FictionFan Awards 2018 – Literary Fiction and Book of the Year

A standing ovation please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2018.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2017 and October 2018 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.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction

Genre Fiction

Factual

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2018

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 been so busy this year trying to catch up with my Classics Club list and various other challenges that I’ve read far fewer new releases than usual, but being a bit choosier means that I’ve enjoyed most of those I have read. As a result, the shortlisting has been extremely tough. In the end, I’ve decided not to include classics or any of the fiction I read as part of my Russian challenge since I’ve already posted about them in previous challenge summaries. All of which very neatly leaves me with five excellent contenders, so here goes…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd

As Hope Clearwater sits on the beach outside her home in the Republic of the Congo, she looks back over the circumstances of her life that have brought her here: her marriage to mathematician John Clearwater, and her later work at Grosso Arvore, a chimpanzee research project run by the world-famous primate expert, Eugene Mallabar. The two stories, though separate, have the common theme of the pursuit of scientific fame and the toll that can take on those who fail. There are other themes too – the war that rumbles on in the Congo, the evolutionary and genetic links between human and chimp – and a third story, of Hope’s love affair with Usman Shoukry, an Egyptian mercenary pilot fighting on the pro-government side in the war 

This is Boyd at his best and the narration by Harriet Walter does it full justice. The book sprawls across time and geographic location, bringing each to life and never allowing the reader to become lost. Each separate strand is interesting and engrossing and they are well enough linked that they feel like a satisfying whole. The writing and storytelling are of course excellent – when is Boyd ever anything less? It feels perfectly balanced, a story about chimps that has much to say about humanity, and says it beautifully.

Click to see the full review

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That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina

When a PI tracks Tommaso down in London to give him the news that he has been left a large legacy, Tommaso tells him he doesn’t want it. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy – the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago, when Tommaso met and fell in love with Anna. We know from the beginning that their relationship ended with some kind of tragedy that led Tommaso to cut all ties with home and take on a new identity in London. But it’s only after we follow Tommaso through the events of the summer that we find out what happened…

On the face of it, this is a straightforward account of a love affair, but the quality of the writing, the great pacing and, most of all, the superb sense of place make it so much more than that. It’s an intense character study of Tommaso, and it’s wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia, in the heel of Italy, in the 1980s – still strictly conservative in outlook, still largely in thrall to Catholicism, and with strong family expectations that children will follow the paths determined for them by their parents. A first-class début.

Click to see the full review

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Eagle and Crane by Suzanne Rindell

Earl Shaw takes two small planes barnstorming round Depression-era California, tempting customers to go up for a scenic flight. One day, the pilots take up two young men, Louis Thorn and Harry Yamada. Daredevil Harry decides he will walk along the wing, and Louis, feeling challenged and a little humiliated, follows suit. Earl offers them both jobs as aerial stuntmen and so the act of Eagle & Crane is born – Eagle to represent the good ol’ US of A, and Crane to represent the villainous and untrustworthy Japs of Harry’s heritage. But the war is about to begin, and suddenly white America will begin to see its Japanese-heritage fellow citizens as more than a comic-book threat. And Harry and Louis will find their friendship altered and strained…

While the book has some elements of the thriller, it definitely falls far more into the category of literary fiction for me. Rindell’s research is skilfully fed to us through the development of her characters and her story, so that we gradually get a real feel for rural Californian life and attitudes in this period, and an in-depth look at the impact of the internment of Japanese-Americans. This third book cements her place as one of my favourite authors.

Click to see the full review

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Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti

Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. As Santiago sits in jail not knowing when – if – he’ll be released, he writes letters full of love to his wife, Graciela. For him, life is static, his memories of their love the thing that has sustained him through the torture and now the sheer stultification of his imprisonment. But for Graciela, life is a moving thing – she is still young, in a new city, with a job and a growing child, and for her the present is more vivid than the past. She finds herself increasingly attracted to Ronaldo, but knows that Santiago needs her love and loyalty. The crux of the story is deceptively simple – what will Graciela decide to do?

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time, and credit must go to the translator, Nick Caistor, who has done a marvellous job. Although it’s based around the revolutions of South America, it is not about politics as such; rather, it is about the impact that political upheaval has on the individuals caught up in it. It’s about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging. It’s about loyalty and love, and hope, and sometimes despair. It’s profoundly moving – full of emotional truth. Wonderful!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2018

for

LITERARY FICTION

Tombland by CJ Sansom


This was an extremely difficult decision and I swayed back and forwards between Tombland and Springtime in a Broken Mirror several times, but in the end my love for the wonderful Matthew Shardlake won out…

It’s 1549, and young King Edward VI is on the throne. Since he is still a child, his guardians have appointed a Protector to rule in his stead, his uncle Edward Seymour. There is great poverty in the towns and cities while, in the farming lands of the north and west, landlords are enclosing common land for their own sheep, fermenting unrest amongst the smallholders and tenant farmers who relied on that land to eke out their own precarious living. Throw in the usual religious turmoil and an unpopular and unwinnable war against those pesky Scots, and the time is ripe for rebellion. It’s at this moment that Shardlake is summoned by Princess Elizabeth to investigate a murder of which one of her distant Boleyn relatives stands accused. And so he must head for Norwich, a city that will soon be at the heart of the East Anglian rebellion, led by the charismatic Robert Kett…

This is another completely satisfying addition to the series, confirming again my belief that Sansom is the best historical fiction writer certainly today and perhaps ever. He tells his story in a straightforward linear way, creating a great historical setting founded on in-depth research, a strong plot, and a group of brilliantly depicted characters who have all the complexity of real, flawed humanity. Shardlake himself continues to be one of the most appealing characters in fiction – irascible, often lonely, occasionally a little self-pitying, but intelligent, determined, dedicated, charitable and wholeheartedly loyal to those he takes into his generous heart. Superb!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

And now…

the nominees for the Book of the Year Award are…

FICTIONFAN BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018

THE WINNER

Five excellent contenders, but no hesitation in my mind as which deserves to win. This is a straightforward, factual telling of the story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, and their failed 1914 bid to cross the Antarctic on foot from west to east. It’s also one of the most stirring and emotionally turbulent books I’ve ever read.

Then, at just about two o’clock, they saw where they were. A quirk of wind tore the clouds apart, and two wicked peaks loomed above a line of cliffs and the perpendicular faces of glaciers that dropped sheer into the sea. The coastline looked to be about a mile away, perhaps a little more. But vastly more important, in that single glimpse, they saw to their terror that they were only a short distance outside the line of breakers, the point at which the seas ceased to behave like swells and became combers instead, rushing faster and faster towards their own destruction against the land. As each swell passed under them, they could feel it tugging momentarily at the boat, trying to get hold of her and hurl her toward the beach. It seemed now that everything, the wind, the current and even the sea itself, were united in a single determined purpose, once and for all to annihilate this tiny boat which thus far had defied all their efforts to destroy it.

A wonderfully emotive journey that shows the human spirit at its very best. First published in 1959, this fully earns its reputation as a classic of non-fiction writing.

Click to see the full review

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Thanks to all of you who’ve joined me for this year’s awards feature.

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

50 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2018 – Literary Fiction and Book of the Year

  1. What an undertaking! Congrats to the winner, but congrats to you for all of the books you read in order to choose these winners!

    I guess I’m not surprised the Shackleton story won. After that perilous undertaking, a book about him and his crew deserves to win.

    • Ha! Thank you! Every year when I start this I wonder if I’ve read enough to fill all the slots and then every year I end up finding it hard to get down to a reasonable sized shortlist! Yes, it’s not surprising Endurance has stayed in print for over half a century – a great story, well told.

  2. Worthy winners, indeed, FictionFan. I have to say I’m not surprised at your choice of the Sansom. He is such a skilled writer, and the Shardlake series is well-executed. I’m glad you had a year of good reads, with not too many disappointments. 🙂

    • I love the Shardlake books and I think this is the second time Sansom has won my award. It was a close thing this year though – which is always the sign of a good reading year! 😀

  3. I am bookmarking this page for future reference! What a list, FF! What reads! Cannot wait to read them all myself. Thanks for taking the time to do this. (Still have Puglia and Eagle and Crane waiting on my steps!!!) 😊

  4. Another outstanding job, FF! While literary fiction isn’t my cup of tea, I enjoyed reading the synopsis on each of these books. It looks like you’ve chosen worthy contenders and the most outstanding of winners — well done. Now go rest over the weekend!

    • Thanks, Debbie – glad you enjoyed it! I must admit several of these could count as crime or thrillers just as much as literary – sometimes I really struggle to decide what category to put books in! But whatever genre they are, they’re all great reads. 😀

  5. I’m hoping to start Tombland soon. Even without having read it, I’m not surprised it won your award as the Shardlake books are all so good! I haven’t read Endurance either, but it sounds like a deserving overall winner.

    • Every time I read the new Shardlake I declare it’s the best one yet, but I really do think this one is excellent – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! Endurance is a great book – his storytelling does full justice to what is a truly exciting and harrowing adventure. I really want to read both of them again… 😀

  6. The only one of your winners I’ve read is Tombland – a worthy winner! The expeditions to the South Pole have fascinated me ever since I was 12 and read South with Scott and more recently reading Beryl Bainbridge’s novel The Birthday Boys led me to read Race to The End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole by Ross D E MacPhee, but I haven’t read Endurance – another must read by the sound of it!

    • I’m hoping to get to The Birthday Boys at some point. Those old adventurers have left behind such great stories and there’s something about those icy environments that makes them irresistible. To read about, that is, in front of the fire with a nice mug of hot chocolate… 😉

    • Hugely popular, both here and in the States, I believe! His books go to the number one spot as soon as they’re listed on Amazon, months before they’re published, on the basis of pre-sales. This one’s only been out for a couple of months and already has over 500 reviews on Amazon UK, despite being over 800 pages long…

  7. A round of applause for you! Thoroughly enjoyed this year’s awards and am not at all surprised at the winner. Most of these books made their way on to my list following your original reviews, so I’m happy my own list hasn’t grown again today…

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! I didn’t read huge amounts of fiction this year, but happily there were still some strong contenders – hope you enjoy them when you get to them. 😀

  8. Endurance sounds fascinating! Tombland is intriguing too. Can it be read as a standalone? You say it’s a great addition to the series, but it’ll be ages before I get around to another series. That said, I list series on my TBR as a single entry so it’s an addition of “one” either way. 🙂

    • I reckon you could read it as a standalone, but might miss out by not feeling so involved with the characters. Each book has an entirely separate plot often with a year or two gap since the last one, but the lives of the regulars do develop over time. I’d probably recommend starting with the first one – Dissolution.

  9. Oh wow! Ok Endurance wow all of it, how interesting. I wasn’t expecting you to pick this one, I don’t know why. It seems you enjoy your crime books way more than non-fiction, but I guess I’m wrong! You should let the publisher know you picked this as your fav book of the year, they always like to be made aware of that stuff. who knows, maybe they’ll include a few of your blurbs?

    • I’m always surprised too – this is the second time a non-fiction book has won and I wouldn’t have said it was my favourite type of book either. I always start out thinking it will be one of the literary fictions I’ve loved best, but it rarely is! Good idea! I’ll maybe tweet the winners of each genre. 😀

  10. Well that was very exciting! And I’m thrilled with the winner. I’ve been meaning to read that one for a long time – I still have it to look forward to!
    Now I have to go see which books the others beat out!

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