My favourite novel I read last year (that was published last year)

My plans to get back into the fiction loop last year ended up involving more in the way of buying books than actually reading them. For shame etc. I have a to-read pile full of treats but very little in the way of recommends. Soz. So instead of a chart, or what have you, here are two books that I did manage to read and that I thought were very very good indeed. It’s quality over quantity or something, yeah?

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss explores the previously untapped literary potential of reconstructions of Iron Age life. Who knew eh? Turns out it is a very reach seam of story.. seam of words… turns out… It turns out I can’t make this metaphor work but the book is brilliant. Moss explores the power of ritual, moving between the banal and the spiritual elements so smoothly that the book becomes like a spell in itself. It is an incredible piece of prose, one of those read-in-an-afternoon, stay-with-you-forever books, you should buy it immediately.

I also loved The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, which I was surprised wasn’t more prominent in the conversation about who would win the Booker last year*. Focused largely around Romy Hall as she starts her two life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, the novel spreads out in time and to accommodate other characters. Kushner’s decision to not centre the novel’s narrative around Hall’s legal case, or it’s progression, leaves a much truer, harder story. Which is not to say the book is without humour, because it isn’t, but rather that because Hall’s innocence, or guilt, is all but irrelevant to the plot we concentrate that much more clearly on character, a more satisfying plot, and the system and how it is failing. And the sentences, blimey, so good.

So there you are. Two great books from last year. That’ll have to do. I’ll try to read more this year, ok?


*I haven’t read all the books on the shortlist (and one of the two I haven’t yet read is Milkman) so I am not claiming The Mars Room was robbed or anything like that, just that it is superb, and I was surprised more people weren’t championing it.