Books I loved in 2011 (Not necessarily a pick of the books published in 2011)
One can’t spend the last week of the year without making at least one ‘best of’ list. This list isn’t, by my reckoning, a list of the best books of 2011. Rather, it offers a compendium of some of the books I have enjoyed and admired this year. Some of them are pretty old; some I have written about here earlier this year. The list is by no means exhaustive. Happy new year.
The First Forty Nine Stories by Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway may be deeply unfashionable now, but this book shows why he richly deserves his place in the canon. More than his novels, his stories – written in the much imitated but never emulated style, which is called spare and simple but is anything but – make him a 20th century literary giant.
The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier: A little gem of a novel about the Dutch painter Vermeer, his rage for perfection, and how a maid who sits for one of his portraits has her life changed by the act.
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst: One of the most magnificently plotted of contemporary novels. Beautifully written, it sees Hollinghurst’s work take a new turn.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: There is something about the short novel that brings out the best in one of the finest living English writers. About time and memory, and how one works on the other, it is nuanced, poignant and razor sharp. Richly deserved the Man Booker it got. The prize’s all-time list of winners would have been incomplete without Barnes.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Intricately plotted, marvelously funny and sad, it is an unabashedly literary, riveting post modern reworking of the Victorian novel.
The Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga: Oddly overlooked for literary prizes, this is a richly layered novel full of empathy and insight and touched by redemptive hope. For my money, this is Adiga’s best book.
A Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey: A wonderful – and wonderfully detailed – account of the messy, tormented life and exquisitely crafted work of Richard Yates, one of the indisputable members of the American canon. One of the finest literary biographies I have read in some years.
The Damned United by David Peace: An imagining of the tumultuous period in which Brian Clough – known as the best manager English football did not have – was in charge of Leeds United. As gripping as a thriller, it takes us into the life and mind of a maverick but magnificent football manager. Superb.
The Beautiful and the Damned by Siddhartha Deb: Unlike many readers in India, I’ve read the unexpurgated version. Rich in reportage and detail, a fine work of narrative non-fiction that offers us an illuminating look at the new India and some of the things that are quite old about it.
The Sphere of Influence by Gideon Haigh: A collection of essays from one of the finest contemporary cricket writers. The opening essay – on Lalit Modi, the BCCI and the changing nature of cricket – alone is worth the price of admission.