My favourite reads of 2012

It’s that time of year again, for looking back over what I’ve read and picking out the highlights. In previous years, I’ve limited my list to books published in the year in question, or split it equally between old and new titles. For 2012, I’m just doing a straightforward list of my favourite twelve reads of the year, regardless of when they were first published.

So, in alphabetical order of author surname, here they are:

Adrian Barnes, Nod

Telling of a battle of words and perceptions in contemporary Vancouver, this is a dystopian novel with the nervous energy of a new world still being negotiated, and a keen sense of its own precariousness. It never feels as though it’s about to settle.

M. John Harrison, Viriconium

Possibly the ultimate anti-escapist fantasy (and almost certainly the only major work of fantastic literature to be set partly in my home town of Huddersfield). In this collection of novels and stories, it’s fantasy that does the escaping, leaving readers and characters alike scrabbling at mirrors.

Katie Kitamura, The Longshot

The tale of a mixed martial artist heading for one last shot at glory. This short novel is as taut and focused as a winning fighter; it’s a brilliant unity of form and subject.

Jonathan Lee, Joy

A fine character study of a successful young lawyer who attempts to take her own life in front of her work colleagues, and of other key figures in her life. Lee has superb control of voice and tone, and the whole novel is a great pleasure to read.

Simon Lelic, The Child Who

Here, by coincidence, is another incisive  character study focusing on a lawyer – this time the solicitor defending a twelve-year-old accused of murder  whom he (and everyone else) knows is guilty. This unusual angle enables Lelic to give certain key scenes an unexpected texture, and to give a complex picture of the issues he raises.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo

A Senegalese folktale spliced with quantum physics. A morality tale whose only moral is that the reader should decide on one for herself. An examination of choice wrapped up in a glorious piece of storytelling that knows just when to turn on itself.

Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

A chorus of narrators tells the story (and stories) of a group of Japanese ‘picture brides’ who go to the US at the start of the last century, and their descendants. Otsuka’s short novel is a beautiful composition whose focus shifts elegantly back and forth between a wider and more individual view.

Keith Ridgway, Hawthorn & Child

An anti-detective novel in which any semblance of narrative or coherence dissipates as soon as you look. Its pieces are brought together into a whole by superb writing and Ridgway’s distinctive aesthetic.

Adam Roberts, Jack Glass

Read during my ongoing semi-hiatus, this novel brings together Golden Age detective fiction and science fiction, and interrogates them. It is very much alive to the limitations and shortcomings of those types of fiction, but still plays fair with the reader. (See Jonathan McCalmont’s masterful review for more on the book.)

Zadie Smith, NW

A collage of a novel that examines the connections between several characters’ lives in north-west London. Smith goes through several different styles and approaches in NW, but all combine successfully in this insightful read.

Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat

A deeply unsettling piece of work that turns the concept of the murder mystery on its head and – perhaps even more effectively – puts a dark twist on the notion of a character study. This is the sort of novel that makes me want to explore the rest of its author’s œuvre.

Lucy Wood, Diving Belles

My favourite debut of the year, this collection brings Cornish folklore into the present day. These stories are  by turns amusing, mysterious and evocative; I can’t wait to see what Wood writes next.


This will be my last blog post of 2012. Wherever you are, I’d like to thank you for reading and wish you well for the coming year. See you again in 2013.


  1. You won’t be surprised to learn that the only one of these that I’ve read is Spark’s! It was, indeed, the Spark novel which made me want to read much more (even though it was actually my third novel by her.) I still wish she’d called it something else, though, as the title ruined the twist for me.

    Of the others, I am most intrigued by Joy…

  2. I read (and very much enjoyed (but don’t have the guts to review)) ‘Viriconium’ this year, too! – Thoroughly agree: amazing fantasy, very much in the tradition of Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe but more, (dare I say…) postmodern in its leanings. Loved the Adam Roberts as well.

    Other books I enjoyed muchly this year: ‘Blue Remembered Earth’ by Alastair Reynolds – not because it’s one of the best sci-fi novels ever written, but because it imagines a future in which Africa is a space-faring power; which I found an unusually daring and utopianist thing for a 21st Century science fiction writer to suggest. Refreshing to find a sci-fi writer whose vision of the future isn’t predominantly Western or Anglo. I also like the post-racist, post-sexist, post-homophobic idealism the book espouses. Great to see a sci-fi writer presenting a tender, realistic gay relationship etc.

    Also really liked China Mieville’s ‘Railsea’ (if mostly for the ending), and, likewise, the Adam Roberts’ ‘Yellow Blue Tibia’

    Ummm.. what else did I like this year? So much. Lynn Shepherd’s Victorian crime romp ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ is just bonkers. Finally got around to reading ‘Snow Crash’ (I know, I know: reeeeally late to the part on that one), which I liked too. Oh, and Michael Cisco’s ‘The Great Lover’ blew my mind, also.

    Great list. 🙂

  3. Nod made your top 12? Wow! I’ll have to ensure I get to it now. Adam Roberts is also cropping up on a lot of lists. I’ll have to try him next year too. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  4. I have Hawthorn and Child to read this weekend, was very glad it came in on library reservation just before the end of the year. Merry Christmas to you and yours. 🙂

  5. You’ve had a good year. Glad to see Viriconium there; one of the greatest works of fantasy fiction ever written by any measure. Just a tremendous work.

    Tomcat, review it! I love your reviews, they’re always so insightful.

    Otherwise, I’m going to have to work through your back reviews as I’ve missed more than I realised. The Karen Lord sounds particularly interesting, as does Nod and several others (plus easily the Roberts, must read Jonathan’s review).

  6. David Hebblethwaite

    21st December 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for all your comments, folks!

    No, I’m not surprised to learn that! I wouldn’t automatically have thought of Joy as your sort of book; would be interested to see what you thought of it though.

  7. David Hebblethwaite

    21st December 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I’ll join Max and say: go on, review Viriconium!

    Refreshing to find a sci-fi writer whose vision of the future isn’t predominantly Western or Anglo.

    Sure – but I’d have to add that I would like to see more sf authors who aren’t Western being published in this country.

    I keep hearing good thngs about Tom-All-Alone’s – must give it a go.

  8. David Hebblethwaite

    21st December 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Jackie: Try Nod, you’ll like it! I don’t know what you’d make of Adam Roberts – maybe try one of his parodies first?

  9. David Hebblethwaite

    21st December 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Alex: Can’t wait to see what you think of H&C – it’s a fascinating book.

  10. David Hebblethwaite

    21st December 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Max: Cheers! If you read any more of the stuff on this list, let me know what you think…

  11. That list of books are really great reads! I would like to recommend Ann H Barlow’s The Guardians Chronicles, a fantasy fiction series. I know you’re gonna love it.

  12. I enjoyed reading your list. I thought The Child Who was a very good read too. I have heard a lot of good things about Diving Belles so will add that to my wishlist. Happy New Year!

  13. What an interesting selection of books – so many here that are new to me. Hmm, how intriguing; I shall have to search some of these out.

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