Top Ten of 2011 – Part One

2011 was the year that I got my reading groove back into full swing. At the time of writing this I have read 60 books this year and around 50 of those were published this year. I don’t, of course, have time to read as many of this year’s releases as I would like, but I read a great selection. I thought it would be fun (tenuous) to post my personal top ten of the books I’ve enjoyed that were published this year. Starting with 10 through to 6 today, the top five will follow next week.

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr Chartwell follows Winston Churchill and his documented struggles with depression. This debut novel is utterly original and Rebecca Hunt nails the ominous feeling of overbearing depression to a tee. In this story depression itself is represented by an enormous black dog, which on his hind legs stands as tall as a person. Her depictions of how depression rules your everyday life is unique and quirky as we see Mr Chartwell invading Churchill’s personal space, drooling on his clothes and gnawing on large rocks creating that ever downtrodden feeling.

There is a second side to the book with Esther Hammerhans, who is also visited by Mr Chartwell. As Mr Chartwell becomes Esther’s lodger they live together in that same life of doom and despair. The story winds its way to Esther and Winston meeting, with a conversation that any depressive personality can relate to, but one that also delivers a superb message to all. Despite it sounding rather, well… depressing, it isn’t. It’s a funny look at what can attack any person, and this person took a great deal away from it.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is a fairy tale for the modern generations, with moments of magic, romance and intrigue. The plot revolves around a game that must be played between two young people who are capable of real magic. They are to “do battle” in a location of unbiased persuasions and so The Night Circus is born.

The real star of the book is the circus itself and how endearing and wonderful it appears. The circus is elaborate in its decoration of black and white; it features hundreds of marvellous acts and performers that would take your breath away. Walking away from the novel I yearned to be able to visit such a spectacle in real life.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

What haven’t I already said about this great debut novel? The story of Jamie and his growing up in a destructive environment is incredibly moving and endearing. Jamie’s sister died in a terrorist attack, he can barely remember her. His family are in constant mourning, but Jamie just wants to live his childhood. His Dad drinks too much, hid Mum has moved out and his Sister Jas is a goth in the making as she lives without her twin Sister.

A novel based on innocence and childlike wonderment, it explores bereavement from an entirely different angle and also depicts how important life truly is. Annabel Pitcher delivered a superb novel for young adults and children that opens doors that may usually be shut to them and allows them to explore freely.

The Sister Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

I had to include my personal favourite from this year’s Booker shortlist, here. The Sister Brothers is an entrancing novel based around two criminal brothers in the period of the gold rush, in America. At its heart it is a story of love and companionship but it’s surrounded by crime and mystery. What allows this novel to stand out is the intricate characters that DeWitt created and how they interact with their own little world.

I for one was happy with a much more “readable” Booker shortlist this year as it allowed books like this to stand out and be read by many more people. It’s a must read for those with a penchant for Westerns, dysfunctional families and crime.

I’ll Never Get out of This World Alive by Steve Earle

This book blew me away when I read it earlier this year. Steve Earle, usually a songwriter, writes with lyricism and such wonderful prose that you’re constantly in awe of each paragraph. The story follows Doc (who is haunted by the ghost of Hank Williams), a man living in a down and out area of San Antonio dealing with his addiction to heroin by performing illegal abortions. Doc is surrounded by utterly seedy characters who solidify the grime that coats Doc’s life.

That is until he meets Graciela, a young woman who Doc treats and becomes close friends with. She moves in with Doc after she has nowhere to go and one day is injured with a cut to her wrist. The story then takes a turn for the spiritual when her cut never heals and in fact bleeds more so around people whose life is in turmoil. What emerges from this is a beautiful story of redemption, spirituality and folklore. It is another book that on the surface seems exhaustingly depressing, but is ultimately inspiring.

What are your favourite books of this year?

2 thoughts on “Top Ten of 2011 – Part One

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