The problem with top fives is that, rather like celebrations, it can be hard to stop and so today we have my Top Five Books What I Read in 2007.
The year started off well with a good haul of Neal Stephenson books including The Baroque Cycle, I went through those at a fair old pace. Then I reached a bit of a splutter as writing got in the way of reading and I went off to the land of short story for quite a while. Things got kick started again with Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box.
I’ve been very fortunate this year as people have passed me stuff that I would not have normally picked up and much of which I loved. Here goes:
5. The Bridge by Iain Banks – I wasn’t sure about this. It sounded quite dark, it opened in a style that struck me as very “in” during the period it was written (80s) and I was on the verge of putting it down. The thing about Iain is you have to stick with it. The points will become clear, the preamble is just him warming up and then the bugger’s got his claws into you. You can’t move, even if you want to. You have to finish.
On the face of it The Bridge is about death, our fear of it, what it might mean and exactly what is going on in a person’s mind when they hang in that doorway, half-in half-out. Plunge deeper and it’s about life, what we do with it, how we live it and who we choose to live it with. Just a beautiful piece of work.
4. For One More Day by Mitch Albom – This is a gorgeously crafted tale. I’m not going to explain the hook, or the setting or that it borrows in places from genre fiction, no. To do that would be to miss the point. This is a story about people, about relationships and about grief. I’m not ashamed to admit it had me reaching for the tissues.
Mitch I salute you.
3. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill – Joe Hill’s debut novel is as impressive a first novel as any I’ve read in recent years, that the film rights have allegedly already been snapped up is no great surprise.
Telling the tale of an aging rock star, Judas Coyne, who orders a ghost off the internet – everything’s for sale these days – and gets more than he bargains for. As Coyne runs for his life he learns sometimes you just can’t run fast enough or long enough.
Joe weaves together a wicked ghost story with a story about cowardice, courage and redemption with the skills of a master. A tightly crafted story and, more importantly, a ripping yarn.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A few of my friends had recommended Atwood to me and I thought well why not? I’m going to do that more often.
This novel is not a new or recent thing, it’s been around since 1985 and tells the tale of Offred, a Handmaid or concubine, in the Republic of Gilyead, a Christian fundamentalist state that has replaced the US.
An elegant, haunting tale of female oppression and the dangers of theocratic states this is, in my opinion, SF at its best : gripping, honest and prophetic. I can’t say enough good things about this. Read it.
1. The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson – OK, so it’s not technically one book. It is however one story and a triumphant one at that. Breathtakingly ambitious, masterfully told, sprinkled with liberal helpings of swash and shot through with lashings of buckle.
Stephenson takes us on a tour of the world from the late seventeenth century through to the early eighteenth century via the interwoven lives of a troop of characters most notably Daniel Waterhouse, Jack and Bob Shaftoe, Eliza (a Qwghlmian girl) and Enoch Root. Featuring cameos by Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, Louis XIV, Charles II and plenty more.
On the face of it The Baroque Cycle is a historical series but to stop there would be misleading as Stephenson blends history, science fiction and fantasy together in a fairly unique blend. The result is an epic tale of alchemy, piracy, sex, slavery and the birth of modern economics. B.R.I.L.L.I.A.N.T.
And let’s face it. Eliza? Well, you would wouldn’t you…