I didn’t like most of the widely reviewed fiction of this year, but I did have a few favorites, namely:
Domenico Starnone, Ties. This is one of the better Italian novels of the last few decades. It is short, easy to comprehend, utterly compelling, and the basic story line is that of a married couple and their children, to say more would spoil the plot. The introduction and translation are by Jhumpa Lahiri, also first-rate (by the way, here is my conversation with Jhumpa, toward the end she discusses this project). This Rachel Donadio NYT review provides very useful background knowledge.
Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak. This short Chinese noir novel, with a dash of Murakami, is one of this year’s “cool books.” I finished it in one sitting. Set in Beijing, the protagonist sells audio equipment, and then strange things happen. Here is a good interview with the author.
Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu. A strong collection, with two stories by Cixin Liu. Here is a new article on Chinese science fiction.
Min Jin Lee, Pachinko. An old-fashioned literary drama, unfolds slowly but is gripping, reminds me of Dickens and also Vikram Seth but set in Korea and Japan as an extended set piece running throughout most of the 20th century. For me, this was clearly the #1 fiction book of the year, and I didn’t include it in my Bloomberg column only because I read it after the column was in the pipeline. It’s also rich with history and social science, a real winner. NYT picked it as one of their top ten of the year.
Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, the new translation and edition by Stuart Warner and Stéphane Douard.
My best fiction reading of the year was Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem trilogy, though it wasn’t published in 2017. It is one of the best science fiction classics, ever. Just to recap, I like volume one the most, and it is the most complex, but for many readers disorienting. You don’t find out the real plot until p.272, so perhaps spoilers will help you. Volumes two and three are more in the style of classic science fiction, a’la Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke.
My best “classic I had never read before” gets two picks, the first being James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer (review at the link). The second is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, though come to it with at least a basic understanding of its Anglo-Catholic milieu. Sooner or later this novel will be completely unintelligible to even highly educated readers, except for a few specialists.
In Spanish I will pick Juan Marsé, Rabos de lagartija, from 2011, don’t bother with the English translation. In German it was Thomas Bernhard and Siegfried Unseld, Der Briefwechsel, a series of letters exchanged between an author and his publisher, some of them concern money (I haven’t finished it yet but so far it is quite consistent in quality). As good as a really good Bernhard novel, also from 2011, there is no English-language translation.