Top titles from a year of reading
By Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean (Harvill Secker)
Riba is a publisher fearing for the future of books. Approaching 60 and depressed, he sets off to Dublin for a literary odyssey during which he quickly comes to resemble Leopold Bloom. Vila-Matas’s fictionalised literary-essay form is engagingly original as well as rich in allusions and fun.
By Dimitri Verhulst, translated by David Colmer (Portobello Books)
Few families exist in quite the alcoholic haze manufactured by Dimmy’s father and uncles. All the vomit and mess are heroically managed by the gritty grandmother who dispatches any police calling at the door. Verhulst’s semi-autobiographical romp set somewhere in Belgium begins raucously but gathers unexpected emotional force.
The Annotated Brothers Grimm
Edited by Maria Tatar (Norton)
A magnificent volume to celebrate the bicentenary of the first volume of stories from the German siblings whose scholarship gathered a vast amount of folklore.
By Herman Koch, translated by Sam Garrett (Atlantic Books)
Initially the narrator seems to be merely the disgruntled brother of a successful man. They meet in an Amsterdam restaurant with their spouses. But instead of a satire on sibling rivalry, this is the story of their response to a crime committed by their sons.
By Peter Terrin, translated by David Colmer (MacLehose Press)
Two security guards are in charge of an apartment building. Or are they prisoners? This masterly surrealist study of contemporary society, by a Flemish original, is worthy of the great JG Ballard.
Art in Nature
By Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal (Sort Of Books)
Witty, offbeat and unnerving, these stories reiterate Jansson’s astute and unrelenting observations of human nature.
By Danilo Kis, translated by John K Cox (Dalkey Archive Press)
The Serbian’s self-assured comic picaresque debut was first published in 1962. Set in Belgrade, it follows a young writer as he commits to his art; there are echoes of Gogol and Bulgakov.
By Nikolai Gogol, translated by Donald Rayfield (New York Review Books)
The Collected Tales
By Nikolaio Gogol, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Granta)
Such is Gogol’s all-pervasive influence on European writing that both of these new editions are great value.
By László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes (Tuskar Rock/Atlantic) Wonderful, crazy and grotesque, this daring novel takes six tango-like steps forwards and then six steps back, reflecting Gogol and Bulgakov while making its own subversive statements. First published in Budapest in 1985, it showcases postmodernist central European fiction through a series of theatrical, highly visual set pieces.
By Denis Johnson (Granta)
The inspired Johnson charts the waning days of the American west through the life, losses and mistakes of an ordinary, forgotten man who died at 80 and once saw Elvis.
By Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
An unhappy English couple try to conceal their misery by renting a holiday villa. Into their stalemate arrives a troubled young woman only marginally older than their own brooding teenager. Levy made a dark, compelling return to fiction with this taut novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
By Alison Moore (Salt)
Lonely, newly divorced Futh decides to go on a walking holiday in Germany. On the ferry he recalls a boyhood journey with his father. Moore’s Man Booker-shortlisted debut is nuanced in its study of displacement and apathetic turmoil.
By Orhan Pamuk, translated by Robert Finn (Faber)
Belatedly translated into English, 29 years after its publication, Pamuk’s second novel, about a Turkish family, is confidently handled through contrasting viewpoints as well as flashes of vividly physical humour.
By Stig Saeterbakken, translated by Sean Kinsella (Dalkey Archive)
Increasingly detached Andreas Feldt has a strained lunch with his adult daughter, argues with an irritating superior at work and then embarks on an evening of uncharacteristic behaviour. His thoughts acquire a life of their own in this remarkable and affecting Norwegian novel.
The Light of Amsterdam
By David Park (Bloomsbury)
Alan’s plan is to see a Bob Dylan concert in Amsterdam. He was not expecting to bring his moody teenage son, but Alan’s ex-wife decides otherwise. Park’s seventh novel is a complex study of relationships that sees him allow characters rather than themes to propel an intelligently realist narrative.
The Spinning Heart
By Donal Ryan (Doubleday/Lilliput)
Ryan’s passionate debut articulates the confusion and anger of contemporary Ireland through the voices of the lost and betrayed.
Jack Holmes and his Friend
By Edmund White (Bloomsbury)
The long opening sequence of White’s ninth novel is so good that it almost compensates for the disappointing second section. At his best, White seduces with beguiling candour and virtuoso imagery, making this narrative of ebbs and flows worth reading.
By Miral al-Tahawy, translated by Sameh Salim (Faber)