Doddy’s Best books of 2016

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2016 was a pretty challenging year for me personally, as it was for many others, but it was an absolute stand out for my reading life. I discovered Litsy, signed up to Netgalley and started this blog (yay!) and I’m really grateful to have met such lovely people from the bookish blogging community.  I also smashed my original goal of 50 books for the year and read 200.

Here are some of the best books I read in 2016. (Just noting that “best” doesn’t equal “favourite”.)

burial-rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent brought me back to Australian literature. It is beautifully written, atmospheric heart breaking and all sorts of fucked up. It’s absolutely stunning and I’m so glad I picked it up.

between-the-world-and-me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates talks frankly and heart-breakingly (are you sensing a theme?) about what it is to be black in a white world. It is raw, honest and so very sad. I wish society would learn more from books like this.

dark-emu

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe both broke my heart and mad me absolutely mad. Pascoe looks at the evidence to show that Aboriginal culture was much more advanced and no where near as nomadic as I was taught in school. I would love to get copies of this and hand it out to people. You should read this immediately, especially if you’re Australian.

homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is an amazing and ambitious debut novel about slavery tearing a family apart in Africa and following the paths of their descendants through their harrowing journeys.

 

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is my best author “find” of 2016. These two pieces are stunning and I can only imagine her other works are just as good.

Colson Whitehead is my other authorial “find”. Zone One is the most amazing zombie book I’ve ever read, with an ending that will leave you screaming “No!!” at the flyleaf. And I think enough people have talked about the Underground Railroad without me needing to add anything.

shrill

Shrill by Lindy West is smart, funny, irreverent and unflinchingly honest. I’ll have my my feminism and body politics with an extra shot of sass please.

the-city-and-the-city

I’ve been reading other China Mieville books in the hope that any of them are like this one. I wish all noir could be written like this.

the-night-circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern prompted me to start devouring fiction again. I had been looking in all the wrong places, and it had been a long time since I had found something of this quality.

And I couldn’t complete this post without these guys.

Gemina – Kaufman and Kristoff continue to deliver stylistic excellence in the second volume of the Illuminae files. I just love the way this book is presented.

Nevernight – YA will never be the same.

Becky Chambers and the Wayfarer series – I think I’ve said in a previous post that this is just how I like my sci-fi – lots of character development with some explosions for good measure. I don’t think Chambers has gotten enough recognition for just how great these books are.

I did read a lot more great books during 2016, but I had better stop there.

I can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring!

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Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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I don’t tend to read a lot of modern Australian writers. This is possibly the result of a literature degree which included a couple of subjects which fetishised Australian writers. I’m not sure if I blame Marcus Clarke or A.B. Facey more. Either way, those guys are the top of my list.

Australians are known as being pretty laid back and I feel this comes across in the writing style of modern Aussie authors. Plus there is also the obligatory obsession with the bleak, sparse and deadly Australian landscape (if you’re a white fella). I recently attempted both Geraldine Brooks’ The Story of the Book and Shirley Barrett’s Rush O! The Story of the Book left me cold and I was disappointed with Rush O! after the wonderful quirkiness that was Love Serenade.

It wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through the book when I learned that Hannah Kent is a compatriot. Reader, I nearly fell off my chair.

Burial Rites is the story of Agnes Magnusdottir the last person executed in Iceland. She is sentenced to death for her part in the brutal murder of her former master. This is a brilliant and evocative re-imagining of her story, written like a love letter to Iceland. Agnes may have been sentence to death, but there are no jails to hold her until her sentence can be carried out. So the District Officer calls for her to be held by one of the local government officials. Of course there is no where for her to be “held”, so she sleeps in the same rooms as the official, his wife and two daughters and works along side them on their farm.

Toti, the priest who Agnes has  chosen to be her spiritual guide through her last days, gains her trust which allows her to tell her side of the story. Toti and the farming family learn that there is much more to Agnes than her death sentence, and much more to her story than they could have ever imagined.

The telling of the story oscillates between third person past tense and first person chapters present tense, capturing Agnes’ story through the eyes of herself and those around her.  Normally I would find the change in tense particularly jarring, but the writing was so captivating I didn’t even notice until midway through the book.

The writing is beautiful, bringing to life the people, the harsh conditions and the whirling of Agnes’ mind as she plunges towards her last days, her life completely out of her control. Iceland and the cold could have been characters in the book – I feel as though I know them both a little better.

The reimagining of Agnes’ life is beautiful, harrowing and real.Kent’s research was extensive, and the book includes some versions of her source materials – Rosa’s poems being some of my favourites.

I listened to the audiobook, splendidly narrated by Morven Christie who captures he characters, particulary Agnes, and breathes life into them.

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men and that now they must steal mine. I imagine then that we are all candle flames, greasy bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind. And in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up and away from me in  grey wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night.

I’m very much looking forward to Kent’s new book The Good People due out in October this year.

5 out of 5 blood sausages.