CategoryMackie Emily

Favourite books of 2010

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking over all the books I’ve read and picking out my favourites. And here they are, my favourite dozen from the year (all published for the first time in 2010, or older books receiving their first UK publication this year) — in alphabetical order of author surname:

Robert Jackson Bennett, Mr Shivers

I didn’t know what to expect when I read this book, and it turned out to be a simply stunning debut. Bennett’s fusion of fantasy, horror and historical fiction is a smart book that uses its fantasy to comment on the period.

Shane Jones, Light Boxes

This tale of a balloon-maker’s war on February is constructed from story-fragments that add up to a marvellously strange whole. It works on about three different levels at once, but resists being pinned down to a single interpretation. A beautiful little jewel of a book.

Simon Lelic, Rupture

A perceptive and well-written novel chronicling the investigation into a school shooting committed by an apparently mild-mannered teacher.

Emily Mackie, And This Is True

A sharp study of a boy who has grown uncomfortably close to his father, and the pressures exerted on him when the life he has known begins to change.

Ian McDonald, The Dervish House

A near-future Istanbul is the setting for this sprawling-yet-elegant tale of six interlocking lives, and the wider structures and systems of which they are a part.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

A vast boarding-school comedy with added theoretical physics. Murray’s novel has huge ambitions, and achieves them brilliantly. It reads like a book half its length, and its sheer range is astonishing.

Véronique Olmi, Beside the Sea

A very strong launch title for Peirene Press, this is an intense study of a mother taking her two children to the seaside — an apparently ordinary surface that hides much darker depths.

Adam Roberts, New Model Army

This tale of armies run of democratic principles is both a cutting examination of warfare, and a novel that left me with a feeling that I genuinely cannot describe.

Ray Robinson, Forgetting Zoë

The very powerful story of a girl’s abduction and captivity. Exquisite prose, acute characterisation, and masterfully-controlled narrative flow.

Amy Sackville, The Still Point

Winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and deservedly so. An intense and beautifully written novel of Arctic exploration and the parallels between two couples living a century apart.

Nikesh Shukla, Coconut Unlimited

One of the funniest books I read all year, this tale of three Asian boys at an otherwise all-white public school is also an acute portrait of adolescence and the ways in which people try to build identities for themselves.

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

A novel that ably switches states between time-travel metafiction and examination of its protagonist’s relationship with his father, interrogating and blurring genre boundaries as it goes.

And three great reads from previous years…

Liz Jensen, The Rapture (2009)

The brilliant tale of the mental chess-game between a psychotherapist and her patient who can apparently predict disasters — which proves equally adept at being a thriller in its later stages.

Christopher Priest, The Affirmation (1981)

A man begins to write a fictionalised autobiography… and an account by a version of himself in a different reality vies for space in the same book — which, if either, is ‘real’? Nothing is certain in this novel by the reliably excellent Priest.

Marcel Theroux, Far North (2009)

A beautiful story of survival and endurance set in a near-future Siberia.

Emily Mackie, And This is True (2010)

Emily Mackie’s first novel takes us into the mind of Nevis Gow, which is not the most comfortable place to be. When we meet him, Nevis is fifteen and, for the past eleven years, has lived on the road with his father, Marshall, a teacher-turned-writer (Nevis’s mother – whom the boy doesn’t remember – left Marshall for another man). Now, their van has been involved in an accident, and it seems the pair’s travels are at an end. They’ve been staying on a farm in the Scottish Highlands with the Kerrs: Nigel, the farmer, who’s coping with the death of his wife, Caroline; Nigel’s son, Colin (nicknamed ‘Duckman’); Colin’s cousin, Ailsa; and her mother, Elspeth. Nevis has been struggling to adjust to this static existence, because he doesn’t like all these people muscling in  on his relationship with Marshall; you see, over the years, Nevis has grown rather too close to his father – in fact, he’s in love with Marshall.

And This is True is a character study that gains its affect from the interplay of two themes. The first of these is the way in which Nevis’s psyche has been shaped his life so far. It’s not just that his feelings for his father lead Nevis to do things (like stealing kisses when Marshall is asleep) that seem normal to him but less so to us. It’s also that Nevis has grown to have certain expectations of how life is going to be, and he struggles to cope when those expectations aren’t met – and to notice everything that’s going on around him.

The second theme concerns memory and truth. The text of the novel is Nevis Gow’s attempt to sort out his memories of what happened on the farm, whilst being only too aware that a memory isn’t necessarily ‘what really happened’, and trying to follow his father’s advice on how to write a good story, even when he finds that life won’t quite fit that model. Nevis discovers that maybe not everything he remembers is accurate, which, I suppose, leaves him in a quandary – if his past is as uncertain as his present seems to be, what does that mean for Nevis’s future?

The best passages in And This is True are simply stunning, when Mackie lays bare the pressures that Nevis is under. But there’s hope in there, too – the hope of journeys continuing. It ends on just the right note; the end, that is, of a fine debut.

Link
Interview with Emily Mackie (Bookhugger.co.uk)

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