CategoryJones Shane

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.

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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