(The Rest of) the Best of 2017

Next week, as is always the case, I’ll be summarising my reading year in my annual awards post, and as part of the process, I’ll be deciding on my favourite book of 2017.  However, as regular readers will know, owing to my draconian rule of only selecting one book for each (reviewing) month, there are some great books that never make it to the annual literary Thunderdome – which is a shame.

Today’s post, then, is just a nod to the rest of the best, the books that were edged out in their respective months but still linger in the memory.  How many of these have you read?

Unsurprisingly, my best-of list will feature several books from Japan and Korea, and there are a few of those here, too.  Both Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairytale (translated by Janet Hong: Tilted Axis Press) and Hwang Sok-yong’s Familiar Things (tr. Sora Kim-Russell: Scribe Publications) look at the darker side of contemporary Seoul, while Hideo Furukawa’s Slow Boat (tr. David Boyd: Pushkin Press) was an excellent remix of a Haruki Murakami story.  Another book that needs mentioning is Donald Keene’s classic Anthology of Japanese Literature (Grove Press), a collection of pre-nineteenth-century literature that led to many a purchase this year.

Another source of great reading was the Man Booker International Prize longlist, and with a couple of those titles selected as my monthly winners, there were other great books that missed out.  Mathias Énard has long been a favourite round these parts, and Compass (tr. Charlotte Mandell: Fitzcarraldo Editions) must have been close to taking out this year’s prize.  I also suspect that Amos Oz’s excellent novel Judas (tr. Nicholas de Lange: Chatto & Windus) will have been part of the final-day discussions (I’ll say nothing about what the judges actually went for…).

You may have noticed that several of the choices so far have been from small presses, unsurprising as that’s where I source most of my reading.  Once again, more of these books will be highlighted next week, but there are a few I’d like to mention here.  Gerard Reve’s The Evenings (tr. Sam Garret: Pushkin Press) may have been originally published seventy years ago, but it was certainly worth the wait, and David Clerson’s Brothers (tr. Katia Grubisic: QC Fiction) made for an excellent selection as the final choice for the Canadian publisher’s first year of releases.  Wolfgang Hilbig’s Der Schlaf der Gerechten is another book I enjoyed earlier this year, and if your German isn’t up to the task, Two Lines Press have got your back thanks to Isabel Fargo Cole’s English-language version, The Sleep of the Righteous.

Let’s finish off the list with a few great books by better-known writers.  I’m a huge Javier Marías fan, and his short novel The Man of Feeling (tr. Margaret Jull Costa: Penguin Modern Classics) is another book to savour, while Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. (tr. Idra Novey: Penguin Modern Classics) is proof of the Brazilian writer’s talent.  My final choice, though, is a true classic.  Die Wahlverwandtschaften is an entertaining novel by a certain Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (you might have heard of him…), and if you’d like to try it, there’s an Oxford World’s Classics edition in David Constantine’s translation.

So, there you have it – twelve of the best from 2018.  But not *the* best, of course (that’s next week).  Hopefully, this entrée post has whetted your appetite for the main course, but be warned – I’ll be serving up a few turkeys, too…

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