TagShane Jones

My favourite books of 2010 so far…

We’re halfway through the year, and I thought I’d mark the occasion by taking stock and looking back at some of the highlights of my reading year so far. I’m limiting myself to five titles, and concentrating on books that had their first English-language or first UK publication in 2010. I’ve judged them on how much they have stayed with me since I read them. So, in alphabetical order:

Robert Jackson Bennett, Mr Shivers

Ostensibly a search across the Depression-era United States for a ruthless killer, this book has a rich metaphoric subtext that makes it a very satisfying piece of work.

Shane Jones, Light Boxes

My favourite read of the year so far. A short, magical tale of the battle against February, that works on about three levels all at once.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies

From a very short book to a very long one. An Irish boarding-school comedy with added theoretical physics throws in so much that there’s probably a kitchen sink in there somewhere – but it all works superbly.

Adam Roberts, New Model Army

Begins as the tale of an army that functions democratically, but transforms into something that genuinely is like nothing I have read before.

Amy Sackville, The Still Point

The parallel stories of a fateful Arctic expedition and a present-day couple at a turning-point in their relationship, wrapped up in a fascinating prose style.

My pick of pre-2010 books for the year so far is Christopher Priest’s excellent The Affirmation, the story of how a man’s life and his fictionalised autobiography intertwine until… well, read the book and see for yourself. And, of course, I’d recommend all the others to you as well.

Those are my picks for the first half of 2010, then. What have you most enjoyed reading this year?

Shane Jones, Light Boxes (2009)

Five-star read

Here is a tale to make a reader’s heart soar.

Light Boxes was first published last year by a small press named Publishing Genius, in a limited-edition run; now, larger publishing houses have given Shane Jones’s debut novel a wider release – and deservedly so, because it’s an absolute gem. It’s the story of a balloon-maker named Thaddeus Lowe, whose town is held in the grip of February. Flight, by any means, is prohibited, and wintry weather is the norm. The town’s children have been going missing in mysterious circumstances, including Thaddeus’s own daughter, Bianca. War is declared on February, and Thaddeus seeks answers – or revenge.

The first thing one notices about Light Boxes is, perhaps inevitably, its format. Physically, this is an unusually small book – it could well be read in one sitting, and that’s what I’d advise; Jones creates an intense vision, which is best experienced in a single sustained burst. The chapters are also very short, and different fonts indicate (for example) first- and third-person narration; both these techniques give the impression of a story being built out of brief glimpses that are taken from different angles – which is entirely appropriate for the kind of uncertain, oblique tale Jones is telling.

Jones has an eye for a striking image, be it horses covered in moss or a group of bird-masked balloonists; all adds to the pervading sense of unreality in his novel. But what really makes Light Boxes work so well is the sense that it’s operating on about three different levels of reality at once, and that no single interpretation makes complete sense. One could read the story as a metaphorical representation of Thaddeus Lowe working through his grief. Or it could be seen as a tale of a writer literally affecting the world and lives of his characters as he writes – or maybe both of these things, and more besides.

I could describe the experience of reading Light Boxes as being like witnessing a beautiful mirage, but that wouldn’t be correct, because a mirage is ultimately insubstantial. Jones’s novel comes together enough that one can formulate theories about what’s going on; but it drifts apart beautifully when one tries to pin it down. What a wonderful read.

Elsewhere
Some other reviews of Light Boxes: Savidge Reads; The Bookbag; Gonzobrarian; Matt Bell; Rozalia Jovanovic at The Rumpus.
Shane Jones’s website
Bookslut interview with Jones

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