The results were a bit tighter this year than last: the "top" book received 6 (not last year's 7 votes) and three books vied for third (whereas last year there was a clear top three, followed by two sharing "highly commended" honours.) In other words, the top three positions this year used 23 of the 31 votes cast, whereas last year they used 18 of the 32 votes. Does this say anything? Probably not.
1. The choke, by Sofie Laguna (our review) (6 votes)
2. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot (our review) (5 votes)
3. The sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (our review); The merry-go-round in the sea, by Randolph Stow (our review); and Austerlitz, by WG Sebald (our review) (4 votes each)
Highly commended: An unnecessary woman, by Rabih Alameddine (our review).
A varied list which includes a classic, a translated novel, and a non-fiction work. What open-minded readers we are!
Some general comments:Judith commented that she "enjoyed the styles of writing, so different in each, and the story that each author told with such skill"; Kate thought that "all in all [it was] a top year".
Meanwhile, Anne was so inspired by reading EM Forster's Howard's End that she has since listened to the book he called his favourite, The longest journey. She said: "It hasn't stood the test of time like Howard's End and reminds me that authors aren't always the best judges of their work."
Some comments on our top picks:
- "Rivetting read and clever use of naïve narrator." (Sue B)
- "Was so moved by Justine. Loved how Laguna managed the naïve narrator in such a way as to make it clear to us what was going on while the child didn't. I also loved the Murray river setting and the choke metaphor." (Sue T)
- "Harrowing but brilliant and insightful." (Janet)
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS:
- "What a marvellous account of a scientific breakthrough, within the real challenges of black lives, and this family in particular. A nuanced account of a continuing ethical dilemma." (Kate)
- "Every medico should read this." (Denise)
- "Love a bit of science ethics (or in this case, the lack thereof) in the mix. Sorry to have missed the discussion." (Janet)
- "Such an important perspective on a war we all know about as an American war, when ten times as many Vietnamese were affected and still suffer the consequences." (Denise)
- "Loved the unique, distinct voice, the play on the idea of 'sympathizer', and the fearless telling of a story of the Vietnam War from a different perspective." (Sue T)
- "The bleak humor and cleverness of the writing showed why it won the Pulitzer, but it was the extraordinary character leading through a war and revolution that really made it something new and challenging. Since reading it I have watched the Ken burns series on Vietnam which is brilliant but almost exclusively from the American view and therefore underlined the book's point about US not noticing the people they were fighting beside." (Helen)
THE MERRY-GO-ROUND IN THE SEA:
- "Sophisticated, layered autobiographical novel; lovely, involving descriptions of rural Australian life; beautifully developed complex characters; humour." (Sue B)
- "So glad to have read this superb Australian author, whose depiction of landscape, and his torn relationship with Australia and his family was truly beautiful." (Kate)
- "A great feat of imagination, and excellent dense writing, even in translation." (Denise)
- "Another book with an unusual voice, and an amazingly sustained mesmeric tone. Couldn't believe what a page turner this dense book was." (Sue T)
AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN:
- "Was a wonderful portrait of the tragedy of Beirut, as well as this disenfranchised woman, and an insight into translation." (Kate)
- "So good at capturing the atmosphere of the woman in her apartment with all her books and the erudite way she talked about all those famous and not so famous texts; also loved the descriptions of Beirut -- a place I would love to visit -- such a mixture of cultures -- great characters too." (Sylvia)
Let us know what you think, in the comments!