Literary fiction is the gift that has just kept on giving in 2017!
There has been no shortage of wonderful works of literary fiction gracing our shelves this year, and we were especially excited to see some Australian books recognised (so much so that we created an entire page dedicated to it here).
Our top ten literary fiction books for 2017 are all masterfully written works that push the boundaries of genre and narrative voice - discover them for yourself below...
Professor Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, world expert on concrete and connoisseur of modernist design, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. His wife, Martha, is dead and his two adult children are lost to him in their own ways. Surrounded and obstructed by the debris of his life – objects he has collected over many years and tells himself he is keeping for his daughter – he is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen.
When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbour, Jan, together, he begins to realise the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime’s secrets and lies, and to comprehend his own shortcomings. Finally, Frederick Lothian has the opportunity to build something meaningful for the ones he loves.
Winter? Bleak. Frosty wind, earth as iron, water as stone, so the old song goes. The shortest days, the longest nights. The trees are bare and shivering. The summer's leaves? Dead litter.
The world shrinks; the sap sinks. But winter makes things visible. And if there's ice, there'll be fire.
In Ali Smith's Winter, lifeforce matches up to the toughest of the seasons. In this second novel in her acclaimed Seasonal cycle, the follow-up to her sensational Autumn, Smith's shape-shifting quartet of novels casts a merry eye over a bleak post-truth era with a story rooted in history, memory and warmth, its taproot deep in the evergreens: art, love, laughter.
It's the season that teaches us survival.
Here comes Winter.
Winter’s first chapter opens with a list of dead things. From history and romance, to God and jazz, it seems nothing is spared the death stroke of author Ali Smith’s pen, but (much like winter itself) such bleakness can’t last long. What begins as a list of the cultural dead ends up leaving the reader with the impression of having witnessed dazzling life unfold.
The second novel in Smith’s astonishing Seasonal quartet, Winter is reminiscent of its predecessor Autumn insofar as the turmoil of the season reflects that which is personally felt by the characters, but in a way that never feels contrived. These characters seem frozen, so fixed to the lies they tell themselves and the world that if they were to suffer a blow they would shatter completely. And shatter they do, but to witness these lies unravel and give way to the truth under Smith’s masterful hand is a rare privilege. A wry and beautiful novel, Winter points to the ways in which we create our own mythology, of nature and of people, that is born from the past and that holds up our hope in the promise of the future.
A woman's heart contains all things. Her heart is tender and loving, but it has other elements.
Shipwreck and all that has ever happened in the world. Murder, if need be...1673. Desperate to save herself and her only surviving child Nicolas from an outbreak of plague, Charlotte Picot flees her tiny village in the French countryside. But when Nicolas is abducted by a troop of slavers, Charlotte resorts to witchcraft and summons assistance in the shape of a malevolent man.
She and her companion travel to Paris where they become further entwined in the underground of sorcerers and poisoners - and where each is forced to reassess their ideas of good and evil. Before Charlotte is finished she will wander hell's halls, trade with a witch and accept a demon's fealty. Meanwhile, a notorious criminal is unexpectedly released from the prison galleys where he has served a brutal sentence for sacrilege...
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war.
She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father's life, the reasons he might have been murdered.
Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan's first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.
"Immensely satisfying...an old-fashioned page-turner, tweaked by this witty and sophisticated writer...Egan is masterly at displaying mastery...she works a formidable kind of magic." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times
How to tell a shattered story? By slowly becoming everybody. No. By slowly becoming everything.
In a city graveyard, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet between two graves. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby appears quite suddenly, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. In a snowy valley, a father writes to his five-year-old daughter about the number of people that attended her funeral. And in the Jannat Guest House, two people who've known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another as though they have only just met.
Here is a cast of unforgettable characters caught up in the tide of history. Told with a whisper, with a shout, with tears and with laughter, it is a love story and a provocation. Its heroes, present and departed, human and animal, have been broken by the world we live in and then mended by love and for this reason, they will never surrender.
Winner of the 2018 Indie Book Award for Fiction!
I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers.
Abandoned by her mother and only occasionally visited by her secretive father, Justine is raised by her pop, a man tormented by visions of the Burma Railway. Justine finds sanctuary in Pop's chooks and The Choke, where the banks of the Murray River are so narrow it seems they might touch - a place of staggering natural beauty. But the river can't protect Justine from danger. Her father is a criminal, and the world he exposes her to can be lethal.
Justine is overlooked and underestimated, a shy and often silent observer of her chaotic world. She learns that she has to make sense of it on her own. She has to find ways to survive so much neglect. She must hang on to friendship when it comes, she must hide when she has to, and ultimately she must fight back.
The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can't be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Sofie Laguna, winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Eye of the Sheep, once again shows she is a writer of rare empathy, originality and blazing talent.'It is quite a feat to write characters with such nuance...in harnessing her storytelling facility to expose the flaws in the system with what is becoming trademark empathy, Laguna is an author proving the novel is a crucial document of the times.' Louise Swinn, The Australian
Set in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don't tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.
Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.
Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.Reviewed by Robert at Angus & Robertson:
There are so many reasons to love The Life To Come, the new novel from Michelle de Kretser. Provocative, tragicomic, and full of the most wonderfully descriptive writing you'll see, this book is a glorious piece of virtuosity that is unlike anything I have ever read. More invaluably though, this book may actually change you.
The Life to Come is a series of mini-narratives, mostly set in inner west Sydney, that entwine to produce a rich and colourful tapestry of a world filled with politically aware creatives who are forever bumping against each other. Each of her characters act as a kind of vignette, seeming to carry defined ideas of who they are and where they are going. Some have cast themselves as grand writers and charitable neighbours, others as great liberal supporters of refugees and the marginalised, but these ideals are soon revealed as the hypocritical constructs of lonely souls. de Kretser deftly pins each one to the board with glorious wit - her character observations are so acute that you are often left breathless - but always brings an inclusive sense of compassion. These characters are full of human frailty, just like us. They mirror us in many ways, and we cannot help but feel for them.
As in the 2012 Miles Franklin Award-winning novel Questions of Travel, there is no dominant narrative arc here - the glory lies in the slow savouring of the details. This novel delves into the stories we tell both others and ourselves. It explores how we make excuses for our bad behaviour and highlight our aspirations, always with our best times and deeds just before us, in the life to come. Ultimately, de Kretser highlights how we are the heroes of our own stories. We deceive ourselves and others to appear at our best. And this holds beyond the individual, as societies and nations also self-mythologise. You'll recognise modern Australia here.
Moving and evocative, intellectual and pointed, and all written in brilliant prose, this book is a rich delight that is so uniquely of its time. Take your time reading it, and watch how it colours even the smallest social interactions in your life. You'll ask yourself questions. You may even change how you act. Most of all, you will certainly want to re-read it.
'...one of those rare writers whose work balances substance with style. Her writing is very witty, but it also goes deep, informed at every point by a benign and far-reaching intelligence.' Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald
'...a dazzlingly accomplished author who commands all the strokes. Her repertoire stretches from a hallucinatory sense of place to a mastery of suspense, sophisticated verbal artistry and a formidable skill in navigating those twisty paths where history and psychology entwine.' Boyd Tonkin, Independent
'I so much admire Michelle de Kretser's formidable technique - her characters feel alive, and she can create a sweeping narrative which encompasses years, and yet still retain the sharp, almost hallucinatory detail.' Hilary Mantel
'Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story. She writes quickly and lightly of wonderful and terrible things…A master storyteller.' A.S. Byatt