I’m still working my way back to being the prolific reader I used to be, but I definitely got more fiction read this year than 2012. There were a number of great books this year I haven’t gotten to yet that I am sure would make this list if I had. But, here are my four favorite novels of 2013. .
Archangel, by Andrea Barrett This isn’t actually a novel, but a collection of linked stories. There are only 5 of them, and they are all quite long, and share related characters, so it’s close enough. Focusing on a period spanning the late nineteenth century through the first world war, each story centers on characters in a scientific field–namely naturalism and genetics, though astronomy is represented. Living in a world on the cusp of globalization and scientific resolution, Barrett’s characters struggle to find reconciliation between the exciting new ways of looking at the world and comforting past notions of spirituality and religion. Like all of Barrett’s work, it is tremendously well written, and worth a read by pretty much everybody.
Harvest, by Jim Crace My review of this book has been languishing in Google Drive for over a month now. Look for that whenever it comes out for the long version of my thoughts, but basically, this is a really good historical novel. Not nearly as weird as some of Crace’s earlier work (Being Dead), it’s still fairly gripping. Crace is a very careful and controlled writer–he reminds me of Ian McEwan in that way–so even if you aren’t into stories about social upheaval in a post-feudal English village, you’ll probably find something to enjoy here.
The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller I still haven’t quite hit my breaking point for post-apocalyptic stories. Plot-wise this book doesn’t really do anything original. It’s about a guy and his dog who have a plane in the years following civilizations collapse. But the narrator is earnest and captivating, and his attempts to balance compassion with pragmatism in a cutthroat world of survival make the book into more than what it might appear on the surface.
The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes Since reading this, I tried giving Beukes’s award winning sci-fi (Zoo City) a shot and was pretty unimpressed. Surprising, then, that I liked this book so much. A serial killer thriller with a time travel hook, this book blends campy, pulp reading with genuine suspense to make a thoroughly entertaining novel. Don’t expect it to show up on any shortlists, but if you’re looking for a diversion during holiday travel, this would make a great option.
The Round House (2012), by Louise Erdrich I was late to the party on this one (it was nominated for the NBA in 2012). But better late than never. This is an excellent novel that is part mystery and part bildungsroman. Telling the story of a Native American teen coming to grips with the violent rape and attempted burning-alive of his mother, the book touches on some pretty heavy emotional and cultural stuff. It also has a tremendous ending, not a twist, but one I did not see coming all the same.