My favourite books of 2010

Books-of-the-yearIt’s that time of year again when everyone shares their best reads of 2010.

I’ve read so many wonderful books this year that I’ve narrowed it down by only including novels, as opposed to novellas or non-fiction titles.

Here’s my list (in alphabetical order by book title — click on the book’s title to see my review in full:



Beijing Coma

‘Beijing Coma’ by Ma Jian (2009)

At more than 600-pages long, it requires a major commitment from the reader, but it is worth the effort. It is a deeply moving account of the 1989 student pro-democracy movement, culminating in the massacre in which thousands of Chinese citizens were killed. Unusually, it is told from the point of view of one of the students, Dai Wei, who is in a coma. As a concept, this shouldn’t work. But in Ma Jian’s hands this wholly original approach is devastatingly effective.


‘The Canal’ by Lee Rourke (2010)

The Canal might be a book about boredom, but there’s little or no risk of evoking that emotional state in the reader. This is a novel pulsing with ideas and theories (and lots of facts about London, if you’re that way inclined), and one that’s likely to tell you more about the human condition than any textbook possibly could.


‘Of A Boy’ by Sonya Hartnett (2003)

The real strength of this story, which is written in plain, languid prose, is Hartnett’s uncanny ability to get inside the head of a lonely school boy. She underplays everything, so it is you the reader who comes to understand the pain of his existence.


‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue (2010)

The novel, which is Donoghue’s seventh, is an extraordinarily atmospheric read. I use the term ‘atmospheric’ to describe the feelings it evokes in the reader and the ways in which those feelings linger for days afterwards. I found myself not so much reeling in its wake but feeling as if something had shifted inside of me, so that I could no longer perceive the world in the same way.


‘A Short Gentleman’ by Jon Canter (2009)

I think the funniest thing about the book (and admittedly the first half is more hilarious than the second half) is the way in which it pokes fun at Britain’s upper-classes. Their eccentricities, the ways in which they run their households and conduct their lives all come in for more than their fair share of ribbing.


‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett (2008)

I have not read anything quite as haunting as this strangely beautiful book. It’s a novel that is full of contradictions: it brims with sexual tension, and yet contains no sex; it is filled with death, and yet no one is murdered; it’s repetitious to the point of being dull, and yet features some of the most exciting and heart-hammering scenes you will ever read.

The Slap

‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas (2009)

The Slap is by no means a perfect novel — sometimes the writing feels forced, especially when sketching in the back story for individual characters, and I suspect the numerous music references are going to date it quickly — but its ambition, its scope and the sheer force of the story-telling more than makes up for this. It’s a very bold book, full of sex, drugs, middle-aged angst and a lot of crude language.


‘So Much For That’ by Lionel Shriver (2010)

I can’t exaggerate how much I enjoyed this book. I lived with these characters for an entire weekend (the book arrived on a Saturday morning and by the Sunday night I had finished it) and felt like I’d gone on a huge, emotional roller-coaster that lasted almost 48 hours. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me angry.


‘This Human Season’ by Louise Dean (2006)

What I admire most about this book is Dean’s clear-eyed ability to reveal the human angle of The Troubles rather than concentrate on the politics of the situation. She never glorifies the violence or takes sides. Perhaps her own background — she is English, middle-class and lives in France — has helped her look at events with an outsider’s cool objectivity.


‘This is How’ by MJ Hyland (2010)

This Is How is far from a cheery read. Despite the loathsome character at its heart, it’s strangely compelling. It’s dark, disturbing and filled with pathos, but it is exactly this kind of exploration of a fragile mind that everyone should read, not because it offers condemnation, but because it does the opposite: illuminates and educates.

Have you read any from this list? Care to share your own top 10?

15 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2010

  1. That is quite a list of books… I haven’t read any of them! I feel so NOT well read 🙂 I may have to try some of these books in 2011.


  2. Thankyou for sharing your top 10 and I too read and loved Skin Lane after you posted your review. I have recently loaned my copy to a friend and she has been unable to pick up another book for a few weeks now as she fears anything else will pale in comparison.
    I am going to take down off my shelf both The Human Season and So Much For That and place them on the TBR pile for my reading in 2011.


  3. Great list kimbofo — and nice to see a few Aussies there. This is how will be in my top list too. I have been intending to read Of a boy for some time now but haven’t got to it yet. Your listing it here has certainly encouraged me.
    BTW, I enjoyed The slap when I read it last year, though Tom and Lisa don’t agree with us. I also enjoyed So much for that but it won’t make my Top Ten.
    How’s your Aussie break going.


  4. I think Skin Lane is a marvelous book. One of the creepiest thrillers I’ve ever read. It’s strange how what is repetitious about it only makes it harder to put down.


  5. Whoops — we are parting ways on top 10 lists. I’ve only tried three from yours — abandoned the Hyland, found Room very disappointing (and vastly overrated) and The Slap only okay. I do have The Canal and Louise Dean on my radar for the future, however.


  6. I didn’t have the right frame of mind when I brought back “So much for that” I wanted to have a go at it again. Lionel Shriver’s books does the same thing to me. her characters that she created in her stories remained in my head long after I put the book down, especially “The Post-Birthday Girl”. It affected me in a big way.
    Thanks for sharing your top 10 Kim.


  7. Oh dear, that’s not a very good strike rate! I know you didn’t like Room and thought The Slap was average, for which I’ll forgive you as both books are “marmite books” (you either love or hate them), but how could you abandon This is How??? 😉 I think MJ Hyland is a genius, and this book only goes to prove it.


  8. Hi Amy, I wouldn’t use this list as any judge of whether you are well read or not. My tastes are quite eclectic. I’m sure if you put together a list I probably wouldn’t have read any off yours either.


  9. I guess it is a fairly varied list, I didn’t really consider that when I put it together. Hopefully it shows the scope of my reading — I do like to mix things up a bit. Perhaps the only thing missing is a crime novel, but I didn’t read that many from that genre this year.


  10. Skin Lane is one of those books that really gets under the skin, doesn’t it? I have to say it’s one of the few books that has stayed with me. I must read more of Neil Bartlett’s back catalogue but am kind of scared nothing will live up to the brilliance of this one.


  11. Oh, I hadn’t clocked that there were Aussies on this list! I guess I did read my fare share of Aussie lit this year, because I went to Australia last Xmas and stocked up on books!!
    My Aussie break is going well. Enjoying some much needed R&R — lots of reading, internet surfing and a bit of bike riding to get me out of the house! But missing Mr Reading Matters, who is still in London holding the fort.


  12. It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading — but in a good way! I think it helped that I’m really familar with the part of London that it is set in. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it.


  13. I make no bones about being a big Lionel Shriver fan — I think she’s got a fierce intellect. Some people might fight her too confronting / too intense but I love her writing style. The Post-Birthday World affected me in a big way too. I’d probably rate that as one of my fave books of all time, to be honest.


  14. I loved So Much For That – Lionel’s writing makes me really rethink if I’m living a good life, or if I’m just living A Life.
    I just finished Room last weekend-overall, I LOVED it, but there were parts where I felt it was a stretch to believe a 5 yr old boy could think/say this or that. I kept telling myself that this was not a normal 5 year old, and who knows what is possible when you take a child out of society…but I struggled a little. I still loved it and highly recommend it…but I think sometimes that 5-year old voice was a bit more of a 10-year old voice. 🙂
    A couple of my other favorites: The Help and The Hunger Games trilogy (which I hadn’t heard of until just a couple months ago).


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