Best of 2006

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The Best of 2006: Staff Favorites

The Best in Fiction

Book Cover Image. Title: The Thirteenth Tale, Author: Diane Setterfield.

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The Thirteenth Tale
Diane Setterfield

It was quite a year for this debut novel: It so moved booksellers and others at Barnes & Noble that it earned the distinction of being named our first-ever Recommends selection; reviewers raved about it, comparing the novel to Daphne du Maurier's haunting Rebecca; and it became a mega-bestseller. But its commercial and critical success is only part of what made this novel the most notable book of the year. Rich in atmosphere, spellbinding in its suspense, and infused with dazzling prose, The Thirteenth Tale is a book that carries you away like few other reads in recent memory.

Book Cover Image. Title: Suite Francaise, Author: Irene  Nemirovsky

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Suite Francaise
Irene Nemirovsky

With these two novellas, Holocaust victim Irène Némirovsky accomplished the impossible task of translating the unspeakable horror and chaos of war -- at the precise moment it was exploding all around her -- into luminous, coherent, and masterfully crafted fiction. Conceived by the author as two parts in a series, the stories of Suite Française were rescued by Némirovsky's daughter, who escaped to freedom more than 60 years ago with the manuscripts in a suitcase. A literary treasure of enormous magnitude, these powerful tales of grace and disgrace under fire have, at last, found a grateful audience.

Book Cover Image. Title: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories, Author: Haruki  Murakami

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
24 Stories
Haruki Murakami

Beautiful, ephemeral, and profoundly weird, the short stories in this collection by internationally acclaimed novelist Haruki Murakami are nearly impossible to describe. Characters move through thoroughly contemporary settings (high-rise apartments, holiday resorts, etc.) in a sort of fever dream, haunted by ghosts and spirits of the past. Including 24 tales, each one more surreal than the one before, this follow-up to last year's Kafka on the Shore includes all the strange events, bizarre epiphanies, and mystifying twists and turns we have come to expect from Murakami. A superb new release from a grand master at the top of his game.

Book Cover Image. Title: All Aunt Hagar's Children, Author: Edward P. Jones

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All Aunt Hagar's Children
Edward P. Jones

This riveting volume of short fiction from the Pulitzer-winning author of The Known World establishes Edward P. Jones as one of the most important American writers of the day. Through 14 tales spanning the 20th century, Jones anatomizes the residents of his native Washington, D.C., in the manner of James Joyce's classic Dubliners. In these portraits, the author's elegant, plain style is matched with deep empathy for each precisely rendered character.

Book Cover Image. Title: Black Swan Green, Author: David  Mitchell

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Black Swan Green
David Mitchell

With this delightful coming-of-age tale, David Mitchell forsakes the grandiose settings and narrative leaps of his prior novel (the award-winning Cloud Atlas) for a seemingly miniaturized sort of novel. As he follows teenage Jason Taylor through 13 months of life in a sleepy English village (the Black Swan Green of the title), Mitchell explores themes as large as love, war, cruelty, courage, and poetry -- all through the voice of a stammering boy trying to survive school, his parents' disintegrating marriage, and the secret burden of his own hopes and dreams.

Book Cover Image. Title: Half of a Yellow Sun, Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Called "the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe" by The Washington Post, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie certainly lives up to the hype in her second novel, Half a Yellow Sun. She wowed us with this transcendent tale about war, loyalty, brutality, and love in modern Africa. While painting a searing portrait of the tragedy that took place in Biafra during the1960s, her story finds its true heart in the intimacy of three ordinary lives buffeted by the winds of fate. Her tale is hauntingly evocative and impossible to forget. It also leaves us eagerly awaiting her next work.

Book Cover Image. Title: Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Author: Susanna  Clarke

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Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
Susanna Clarke

In this set of short stories, the author of the dazzling fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell returns readers to that novel's unique milieu, a vision of 19th-century Britain that combines urbane comedy with the uncanny atmosphere of classic fairy stories. Proper young women who might have stepped from the pages of Mansfield Park practice very un-Austenian magic, a fairy mobilizes a town to help him pursue an object of lust, and a king matches wits with a beggar. At once achingly familiar and completely fresh, Susanna Clarke's stories arrive like postcards from an enchanted kingdom.

Book Cover Image. Title: By a Slow River, Author: Philippe  Claudel

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By a Slow River
Philippe Claudel

Ostensibly a mystery, this novel has a riveting plotline, narrated by a retired French gendarme. The setting is World War I, where the frozen body of a young girl is hauled from an icy river one December morning. She has been strangled, and a military deserter is apprehended. But is he the murderer? The story moves to a devastating conclusion. But every so often, one finds that it is the quiet virtues of a work of fiction that return most insistently to the mind -- and in this case it is an uncanny atmosphere of loss, decay, and long-buried grief. The details of the plot may eventually fade from memory, but the mood Claudel establishes remains unforgettable.

Book Cover Image. Title: Last Evenings on Earth, Author: Roberto  Bolano

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Last Evenings on Earth
Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolaño is one of the most respected writers in the Latin American generation that came of age in the 1970s. These short stories, his first collection of stories in English translation, follows the landscape of exile, repression, and dispossession that was the fate of Bolaño and so many of his contemporaries. The subjects can be grim, but the stories are suffused with a mordant wit and incomparable irony that is so often the mark of a resistance forever defeated and forever renewed. These are stories about literature and for literature.

Book Cover Image. Title: The Emperor's Children, Author: Claire  Messud

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The Emperor's Children
Claire Messud

The poised beauty of Messud’s prose -- neat, clean, and incisive -- permeates this novel of manners about Ivy League-educated New Yorkers familiar with wealth and influence. The author's perspective offers the reader a detailed X-ray and a panoramic view of a tragedy that the characters can see unfolding along with the reader. Infused throughout with surprise and suspense, this is a superb novel by a literary virtuoso.