Hang on every word
By FT critics - their choice of the world's best books so far this year
Published: FT June 25 2010
Compiled by Ángel Gurría-Quintana
The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis, Jonathan Cape RRP£18.99
Hailed as a return to form, Amis’s 12th novel recaptures the melancholy humour of The Rachel Papers and London Fields. Its protagonist, Keith Nearing, is a 20-year-old holidaying in Italy in the 1970s, torn between studying for Eng Lit exams and conquering the attention of the desirable but unattainable Sheherazade.
Burley Cross Postbox Theft, by Nicola Barker, Fourth Estate RRP£16.99
An epistolary heist novel set in an idyllic rural community sounds like an unlikely genre for Barker’s darkly exuberant imagination. It is, in fact, a perfect match, as the author of Darkmans unleashes her powers of observation to reveal the inherent weirdness and the seething viciousness of English village life.
Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey, Faber RRP£18.99
The latest offering by Australia’s prolific Carey is a picaresque romp through 1830s America featuring a coddled French aristocrat, Olivier de Garmont (based loosely on the writer Alexis de Tocqueville), and his sidekick, journeyman forger John Larrit – nicknamed Parrot for his ability to imitate speech.
Forna’s beautiful novel traces the fates of damaged characters in the wake of Sierra Leone’s civil conflict during the 1990s, as those who would rather forget it are forced to live with those who cannot.
Our GG in Havana, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, translated by John King, Faber RRP£9.99
Mistaken identities, Nazi hunters, vacuum-cleaner salesmen, cold war spies, Italian-American mafiosi and transsexual cabaret performers abound in a droll novel set in 1950s pre-revolutionary Havana. Gutiérrez, the author of Dirty Havana Trilogy, has fun exploring the cauldron of depravity and double-dealing that inspired Graham Greene’s classic Our Man in Havana.
We The Drowned, by Carsten Jensen, translated by Charlotte Barslund, Harvill Secker RRP£17.99
A rollicking debut by Jensen, the latest in a lineage of authors of maritime sagas stretching from Homer to Patrick O’Brien. Following four generations of seafarers from the Danish island of Marstal, the novel navigates from Samoa to the North Atlantic, and from the mid-19th century to the second world war.
The Birth of Love, by Joanna Kavenna, Faber RRP£12.99
Second-timer Kavenna boldly goes where few novelists have dared to go before – the emotional (and medical) minefield surrounding childbirth. The result is an unsettling four-part novel set in present-day London, 19th-century Vienna and a dystopian future where natural procreation and childbirth have been outlawed.
In Office Hours, by Lucy Kellaway, Fig Tree RRP£12.99
According to one study, two-thirds of corporate employees have had sex with a colleague. Kellaway, this newspaper’s very own management agony aunt, has used her hard-gleaned insights to pen a satirical novel about workplace trysts and power struggles.
Desert, by JMG Le Clézio, translated by C Dickson, Atlantic RRP£16.99
Thirty years after it was first published and won the Académie Française’s most prestigious award, Le Clézio’s breakthrough novel is published in Britain. Better late than never for this diptych in which Nour, a Tuareg boy, and Laila, a Moroccan orphan who migrates to France, cope with modernity’s encroachments.
Levy’s follow-up to Small Island tells the story of July, a mixed-race girl, coming of age in Jamaica as the old world of masters and slaves crumbles around her. A moving tale about the struggle for race and gender equality, and about the empowering force of storytelling.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, by David Mitchell, Sceptre RRP£18.99
Clashing cultures and illicit love affairs drive Mitchell’s fifth novel, a feast of literary invention and historical ventriloquism. The book’s titular character is an inexperienced Dutch bookkeeper charged with cleaning up the accounts of a corrupt Dutch East India Company in its dealings with 18th-century Japan.
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