My Top Five Books of 2013

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These are my recommended reads from this year…….five , in no particular order , and then 3 more I really enjoyed but Top Eight didn’t seem a catchy enough title!

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1.The Goldfinch  by Donna Tartt

I have already reviewed it here on my blog . We follow the adventures of Theo Decker from childhood to adulthood accompanied by The Goldfinch, a painting recovered from a bomb attack , his talisman and his curse.

2. The Luminaries   by Eleanor Catton

Another slab of a book that I have already reviewed here.

Deserved winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize,  this is a murder mystery with a Victorian feel and an astrological structure.

3. Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

A searingly honest account of the search for identity of two young people. Told in narrative style but also through blog posts, Ifem and Obinze journey from Nigeria to the US and London . Both have experiences that cause them to confront their  perceptions of  themselves as well as other people’s preconceptions of them as Africans. Whilst they are away, Nigeria is changing and they both return to a country very different to the one they left. Above all, however, this is a love story.

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4, A Tale For The Time Being  by Ruth Ozeki

This was on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. It tells the stories of Ruth,a Canadian writer,  and a teenage Japanese girl, Nao ,whose diary Ruth finds washed up on the shores near her home in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Nao’s diary recounts her own struggle against bullying as well as the story of her grandmother, a buddhist priest, and her uncle, a reluctant pilot in World War 2. Ozeki plays with time, place and memory to create a magical tidal wave of a story.

5. The Infatuations by Javier Marias

A metaphysical crime thriller. Marias uses the voice of a female narrator, something he said he would never do, to examine the nature of love, loss, time and storytelling.There is a playful poke at the publishing industry and the ‘conceit’ of being a novelist.

It’s a novel and once you have finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novels imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with,a plot we recall far more vividly than real events….

A masterpiece.

And now the honourable mentions…..

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1. The Night Rainbow  by Claire King

Meet Pea, who’s struggling to make sense of why her mother is so sad and what she can do to help.Quirky and evocative, this is a real page turner with a big surprise.

2. Nothing Holds Back The Night   by Delphine de Vigan

A blend of autobiography and fiction, this is a woman’s struggle to understand her mother …..and her family. Outwardly gifted, successful and privileged, privately they are torn by violence and dark secrets. Beautifully written.

3. Dear Life  by Alice Munro

The latest collection of short stories from the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Thought provoking and moving, she makes every word count. Train will hit you like an express at full speed. 

So that is my round up of the year’s best……..I would love to know your top reads of 2013.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

It’s not about outward appearances but inward significance.

This is the book that everyone is talking about, the new Donna Tartt has been 11 years in the waiting.

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The novel follows the fortunes of Theo Decker whose childhood is shattered by the sudden death of his mother in a bomb attack during a chance visit to a museum . Theo survives the attack and just before his escape is handed a painting (The Goldfinch) by an old man also caught in the blast and dying. He also hands Theo a ring and gives him some instructions to find his antique shop in Greenwich Village. Moments before the blast, Theo has been captivated by the sight of a enigmatic red-haired girl, Pippa, with whom he becomes obsessed throughout his life.

Alone in New York, Theo first goes to live with Barbours, the family of a boy at school with whom he has a rather distant friendship, until he is tracked down by his alcoholic and feckless father and transported to a life of benign neglectfulness in Las Vegas. There he starts a life long sort-of friendship with Boris, a Polish Ukranian boy also living alone with his own father, and is introduced to a life of drugs and playing hookey.

In the beginning,Theo intends to tell the authorities he has The Goldfinch but for reasons he cannot fully understand he keeps it hidden. As time goes on it becomes harder and harder for him to think of parting with it. He can’t speak about it with anyone or even look at it.

The book has been compared to Harry Potter. This is unfair although there are indeed echoes…….is Donna Tartt a J K Rowling fan perhaps? Welty, the old man dying in the museum, has something of the Dumbledore about him. There is also a scene in which the adult Theo dreams he is looking into a mirror and sees his dead mother smiling back at him……a scene which occurs with Harry and his parents in, I think, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire although more movingly written in the latter. The book is much more than this though.

Tartt examines how a conflation of seemingly random acts can change the course of a life forever; how hurt , when buried, takes over a person’s every act without them ever understanding why and, crucially, how to be happy we must also experience and also learn to embrace sorrow.

Theo eventually does come to see what he can learn from the eponymous goldfinch in the painting he has treasured and hidden all his young life. It has dignity and whilst trapped  by a chain around it’s foot , it faces the world with bravery and beauty.

The book is very long at 771pp and at times it can seem so. I struggled a little with Boris….surely after a childhood and education in the USA he would have learned to speak more than an annoying pidgin (American) English ….however there is no doubt that , at it’s best , this is a tour de force and Theo’s journey stays with you long after you have closed the cover.