(Published in the Business Standard year-end special issue on books, December 2009)
THE FICTION LIST:
A Gate at the Stairs: Lorrie Moore (Knopf)
Moore’s novel of a woman growing up in the American Midwest is funny and heartbreaking in turn, and deserves all the praise it’s got.
Love and Obstacles: Aleksandar Hemon (Riverhead)
One of the best new writers of our times puts Bosnia on the map with these taut, linked stories of immigrant longings, memories and frustrations.
Too Much Happiness: Alice Munro (Chatto & Windus)
One of Munro’s best collections yet, this is all the evidence you need that the short story is a thriving form, and that Munro is one of the most rewarding writers of our times.
Wolf Hall: Hillary Mantel (4th Estate)
The Booker-winning historical novel examines the political machinations and blood-and-guts of Cromwell’s time, in an age where “man is wolf to man”.
The Museum of Innocence: Orhan Pamuk (Knopf)
Love and obsession in Istanbul; and Pamuk collects the objects in his story in a real-life museum.
Brooklyn: Colm Toibin (Viking)
An Irish immigrant travels to 1950s America in this novel of the discovery of a country, and the making of heartwrenching but necessary choices. One of Toibin’s masterworks.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Daniyal Muenuddin (Random House)
This gently incisive first collection of short stories set in Pakistan is Tolstoyan in both range and understanding. Definitely a writer to watch.
Home: Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Few writers understand the human heart as well as Robinson. The sequel to Gilead pits faith against despair, shelter against experience, in this wise, resonant novel.
Love and Summer: William Trevor (Viking)
A woman brought up as a foundling, a man about to leave home forever; Trevor makes magic of these simple ingredients.
The City & The City: China Mieville (Del Rey)
Mieville explodes through dark and rich territory in his latest futuristic sojourn.
Your Face Tomorrow 3: Javier Marias (Chatto & Windus)
The concluding part of Marias’ trilogy reinvents the Cold War spy novel, blending literary fiction with the conventions of the thriller in a spectacular mix.
The Little Stranger: Sarah Waters (Hachette)
This evocative ghost story set in a Victorian house is a classic tale of deception and quietly climactic horror.
Nocturnes: Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)
The Japanese master offers stories linked by music and musicians in this delicate and moving collection.
Summertime: J M Coetzee (Harvill Secker)
Coetzee fictionalises Coetzee, in this tale of a South African writer seen through the eyes of the women he’s tried and failed to love.
Year of the Flood: Margaret Atwood (Doubleday)
Atwood sticks with SF territory in this clever, apocalyptic follow-up to Oryx and Crake.
The Children’s Book: AS Byatt
Children’s literature and the perils of growing up, both addressed by Byatt at the top of her form.
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi: Geoff Dyer (Pantheon)
A jaded journalist in Venice, a pilgrim in Varanasi: Dyer romps through this delightful novel with considerable verve.
Cutting for Stone: Abraham Verghese (Random House)
Verghese’s first excursion into fiction is a sweeping, ambitious historical novel.
Solo: Rana Dasgupta (HarperCollins)
Skill and craft fuel this view of Europe from one of its more neglected literary corners.
The Story of a Widow: Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Picador)
Farooqi proves that he’s as good a novelist as a translator with this quiet, satisfying tale of a woman in transit.
The Immortals: Amit Chaudhuri (Picador)
Music forms the backbone of this intensely literary work, which showcases all of Chaudhuri’s lyrical skills.
The Storyteller’s Tale: Omair Ahmad (Penguin)
Ahmad brings back the fable in this delicate and curiously modern tale, despite its medieval setting.
The Story of My Assassins: Tarun Tejpal (HarperCollins)
Tejpal’s journalistic skills flesh out this ambitious novel of darkness and violence in present-day India.
(Caveat: Because of my previous association with Tranquebar as an editor, all Tranquebar picks were made on the basis of the recommendations of other reviewers and critics.)
If It Is Sweet: Mridula Koshy (Tranquebar)
The Shakti Bhatt award-winning collection of debut short stories that map the secret worlds hidden in cities as disparate as Delhi and Los Angeles.
Eunuch Park: Palash Krishna Mehrotra (Penguin)
A brilliant first collection of short stories steeped in black humour explores masculinity and the changing face of urban India.
Arzee the Dwarf: Chandrahas Choudhury (HarperCollins)
A new perspective on Bombay, from the point of view of a dwarf obsessed with a crumbling cinema hall.
A Pack of Lies: Urmilla Deshpande (Tranquebar)
A young woman discovers freedom, sensuality and identity as she struggles with a troubled family history.
Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Short Stories, edited by Ruchir Joshi
India’s first contemporary collection of erotica brings in mofussil lust, Chugtai’s infamous quilt, and a very unusual wedding celebration.
THE BEST OF POPULAR FICTION: THE TOP FIVE
The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown (Doubleday)
Though the kindest word critics had for Dan Brown was “inescapable”, his latest Freemasonry-in-Washington saga hit the bestseller lists.
Two States: The Story of My Marriage: Chetan Bhagat (Rupa)
India’s answer to Dan Brown explores the venerable institution of the great Indian marriage—fans love it.
Under the Dome: Stephen King (Scribner)
The horror-meister delivers one of his best thrillers yet in this SF-influenced tale set in a besieged city.
My Friend Sancho: Amit Varma (Hachette)
Varma’s first novel explores a fake encounter in Mumbai, and bridged the divide between popular and literary fiction in India.
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest: Stieg Larsson (Maclehose Press)
Lisbeth Salander must clear her name of false charges in the final volume of the late Larsson’s bestselling Millennium trilogy.