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.
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.
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.