Best fiction of 2016

by on November 25, 2016 at 12:37 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

I was disappointed by most of this year’s well-known releases, and did most of my rewarding fiction reading in past classics.  But these are the fiction or fiction-related works I found to be outstanding this year:

Eimear McBride, The Lesser Bohemians.  A novel of an affair, with intoxicating Irish prose and a genuine energy on the page, though it is more a work of intensifying fervor than a traditional plot-based story.

Claire Louise-Bennett, Pond, more from Ireland, short, nominally fiction but more like a circular sensory experience of reading overlapping short stories, with a cumulative effect akin to that of poetry.  I found this one mesmerizing.

Javier Marias, Thus Bad Begins.  I have only started this, but so far I like it very much.  I have enough faith in Marias to put in on the list.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Reputations, a short Colombian novel on memory — personal, historical, sexual, and otherwise, this was my favorite short work of the year.

The Complete Works of Primo Levi, in three volumes, edited by Ann Goldstein.  By no means is all of this fiction, but I will put these books in this category.  A revelation, as Levi has more works of interest, and a broader range of intellect and understanding, than I had realized.  There is plenty of linguistics, economics, history, and social science in these literary pages as well as consistently beautiful writing and superb translations.  This is technically from 2015, but I missed it last time around.

Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai.  Review here.  Strictly speaking, this is a reissue of an earlier published but neglected work.  Maniacal, intense, super-smart, about a mother bringing up a prodigy.

Emily Dickinson’s Poems as She Preserved Them, edited by Cristanne Miller.  The visual presentation of poetry matters too, plus she is one of the very best.

The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. LeGuin, self-recommending.

Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia.  A revealing mismash look into the mind of the author, giving you an integrated picture of her world view, with carefully calculated feints thrown in.  I should note this one works only if you know and love her novels already.  Ferrante’s “children’s” story The Beach at Night is also worthwhile, very dark, you can read it in a small number of minutes.  Here is a good NYT review.

Jean-Michael Rabaté, Think Pig! Beckett at the Limit of the Human.  This work of criticism is grounded in literary theory, but informative and smart nonetheless.

Michael Orthofer, The Complete Review Guide to Literary Fiction.  An amazingly comprehensive and informative work, mostly about literature in translation, from the creator of the Literary Saloon blog about fiction.  I liked it so much I decided to do a Conversation with Michael Orthofer.  If you could own only ten works on literature, this should be one of them.

If you give me only one pick, I opt for the Primo Levi, even if you think you already know his work.

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A few I didn’t get to read yet, but have hopes for are Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, caveat emptor in both cases, plus Invisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu, a collection of Chinese science fiction.

My post on best non-fiction of the year will be coming soon, plus I’ll do new entries for any excellent fiction between now and the end of the year.

1 tjamesjones November 25, 2016 at 4:50 am

or Newsweek’s “Madam President” edition

2 Just Another MR Commentor, King of the Komments November 25, 2016 at 4:51 am

LO LO LO LO LO LO LOLLOL

3 dearieme November 25, 2016 at 6:50 am

Or the whole election coverage in the WaPoo.

4 Heorogar November 25, 2016 at 7:34 am

I haven’t read it in 30 years: The New York Times is fiction 24/7/365.

5 Joël November 25, 2016 at 8:43 am

Primo Levi’s The Monkey’s Wrench (la chiave a stella) is one of the best novel I have ever read.

6 Todd K November 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for this. I started reading Amazon reviews and bought The Periodic Table but next up is The Monkey Wrench. But 3000 pages? Tyler must really like high class door stops….

7 LibertyRisk November 25, 2016 at 8:52 am

I’ve read a bit of Helen DeWitt’s blog and her short story that you linked to. I have no doubt her book is excellent and actually put in on my queue. She seems completely insane though no?

8 Hoosier November 25, 2016 at 2:00 pm

No Knausgaard book 5? Haven’t read anything on this blog regarding him in a while actually.

9 Paul McG. November 28, 2016 at 2:24 pm

He mentions it on his best non-fiction list.

10 uair01 November 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

At the moment I’m enjoying this strange book, that will certainly be translated into English: “How a manic-depressive teenager invented the Rote Armee Fraction in the summer of 1969” by Frank Witzel. It’s much funnier than the title would suggest. It describes the imaginary world of a provincial teenager, who tries to understand post-war, cold-war, Germany and tries to find a balance between his Catholic upbringing and the modern world. It is Pynchonian in scope and weirdness. http://www.dw.com/en/why-frank-witzel-unexpectedly-but-deservedly-won-germanys-highest-literary-accolade/a-18778117

11 uair01 November 25, 2016 at 4:45 pm

And a similarly weird book, that will be published in 2017 is The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet (of HHHHH fame). A quasi hard-boiled detective playing in the Derridean milieu of Paris in the 1980s.

12 Sam the Sham November 25, 2016 at 6:43 pm

No Pounded by the Pound – Turned Gay by the Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union, by Chuck Tingle? For shame!

Here’s a link if you don’t believe me.
https://www.amazon.com/Pounded-Pound-Socioeconomic-Implications-European-ebook/dp/B01HJXVP8G

13 Milo November 25, 2016 at 7:30 pm

No love for The Sellout?

14 efim polenov November 25, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Nice to see Emily Dickinson in the fiction list…if some otherwise unknown author (in a universe where Emily D. were a fictional creation) had given the basics of Emily Dickinson’s life in 40 pages of flat prose and followed it with 60 random pages of Dickinson’s poetry, we would be flabbergasted.
For those who do not have the cash to buy the recommended volume, I suggest reading 30 or 40 Dickinson poems in a row (chronologically) – either from a complete edition at a library or on line. The “selected poems” do not give a very accurate picture of this fascinating person who cared about so much.

15 Donald Pretari November 26, 2016 at 8:04 am

Primo Levi is the writer who has meant the most to me.

16 mkt42 November 27, 2016 at 2:54 pm

There seem to be two collections of LeGuin’s short fiction: the collection of novellas that Tyler cites above, and _The Real and the Unreal_, a collection of her short stories (which in turn seems to have at least two separate volumes). Are her novellas that much superior to her short stories? (Maybe; I’ve ready very few of her short stories, and more of her longer works.)

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