Inside the Arctic Circle: John Burnside's A Summer of Drowning 'brings an eerie glow to the far north'. Photograph: Farrell Grehan/Corbis
A rich year for novels
By Justine Jordan
After a rich year for fiction, the novel most likely to be placed under the Christmas tree will surely be Julian Barnes’s Booker winner, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape, £12.99). A meditation on memory and regret slyly conveyed through the unreliable voice of a complacent man whose past gives him a nasty surprise, it’s slim enough to gobble at a sitting and slips down with deceptive ease, but leaves plenty to ponder in its wake. The hardback is also a thing of beauty in its own right.
Also small but perfectly wrought, At Last by Edward St Aubyn (Picador, £16.99) is the fifth and final volume in his series about abuse, addiction and other bad behaviours among the English upper classes. It’s savagely funny stuff, and a fitting conclusion to a saga that’s been one of the literary highlights of our time. Alan Hollinghurst teased out the literary establishment’s path through the 20th century in The Stranger’s Child (Picador, £20), elegantly unpicking myths and customs of Englishness as he traces the secret life and afterglow of a country house and a Georgian poem.
For more rambunctious fare, turn to Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie (Canongate, £7.99), the most irrepressible read of the year. A young boy is plucked from the streets of 19th-century Wapping and launched on the high seas, joining a quest to capture and bring back a komodo dragon. His story is full of wonder, peril and discovery. Animals also cavort through the picaresque Orange winner, The Tiger’s Wife (Phoenix, £7.99) by Téa Obreht. Through a mixture of folklore and autobiography, she paints a vivid portrait of Yugoslavia’s history and the Balkan wars.
This year saw several fine novels that opened on to parallel dimensions, including the much-anticipated 1Q84 (Harvill Secker, £20 & £14.99) by Haruki Murakami (which in two volumes means double the wrapping). There are cults, conspiracies and lost lovers aplenty in this vast labyrinth of a novel, in which the parallel universe is lit by a second moon. Beautifully strange, too, is John Burnside’s A Summer of Drowning (Jonathan Cape, £16.99), now on the Costa shortlist.