before, and two of them (You Should have Left, and The Elementals) made it onto my list.

My best reads of 2018

Top 3 (in no order)

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Bitter Orange Published in USA and Canada

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Bitter Orange is published today (October 9) in the USA and Canada. And to celebrate I’m giving away one set of all three of my novels: Our Endless Numbered Days, Swimming Lessons, and a hardback copy of Bitter Orange (with its US cover).

To enter, just visit Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and follow the instructions there. The competition is open worldwide.

The Canadian cover, from House of Anansi, is almost the same as the UK version.

HoA

 

Early US reviews have been great:

Kirkus (starred review)
“In the vein of Shirley Jackson’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller’s disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal. An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.”

Entertainment Weekly
“In her new novel, Claire Fuller enhances the mystery with luscious detail: sights of ghosts, smells of overripe fruit, echoes of Cara wailing. The plot’s movements are rendered secondary, at least in the early going, to the atmosphere, and it’s to the novel’s benefit; with sensations so alive on the page, you’re constantly kept on your toes, attuned to the mania. You’ll ask, beguiled: What’s really going on here?”

Buy Bitter Orange.

Indie Bookshop Love: Little Ripon Bookshop

Ripon outside

Back in January I was lucky enough to visit The Little Ripon Bookshop to sign some copies of Our Endless Numbered Days. I couldn’t have been made more welcome – coffee and biscuits, a little table by the door, a display of my books (and toothpaste, Spam and string) in the window, and a stream of customers who so clearly came because they love this little bookshop, its owners and staff.

Here’s my interview with Gill, one of the owners.

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Short story: The last note

claire-fullerHe wrote her five notes after they first met, and when she was in the bath, he hid them around her house – behind a painting, under a rug, in the toe of an old tennis shoe. She found them one by one over the years. Notes of love, recalling the heady rush of newness.
Until only one remained.
“Tell me where,” she begged, already old. “Give me one clue.”
“In the library,” he said eventually.
Every day she took down a book and flicked through its pages; and finally, one afternoon, a scrap of folded paper fluttered out.

***

I’m flattered this week that Rochelle chose a photograph of my libary at home. My piece this week is based on a true story. My partner Tim and I did write notes to each other and hid them in each other’s houses. We live together now, and I know that there is one final note in a book, that I’m yet to find.

This piece of writing is part of the Friday Fictioneers writing group. Each week writers from around the world attempt to write 100 words (or so) starting with a picture.

I’d love to receive comments and constructive criticism. Click here to read other people’s stories inspired by this picture or to join in, with the group hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields.