Monday, January 30, 2017

Best Fiction Reads of 2016

1.  Charles Dickens.  David Copperfield. All (nearly) 900 pages. The master's masterpiece.  Larger than life.  Amazing characters:  Mr. Micawber, Uriah Heep, the Murdstones, Betsey Trotwood, Mr. Dick, Dora.  Drama and melodrama.  It was written (in 1849-50) in installments which served to keep the readers on tenterhooks.  Pages and pages of descriptive prose--vicissitudes, living on the edge.  Often everyone's favorite Dickens.  This was my first reading of it.  Loved it.

2.  Ernest Hemingway.  For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Another masterpiece.  Set in May 1937 near Segovia, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War.  Brutal, honest, exquisite writing.  First-hand knowledge (no stereotypes pretending to be the real thing).  Some sections were too brutal to read.  Some about love and home and truth and irony and friendships and betrayal.  This was my second reading--since it was our book club selection.

3.  Alan Paton.  Cry, the Beloved Country.  Golly, yet another masterpiece!  Published 1948.  The tale of two South African families in 1946--one Zulu-speaking, one English-speaking--and the events that bring them together, first tragically, then with compassion and unified purpose.  Themes:  the decay of the tribal culture as impacted by the white/European economy and the flight to urban centers.  This is an amazingly thoughtful, lyrical book, without cant, simply describing two peoples seeking justice.  It's also about personal actions--what people can do, especially if their government doesn't do it.  This was my first reading--another selection by our book club.

4.  Conrad Richter, The Trees.  (See below)

5.  Conrad Richter, The Fields.  (See below)

6.  Conrad Richter, The Town.  A trilogy describing the opening and settling of the Ohio wilderness.  Three exquisite books, now out of print, alas.  Look under "Books" and see my April 8, 2016, posting for a full description.

7.  Helen Simonson.  The Summer Before the War.  Much good detail about life in Rye, Sussex, in 1914 with one of the characters standing in for Henry James who lived there.  Good range of characters, a flowing story line, some intelligent writing.  A bit of melodrama but, for me, acceptable.  The author grew up there and obviously had a love affair with the area.  This is her second novel, the first being Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.  The spoken language seemed more geared toward the day of Jane Austen, but I dare say that's how the English upper classes still spoke a hundred years later.

8.  Susan Vreeland.  Lisette's List.  Not a great book but not a bad one about a Parisienne who spends the war and post-war years in Provence both tending and then searching for some family paintings by Cezanne, Pissarro, and Picasso around the village of Roussillon with its ocher mines/quarries from which pigment is made.  Guest appearances by Samuel Beckett and the Chagalls who spent some time hidden away there.  By the author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

An added note:

I've said it before and will say it again.  I do enjoy the fiction of Scotsman, Alexander McCall Smith and have now probably read some 30 or so of his books.  He always has something to say about life and the passing scene ... and he does so in a gentle, thoughtful, gracious manner.  (How unusual, eh?)  This year I added several to my reading list.  The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine and Precious and Grace from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  The Revolving Door of Life from the 44 Scotland Street series.  And The Novel Habits of Happiness from the Isabel Dalhousie series. 

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