Books of the Year 2017

The Ali Smith Book of the year: ‘Winter’ by Ali Smith

Is this the most enjoyable book of the year? No. But, like last year’s ‘Autumn’ it is possibly one of the most pertinent and timely of books and is so chock-a-block full of ideas, thoughts and commentary about the past year that it gives the reader a whistle-stop tour of the year while dropping in so much food for though that it might well take the rest of the season to unpack it. But there is nothing dull or worthy about any of Smith’s writing. As usual she brings a yard full of playfulness to the book, which never stands still, always itching and moving, never standing still.

With this seasonal series of books, Smith has reinvented the ‘Annual’ for adults, and is producing work which stands in a class of it’s own: roll on ‘Spring’!

The Book of the Year: ‘First Love’ by Gwendoline Riley

‘a brave book: at times brutal, at times touching, at times coolly clinical, all the time chewing over the notion of love, what it means and whether we sometimes mistake the need for love for love itself.’

And don’t forget…

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

‘It is a stylistic dream, immersing the reader in what is the literary equivalent of 3D cinema. It is soap opera (not a dirty phrase in my book) on a grand, profound scale, gripping and tantalising without resorting to grandstanding spectacle. It is magnificent.‘

Cry, Mother Spain – Lydie Salvayre

‘There may be many, many historical works which tell the same story, but few with such a beguiling passion for the people who are carried along – sometimes willing, sometimes not – on the tides of conflict and change.’

Pond – Claire Louise Bennett

‘Bennett is a writer giddy with the possibilities of the written word; a thrilling, soaring writer untethered by other’s standards. This small volume is a Pandora’s Box of riches, once opened, never forgotten.’

Middlefield – Ian Waites

‘For another poignant snapshot of life growing up on a housing estate in the 1970s and 1980s, you could do worse than Ian Waite’s touching and beautiful ‘Middlewich: A postwar council estate in time’

Outskirts – John Grindrod

‘It is everything good history should be: erudite, passionate, personal… and, on top of all this, is proud to acknowledge the importance of Delia Smith.’

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile – Adelle Stripe

‘Stripe builds up the layers of a complex character in an extraordinary situation with dexterity, avoiding the pitfalls of polemic to produce a novel which lingers long after you have finished it.’

Little Deaths – Emma Flint

‘Little Deaths’ comes at us full in the face, unapologetically using the tropes of the ‘noir’ novel to tell its tale.’

The Witch Finder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

‘(Containing) nothing of the supernatural, rather it is folk-horror at its purest, keeping the reader on edge until, literally, the very last word.’


Disappointment: I was so looking forward to Shena Mackay‘s memoir – but it seems to have been pushed back to 2019. Boo!

In a year full of disturbing happenings and frightening shifts in our society, when I look at the books I have read all year, I see many of the fears reflected in the books I have read: war, murder, class conflict and struggle, misogyny, the fears around social media, Trump and the inner workings of us as human beings. Perhaps there is one creation which sums up our current fears: In Philip Pullman’s ‘The Book of Dust’, the villain of the piece, who pursues the baby Lyra and her young rescuers Malcolm and Alice, is the paedophilic physicist Gerard Bonneville. In Pullman’s world, each human has their ‘daemon’, a sort of embodiment of their spirit in animal form. Bonneville’s daemon is a hyena who had chewed off one of it’s own legs and in some of the most disturbing scenes in fiction (let alone in any book aimed at children), pisses and howls in vile displays of  contempt for life.

Here’s to 2018 and happier times!


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