Books of the year

My favourite books of 2013

Books-of-the-yearIt’s that time of year again when I sit down, look back over everything I’ve read in the past 12 months and draw up a list of my Top 10 reads.

After much umming and aching, these are the books I’ve selected.

They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Click on the book’s title to see my review in full.



The Orenda
by Joseph Boyden (2013)
Set in the 17th century, The Orenda plunges the reader into the vast wilderness of Eastern Canada and takes us on a sometimes terrifying, occasionally humorous, but always fascinating journey following members of the Huron nation as they go about their daily lives over the course of many seasons.


Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (2013)
Set in modern day London, this is a dark, smart and sexy psychological-thriller-cum-court-room-drama, full of twists, turns and unexpected shocks. It is arguably the best of the genre I’ve read this year.

Under the Skin by Michel Faber (2000)
Under the Skin swings between psychological thriller and macabre horror, with numerous twists and unexpected plot developments along the way. It is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It’s intriguing and creepy and defies categorisation and the title is uncannily appropriate, because the story does, indeed, get under the skin…

Eventide by Kent Haruf (2005)
Eventide is the second book in a loose trilogy of novels set in Holt, Colorado. There is nothing sentimental or saccharine in the understated, almost flat, narrative. But somehow, in its storytelling, in its evocation of place and spirit, in the characters’ raw and truthful actions, you get so caught up in everyone’s lives that you cannot help but feel deeply moved.

Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
I loved this book so much, that I struggled to write a review that would do it justice, so this is the only novel on the list that isn’t reviewed on the blogIt follows the life and times of Philip Carey, an orphan with a club foot who is raised by a strict and religious uncle in the English provinces, but flees, first to Germany, then to Paris, before settling in London to study medicine. It is at times a horrifying and heartbreaking  read, because Philip is a true loner and constantly struggles to find his place in the world. He is not entirely a likable character — indeed his relationship with Mildred, a waitress, borders on masochistic obsession — but I found his story a completely compelling one.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (2013)
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is about a young woman’s relationship with her older brother, who suffers a brain tumour in childhood that later returns when he is a young man. Spanning roughly 20 years and set largely in an isolated farming community in the west of Ireland, it is highly original, bold, confronting — and Joycean.


The Tivington Nott by Alex Miller (1989)
The Tivington Nott is an extraordinarily vivid account of one young man’s participation in a stag hunt on the Exmoor borders in 1952 and is filled with beautiful descriptions of Nature and the countryside — “the last ancient homeland of the wild red deer in England” — as well as depicting the bond between horse and rider like nothing I have ever read before.


Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013)
Tampa tells the story of a female teacher who preys on teenage boys. It one of the most outrageous books I’ve ever read. It’s confronting, disturbing and, well, icky, but the voice of the narrator, which is wondrous in its sheer bravado, wickedness, narcissism and wit, is utterly compelling.


Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012)
Wonder tells the tale of 10-year-old August “Auggie” Pullman, who was born with a serious facial deformity. He has been home-educated, but now his parents think it is time he attended a mainstream school. The book chronicles his efforts to fit in and become accepted by his peers at Beecher Prep. It is a book with universal appeal, one that genuinely warms the heart and brings tears to the eyes.


The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (2013)
The Mussel Feast is a tale about a woman and her two teenage children sitting around the dinner table awaiting the arrival of the patriarch of the family, whom they expect to return home with news of a promotion at work. A celebratory feast of mussels and wine has been prepared. But the story is also a metaphor for East and West Germany, reflecting the time period in which the book was written, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? Care to share your own top 10?

22 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2013”

  1. My Kimbofo shelf is already overflowing (you have already convinced me about Haruf and got the publishers to send me the Miller) so I only have to buy The Mussel Feast off this relief — that in itself is an early Christmas present. 🙂
    Thanks for another year of wonderful reviews and even more wonderful pointers on books that I needed to by.


  2. Merry Christmas Kim and thank you for your contributions to my ever-increasing wish list this year. I have read 2 of your top ten – Under the Skin and Eventide and I loved both of them. I have Wonder and The Orenda on my reading pile and I am next in line at the library for A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. Apple Tree Yard and The Mussel Feast are both on my wish list so you can see that you have a big impact on what I read – I usually like what you like. I haven’t put together my top ten yet but will comment again when I have done so.


  3. Merry Christmas, Kim.
    I’ve only read ‘Eventide’ from your list and agree it is a wonderful novel (as are all Kent Haruf’s books). I WILL get around to reading ‘The Orenda’ soon as well as the Miller. Your review of ‘The Mussel Feast’ the other day has me intrigued by that one, even though I don’t read much fiction in translation.
    Kevin’s top ten post got me thinking about what my own top ten for this year would be. With 126 books read so far in 2013 (48 of them short story collections) it is incredibly difficult to narrow them down to just ten. And I find it almost impossible to compare novels with collections so I’m not even going to try – these however are my ten favourite novels of the year (including five Australians!):
    ‘The Mountain and the Valley’ – Ernest Buckler
    ‘Lonesome Dove’ – Larry McMurtry
    (those top two are way out in front, two of the best novels I’ve ever read, though very different to each other)
    ‘One Fine Day’ – Mollie Panter-Downes
    ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ – Richard Flanagan
    ‘Lost Voices’ – Christopher Koch
    ‘Minister Without Portfolio’ – Michael Winter
    ‘Eleven Days’ – Lea Carpenter
    ‘Barracuda’ – Christos Tsiolkas
    ‘The Lion Seeker’ – Kenneth Bonert
    ‘Watching the Climbers on the Mountain’ – Alex Miller
    And though none of the individual volumes would make my top ten, I’d add Olivia Manning’s ‘Fortunes of War’ novels as one of the stand-out reading experiences of 2013 for me.
    With short story collections it is harder to pick out favourites as very few collections are brilliant all the way through, even if many individual stories have been better-written and more memorable than a lot of novels I’ve read. But of those collections I read in 2013 a few are deserving of note: Tom Barbash’s ‘Stay Up With Me’, Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’, Steven Schwartz’s ‘Little Raw Souls’ and John Burnside’s ‘Something Like Happy’ were all superb from cover to cover.


  4. Thanks, Vicki. I seem to have a “thing” for books that make me uncomfortable or that I find confronting, hence Tampa and Under the Skin made my list. A Girl is a Half Formed Thing is as equally disturbing. But at least I balanced it out with some “nice” books such as Wonder and Eventide.


  5. I hope you get to read The Mussel Feast, Kevin. I am yet to read a dud book by Peirene Press — but this one was a real standout. Apparantly it’s a set text in many German schools, and I can see why — lots of issues and themes to discuss.


  6. Thanks, Sharkell. I will look forward to seeing what made your top 10, as I think our tastes are remarkably similar. I could have easily included Courtney Collins’ The Burial on this list, and ditto for You by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, which I finished yesterday, but I had to follow my usual tradition and restrict it to 10 books only.


  7. Thanks, David. My goodness — 126 books!! I think this year I’ll probably have read about 70, give or take, which is the lowest number I’ve read in years. I think this is partly due to an addiction to Candy Crunch on my iPhone in the early part of the year (I was wasting so much time — and money — playing that game I had to delete it off my phone), plus a busy freelance schedule, which often meant working evenings and weekends on private commissions as well as doing day shifts for magazines, so any free time I had I was loathe to do anything involving words!!
    Thanks for sharing your top 10. There’s a few on there I want to read. I finished Barracuda a week or so ago… I did enjoy it but I don’t think it’s as good as The Slap.
    Interesting that you don’t read much translated fiction… any reason why? I try to read one a month, but this year my quota was down a bit. I think I might have managed 10.


  8. Translated fiction: no real reason why not, except for the idea of reading something filtered through another writer’s interpretation, which somehow feels like I’m getting the story second-hand with no way of knowing how faithful to the original it is (for example I’ve often fancied reading Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, but the only available translation seems to be reviled). Nothing to be done about that of course unless I want to learn to speak dozens of languages (!) and probably entirely unreasonable, but it is why I typically choose books written in English. Having said that I picked up a few translated novels in Poundland recently (a Per Petterson, a Peter Nadas and a Bernardo Atxaga) so I may well try and read more in 2014.
    I’ll look forward to your review of ‘Barracuda’ – I thought it was terrific, but then I haven’t read ‘The Slap’ yet.


  9. Merry Christmas Kim! Thank you for putting together the advent calendar – some great recommendations. I can’t believe I’ve only read one of your top ten, and that was ‘Wonder’, but all of the other appeal hugely and I do have the Maugham in my TBR. Best wishes for 2014.


  10. The only book I’ve read from your list is Of Human Bondage, which was several years ago. But Eventide has been on my TBR list for awhile, and I’m really interested to try The Orenda (unfortunately I don’t think it comes out in the US until May??). Apple Tree Yard is also going on my wish list. For me this year has had several great reads including most recently The Goldfinch, and am currently reading The Luminaries but the jury’s still out on that one! Merry Christmas!


  11. Merry Christmas to you, too, Annabel. The advent calendar was fun, wasn’t it? I really enjoyed seeing everyone’s selections and my own wishlist is about 10% longer now!


  12. I’ve just bought The Goldfinch (the ebook was just £1.99) but will wait until I’m in the right frame of mind to tackle a long novel. I do want to read The Luminaries at some point, but may hold off until the paperback release.


  13. A very Merry Christmas, Kim! It’s been great seeing the advent recommendations and I’m most intrigued by your top 10, which is wonderfully diverse and varied. You remind me I must read Michael Faber and Kent Haruf in 2014. Hope you are having fantastic festive celebrations – sending warmest wishes for a peaceful and productive New Year!


  14. Thanks so much, litlove. My top 10 is pretty diverse but I think it reflects my reading tastes quite well. What did surprise me, however, is the number of American novels on it — I didn’t read any American fiction for years, but this year I seem to have broken that self-enforced ban without even realising!
    Hope you have had a lovely Christmas (I’ve spent mine in Whitby, North Yorks, and it’s been totally blissful) and all best wishes for 2014.


  15. Hi. I’ve out together my top ten for the year. They are-
    All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
    Eyrie by Tim Winton
    A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
    The Book of Fate by Parinoush Samiee
    Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
    A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
    Fine Colour of Rust by Paddy O’Reilly
    Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay
    The Burial by Courtney Collins
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber


  16. This is a great list! There are two on it I don’t know — The Book of Fate by Parinoush Samiee and Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay — both of which sound like quite devastating reads and therefore exactly my kind of thing. I have added them to my wishlist.
    I have to say that Courtney Collins’ book almost made my list. I would have added the Winton, too, but I’m planning on posting my review closer to the 2014 publication date in the UK, so it may well make next year’s best of. How skewed is that?


  17. I will be very interested to see your reviews if you get around to reading them, I hope you like them as much as I did. I was very pleasantly surprised by the Winton as I haven’t enjoyed all of his books but I found this one nearly perfect, in a Tim Winton kind if way. The Courtney Collins was just so unique, I had to keep it on my list (I do find it hard to narrow my favourites down to 10).


  18. Great way to finish the advent calendar which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed – thanks so much. Delighted to see Kent Haruf – I think he’s very under rated here in the UK, and I’ve added The Musssel Feast to my list. Too late to wish you a merry Christmas but not too late for a Happy New Year!


  19. I love Kent Haruf. I ordered his earlier work and am saving them up to read at some point when I will appreciate their loveliness. Mind you, I still haven’t read Benediction, which has been sitting here staring at me since May!
    Hope you had a great Christmas — and best wishes to you for 2014.


  20. Late in here but still trying to put together my books of the year. I have it down to twelve, with one crossover, the Eimear McBride. I read, and loved, Of Human Bondage many years ago and have Under The Skin on my (overflowing) TBR shelf. These are in no particular order.
    The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
    A Girl is a Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride
    De Niro’s Game – Rawi Hage
    Embers – Sándor Márai
    Young Adolf – Beryl Bainbridge
    Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (Four Short Novels) – Kenzaburo Ōe
    City of Bohane – Kevin Barry
    Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
    If On A Winter’s Night a Traveller – Italo Calvino
    Loitering With Intent – Muriel Spark
    Troubles – J.G.Farrell
    Vertigo – W.G.Sebald


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