FictionFan Awards 2016 – Literary Fiction & Book of the Year 2016

Please rise…

 

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2016.

In case you missed them last week, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2015 and October 2016 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Genre Fiction – click to see awards

Factual – click to see awards

Crime Fiction/Thrillers – click to see awards

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2016

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

LITERARY FICTION

I’ve abandoned more lit-fic novels this year than ever before, I think – partly due to my lengthy reading slump and partly due to the current fad for plotless musings and polemics thinly disguised as fiction. However, I’m delighted to say there have been some great reads, too, including a couple from new authors who will hopefully go on to even greater things in the future. The shortlist is too long, but I really couldn’t decide which of these fantastic books to leave out, so I’ll try to keep my comments on each brief…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

the high mountains of portugalThe High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

The three interlinked stories in this book are each very different but with common themes running through them, and all linked to a small town in the High Mountains.  The whole book is deliciously enigmatic and sometimes surreal, and I’m sure could be read in a hundred different ways. It is a subtle discussion of the evolution vs. faith debate, with the old evolutionary saw of “risen apes, not fallen angels” appearing repeatedly. Chimps appear in some form in each of the sections, though symbolically rather than actually, except in the third. But meaning aside, the sheer quality of the writing along with the more overt themes of grief and love make it a wonderful read – one that has left some indelible images in my mind.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

exposureExposure by Helen Dunmore

When fading spy Giles Holloway falls drunkenly down his stairs and breaks his leg, he must somehow get the Top Secret file he has “borrowed” back to the Admiralty before anyone notices it’s missing. So he turns to his old friend and colleague Simon Callington for help, sucking Simon into a situation that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

In many ways this is a standard spy thriller. But mostly what it is is a set of brilliant character studies showing the impact of this event on the lives of all those involved. It’s also a highly intelligent twist on The Railway Children where we see the story from the adults’ side, and an entirely credible portrayal of a fictionalised version of the Cambridge spy ring. Great stuff!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

three martini lunchThree-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

It’s 1958, and Greenwich Village is the centre of the hipster scene, populated by aspiring poets and writers. The three main characters take turns to narrate their own stories: Eden, determined to make it in the male-dominated world of publishing; rich boy Cliff, who is pretty sure he just needs a break to make it big as a writer; and Miles, who has real talent as a writer, but as a black man must face the discrimination that is an integral part of the society of the time. When their lives intersect, a chain of events is started that will change the course of their lives.

Rindell has the gift of creating truthful characters with individual voices, and of putting them into settings that feel totally authentic. Her scene-setting is superb – she brings the Village to life in all its seedy vibrancy. A great new talent – one to watch.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

zero kZero K by Don DeLillo

This is a strange book that takes one of the clichés of science fiction – cryogenics – and turns it into something that is either incomprehensible or profoundly thought-provoking, depending on how willing the reader is to play along. However, behind the cliché, a distinctly unsettling atmosphere of unease soon begins to seep out of the pages, as the narrator wanders alone through the silence of the cryogenics facility, down long corridors full of doors with nothing to indicate what is behind them. At the end of some of the corridors are viewscreens, showing increasingly horrific images of disaster, destruction and death. It’s an exploration of identity, and of the importance of death in how we define and measure life. From a shaky beginning, I grew to love it, for the writing, the imagery and the intelligence of it.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

enigma 2Enigma by Robert Harris

It’s 1943, and the Allies rely on the shipping convoys from the US to keep their battered countries fed and munitioned. The tide has been flowing in the Allies favour since the German Enigma codes were broken at Bletchley Park. But now the Germans have changed the U-boat code, threatening not only individual convoys but the entire defeat of the Allied forces. Tom Jericho, hailed as one of the most brilliant codebreakers, is on a break, suffering from a combination of stress, overwork and a broken heart over a girl named Claire. But with this new threat, despite his fragile health, he’s urgently needed back in Bletchley. And when he gets there, he discovers Claire is missing…

A first rate spy thriller, written with all the qualities of literary fiction, it’s the authenticity of the setting and the superb plotting that make this one so great.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

the girlsThe Girls by Emma Cline

Evie is 14 the summer she meets the girls from the ranch – the summer of ’69. Evie’s fascination quickly turns to infatuation, and a desire to prove herself mature enough to belong to this little group. Before long, she’s spending most of her time at the ranch, where she meets the group’s charismatic leader, Russell, and finds herself willingly sucked into a world that passes beyond hippy commune to cult. And by the end of the summer something so shocking will happen, it will shadow her life for ever.

The characterisation is superb, especially of Evie herself, both as a girl on the cusp of womanhood in the ’60s, and as an adult in late middle-age in the present. And the depiction of the cult is entirely credible, set well within this period of generational shift and huge social upheaval. An excellent book, all the more so considering it’s Cline’s début.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2016

for

BEST LITERARY FICTION

beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Sethe and her daughter, Denver, live isolated lives in their community, because everyone knows that their house at no. 124 is haunted. Sethe’s two sons have already left, unable to take any more of the spiteful tricks played by the ghost. But Sethe and Denver see the ghost differently. To Sethe it is the other daughter that she lost, a child known only by the single word carved on her gravestone, “Beloved”. The ghost is angry but Sethe understands why and endlessly forgives, no matter how cruel or violent her behaviour. And to Denver, the ghost is her sister, her only companion in her loneliness. Then one day a man from Sethe’s past arrives, Paul D, who knew her when they were both slaves on Sweet Home. It seems at first that he has driven the ghost away, until some weeks later a strange young woman arrives at the house – her name, Beloved.

This isn’t just a book of the year for me, it’s one of the books of my lifetime. Morrison’s brilliant writing and imagery turn it into one of the most powerful and emotionally devastating books I have ever read. There is furious anger here, in scenes of brutal horror, cruelty and vile humiliation, but the overwhelming tone is of a sorrowful lament for humanity. And to make it bearable, just, there is also beauty, love, some kind of healing, and ultimately hope. Sethe’s is a story that must be understood if we are ever to truly understand ourselves, and ultimately isn’t that what literature is for? Tragic that such a book should ever have come to be written, heartbreaking and devastating to read, but I count it a true privilege to have been given an opportunity to hear Beloved’s story.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

And now…

the nominees for the Book of the Year Award are…

 

.

FICTIONFAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016

THE WINNER

.

Best Fiction

Normally I’d rather choose a new book as Book of the Year, but Beloved is so outstanding it had to win! Some of the Great American Novel Quest books I’ve read this year have been pretty disappointing, but I’ll always be glad I started the quest since it was through it that I discovered this book. I realise most people have already read it, but if, like me, you’ve managed to miss it up till now, it gets my highest recommendation. The beautiful writing, savage imagery and deep understanding and sympathy for humanity make it a truly wonderful read – unforgettable.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Thanks to all of you who’ve stuck with me through this year’s awards feature.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it – I’ve enjoyed your company!

 

51 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2016 – Literary Fiction & Book of the Year 2016

    • Not the most exciting winner, since I’m about the last person in the world to read it, but still! Oh, I hope you enjoy Exposure – I was really impressed by her writing, and found the story fascinating too, told from the wife’s perspective… 🙂

  1. I’m not at all surprised that Beloved is your choice for this year, FictionFan. It’s a stunning book, it really is. But you had a lot of nice choices this year. I like having a good reading year, and I’m happy for you that you did.

    • Yes, it had to win, even if I’m the last person in the world who’s read it – head and shoulders above the rest, even thought it was a strong field. I always enjoy looking back at the 5 star reads – thankfully there’s usually plenty of them… 🙂

  2. A VERY and perhaps even VERY VERY VERY worthy winner. I read this some years ago, and you may have pushed me to a re-read. I have to say that this year I have read far more stinkers than I normally do, and that that is also why I have read a goodly number of RE-reads. Reading (and generally abandoning) stinkers leaves me scurrying in feverish desperation back to a known read of excellence – a bit like banishing the taste of something disgusting by something..yes, you knew chocolate was going to rear its pretty little, about to be demolished, head.

    The disappointment of poor reads seems to leave me ever crosser and more despairing about the mountains of tosh. And books from authors who know what they are doing, and do it with grace, finesse and a kind of divine magic are the only effective antidotes.

    And, not only stinkers, but too many passable but not bothered enough about to make it to get a review on the blog – a full 20% falling into ‘meh!’ at best or ‘you MUST be joking!’ at worst.

    I fully predict that it might almost be a clean sweep of re-reads for my best of! Though I know that one author sweeping almost all before her won’t make any of your besties!

    • It’s one I’ll definitely re-read too, though not soon – too shattering! Yes, I’ve abandoned more books this year than ever before, I think. Mainly it’s the drivel that counts as good wriitng these days, but I do think world events left me with less patience to persevere with less than stellar books. When you want to be transported out of the world, then you need an author who can do that. As is happening more and more often to me, I found the factual reads more satisfying than most of the fiction. I still didn’t re-read much because of all the pesky review copies I foolishly took, but the Classics Club list has lots of nice re-reads on it.

      Haha! I freely admit I’m so glad the year of the Woolf is over! Onwards and upwards! I’m going to set myself a little challenge next year which I’m pretty sure I’ll hate at least parts of… I wonder if I’ll be able to tempt you to join me… 😉

    • Whaaaat?!? That’s simply not good enough – get it back out straightaway, and I expect a book report on my desk by Hogmanay! 😉 Weren’t you enjoying it, or was it just distraction from outside events? It’s one where I can see why it would divide people, to be honest – especially the surrealist aspects, which normally I’d hate, but which he sold so well to me…

      • Yes ma’am… *hangs head* I’ll get back to it….

        I was afraid to tell you this! Yes, I blame all mistakes made on *the buffoon who shall not be named*! How can one think straight when our country is in peril?!

        • Haha! See that you do, ma’am!

          Yes, Lady Fancifull and I have been commenting all year – since Brexit and then the buffoon – that our reading has been suffering, and that we’ve been abandoning books we’ve normally have struggled through. We can all only hope next year’s better than this one, but the signs aren’t looking good…

  3. This is a great post, love the awards! I’ve never read Beloved but think I will after your post and award! Exposure and Enigma sound like great reads, I like the idea of trying a couple spy thrillers:) Girls I abandoned after about 1/3 of the way through, it just didn’t hold my interest. Happy Holidays to you!

    • Thank you! 🙂 Beloved is a pretty emotionally devastating read, so one to read when you’ve got time to absorb it. But both Enigma and Exposure are great – and, though not light, not nearly as tough as Beloved. And it was interesting to see how different two books on a fairly similar subject could be…

      Merry Christmas! Here’s to some great book in 2017! 😀

      • I haven’t been emotionally devastated since New Years of last year when I finished reading A Little Life…so I’m due I think:) I always love when a book affects me that strongly although A Little Life caused be to have the worst book hangover ever!!

    • Thank you! 😀 Well, just think what fun it will be to add all the rest to your TBR then! 😉 Seriously, all these year end round-ups are fatal to TBRs – I have to take an extra dose of willpower before I read them…

  4. Well, it sounds as if you’ve finally found one worthy of your award — hooray! I haven’t read Beloved. From your review, it sounds as if I should; however, that’s going to have to wait a while as the holidays are extremely busy and I have more than enough things to do right now. Good job summarizing all of them!

    • Beloved is a fantastic book, but emotionally devastating, so definitely not holiday reading. It’s one for when you have a couple of quiet weeks ahead – I found I had to read it quite slowly, partly to savour the language, but partly because parts of it are tough to read. Thank you! I always enjoy doing these posts. 😀

  5. Wait isn’t summer of ’69 a song? Wow….you read so many books, it’s like putting me to shame, you know. But I did read Descartes this year and Plato and Rousseau. That must count for something. I think BUS would be proud of me.

    Also, I think I should be able to judge on your board, too.

    • It is indeed! I actually used it for the title of my post too – aren’t you impressed? BUS would be very proud of you – so long as I don’t tell her about your views on feminism… *wicked eye gleam*

      OK!!!! You can be Joint Judge next year! Of course, this means you’ll have to read every book I do… I’ll send you the list for January…

  6. Great choices! I’m still putting my own list of favourites together, but Exposure and Magpie Murders will definitely be on there. I’m sure Beloved was originally on my Classics Club list but I took it off for some reason and replaced it with something else. Obviously a mistake!

    • I love doing these lists, and reading everyone else’s even though it’s fatal to the TBR! Exposure and Magpie Murders are both great books, but Beloved is one of the best books I’ve ever read. So you really must find a way to sneak it back onto your list… 😉

  7. “Beloved” would have been my pick too – a tour de force, and I loved “Enigma” and “The High Mountains”. I’ll definitely be reading “Magpie Murders” sometime soon.

  8. Another fantastic year of books and a worthy winner this year. Thanks again for a lovely mixture of books and your brilliant reviews of course – and for those extra books that threaten to topple my TBR on top of me – yes, I succumbed and have a copy of The Wheel Spins so with the three, yes, three books that arrived in the post today…

    • Aww, and thank you for your company through the year, dear Cleo! Hahaha! I don’t think either of us is good for the other’s TBR, though – I ended up buying The Jazz Files last night, though I have no idea when I’ll be able to fit it in! I’m (almost) certain you’ll enjoy The Wheel Spins… 😀

  9. A worthy winner, and interesting that it’s stood the test of time so well and beaten the newer books. I don’t announce my top ten of the year until 1 January; I am reading a good one at the moment (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, the history of pop music) and my husband just asked me if it was my book of the year … I’m going to have to comb through the archives to see!

    • Yes, one of the “problems” with reading classics is that obviously the majority of books don’t do so well in comparison. I usually do my list earlier than this, (so people have plenty of time to buy all my recommendations for Christmas 😉 ) but I had a break this November so am running badly behind. I love looking back over the year though…

    • Pondering reading goals is so much fun! I’ve done little else for the last week… in fact, I’ve hardly even read anything I’m so busy making lists… 😉 I know you’ll enjoy Beloved, and I think you’ll enjoy Three-Martini Lunch too… so shove them up to the top of the list! 🙂

  10. I read Exposure recently, and should read Three-Martini Lunch as I lovedf The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. And I WILL get to The Girls, as everyone seemed to enjoy it!

    • Three-Martini Lunch is a bit different to The Other Typist – more lit-ficcy, but I think that suits her style of writing. Hope you enjoy it! And I’m 99.999999999% sure you’d enjoy The Girls…

  11. Happy New Year, FF! I have just emerged from my food coma to make my way, blinking, back to the real world. A fabulous selection of books all round, I say! Obviously sad to see our darling Anthony pipped to the post, but delighted he won the crime fiction one 🙂 Maybe my goof friend Hugh will find himself to be a nominee next year, hmm? 😉

    • Happy New Year, Lucy! Of course, I’ve been very restrained food-wise – apart from the cake and chocolate, obviously! It was a close call, but Beloved really had to win. How dare you call him a goof friend?! That’s no way to talk about the lovely Hugh! I shall tell him… 😉

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