Year’s Best Reading: Fiction

The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Zachary Mason

Zachary Mason’s variations on the telling—and the many retellings since Homer’s first—of the Odyssey is funny, spooky, action-packed, philosophical, and entertaining: you keep wanting to read just one more. As Tess Taylor wrote: “As if designed by Italo Calvino and M. C. Escher, they’re full of trick tunnels [and] funhouse distortions … at once enchanting and liberating.”

Review by Tess Taylor

The Surrendered

Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee’s novel explores the emotional aftermath of the Korean War on a young refugee, an American GI, and the troubled wife of an American missionary. I read the first 467 pages with pleasure and profound engagement, but on the book’s penultimate page, something happened that has rarely occurred in my reading life: the author imagined a scene so compelling it cast a retrospective light of austere, ineffable beauty on everything which had preceded it, illustrating an extraordinary faith in the power of the novel, as a form, to transcend its own characters, incidents, and historical coordinates to deliver an aesthetic experience in some ways separate from all of those elements.

Our interview with Chang-rae Lee

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg

Deborah Eisenberg

Reviewing this rich volume, John Freeman wrote: “For the past month, Deborah Eisenberg has slowly brought my reading habit to a surprising standstill. I dove into this fat, wonderful collection like a man in a hot dog eating contest. No one writes the kind of strange, deeply intuitive short story that Eisenberg writes…. [She] is America’s poet laureate of neuroses, a blackly comedic metaphysician of altered states.”

Review by John Freeman

I Hotel

Karen Tei Yamashita

Karen Tei Yamashita’s ambitious, ingenious fiction, comprising ten free-standing novellas linked by setting (a residence hotel during a decade beginning in 1968) charts a course which leads the story through graphic art, playwriting, and philosophy, capturing an era of political passions and ideological conflict as reflected in the experiences of an extraordinary cast of characters in San Francisco’s Chinatown. If you’re wondering at the future that the past and present of the novel are pointing toward, look here.

A BNR Long List Selection


China Miéville

The high priest of the “New Weird” follows up his dreamlike policier The City & The City with this marvelous comic thriller. It starts with the theft of a giant squid, and gets infinitely stranger.

A BNR Long List Selection

Skippy Dies

Paul Murray

Irishman Paul Murray’s Man Booker-longlisted second novel embraces several different fiction genres in its 650 pages—social comedy, coming-of-age tale, love story, tragedy. At its heart, though, what this capacious, dark, but often very funny book really wants to be is a state-of-the-nation novel, its subject the precarious moral health of Murray’s homeland. For all the jocularity and the schoolboy pranks, this is a disturbing book, one full of anger about the unexamined history of modern Ireland. That two such contrasting sets of emotions can play successfully alongside each other is just one of the achievements of Murray’s rewarding and engrossing book.

Review by Andrew Holgate

Great House

Nicole Krauss

The remarkable achievement of Nicole Krauss’s third novel, wrote Sarah Courteau, “is to atomize the essential isolation that is part of the human condition and reflect it back to us in a way that makes us feel a little less alone.” In a montage of four haunting human portraits, “Krauss balances stories about the power of writing to anchor and also isolate those who devote themselves to it; the ebbs and flows of memory as it washes over a lifetime; and the tenderness and damage-dealing of the bonds between parents and children.”

Review by Sarah L. Courteau

The Finkler Question

Howard Jacobson

This year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize, wrote Anne Trubek here, is a brave book, and a seriously funny one: “Rare is a work of fiction that takes on the most controversial issues facing Jews so directly—and with enough humor, intelligence, and insight—that it changes a reader’s mind or two. Be warned: The Finkler Question will probably distress you on its way to disarming you. Can we pay a novel any greater compliment?”

Review by Anne Trubek

World and Town

Gish Jen

The author of Typical American and The Love Wife returns with a novel about a 68-year-old Chinese-American, Hattie Kong, who has lost both her husband and her closest friend to cancer. She moves to a small New England town and—as Gish Jen’s sharp eye and generosity of understanding describe Hattie and her varied neighbors—discovers a new world as absorbing and satisfying for her as it is for Jen’s readers. When was the last time you read a novel about late life befuddlement that taught you how to view your own past, present, and future with more faith, hope, and charity?

A BNR Long List Selection

The Wake of Forgiveness

Bruce Machart

Just a few paragraphs into Bruce Machart’s debut novel, writes David Abrams, “and readers will find it hard to tamp down the urge to compare The Wake of Forgiveness to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy—two ‘go-to’ authors lazy reviewers pull out of their shirt pocket when they want to telegraph blurb-ready assessments. Machart is one of the few contemporary writers worthy of that comparison, however.” And while The Wake of Forgiveness may be reminiscent of those masters, “Machart stakes his own territory in this engrossing novel which spans nearly thirty years in the troubled life of one south Texas family.”

Review by David Abrams

Don’t miss our lists of the Year’s Best Reading: Nonfiction and the Year’s Best Reading: Beyond Category. Or see all of our combined Editor’s Picks for 2010.