Sunjeev Sahota, author of the phenomenal novel Ours Are The Streets, gives a run-down of his top books from 2010.
by Sunjeev Sahota
Listed in the order I read them, here are some of my favourite books from my 2010 reading.
In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut
I read this in the spring, and then re-read in November the part set in India, when I was making my own way in that country. It was a beguiling experience, to re-read months later a book so concerned with the ways in which time and memory complicate each other, as if the author was unlocking the strange rooms contained inside my own memory of his book.
Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
To say this author has a brilliant ear for the way people speak ('I ain't ast nothing from nobody in this chickenshit town'), writes arresting descriptions of landscape ('the fold on fold of mountains'), and can dig out the humour even in the most horrific of places, is probably to note the least of his achievements. Lester Ballard is a psychopath, but thanks to the noonday brightness of this author's eye we never forget that Ballard is just as much a child of God as he is the son of morn.
Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal
I loved this book's play of sadness and comedy. There's a wonderful moment when our hero, Milos Hrma, is caught lazing on the job:
'I leaped up, with the pan and spoon still in one hand, and with the other I saluted and presented myself: 'Graduate Trainee Milos Hrma reporting on duty, sir!'
'Put down that pan!' roared the Traffic Chief, and hit out at my blue pan, which fell to the floor, and the Traffic Chief gave it such a kick that it flew clanging under the cupboard. And I stood there at the salute, but Dispatcher Hubicka remained all this time seated in his chair with his feet still on the telegraph table, as though terror of the Traffic Chief had paralysed him.'
Not just any old pan, but 'my blue pan.'
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
To avoid any possibility of a knock on the door informing her of her son's death, Ora leaves her house and goes on a long hiking trip to Galilee; for if she's not notified of her son's death, then for her he cannot die. I remember vividly the tense scenes between Ora and her driver, Sami; scenes full of subdued anger and strange jealousies. And the way Ora's journey acts as a metaphor for Israel's history is very moving.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
I keep pressing this collection onto friends and family; stories of being lost, or at a loss, and full of humour as black as jet. I especially liked the story Retreat, about the love and loathing between two brothers, and I felt particular warmth for their sick dog, Beatrice, so old that it 'remembers where it was when JFK was shot.'
The Maid by Yasutaka Tsutsui
This was one of the strangest books I read in 2010. Nanase is a maid with powers of telepathy, and it's a gift that gives rise to some frightening incidents: she can see inside the head of the man who wants to rape her, and, more frightening still, she can hear the ticking mind of someone being cremated alive. The book is a linked collection of eight stories, and from the end of each one a sort of question mark escapes, so I was always left wondering what it really was that the maid saw.
Down to the Dirt by Joel Thomas Hynes
This book's brilliant. Keith Kavanagh - 'aimin' to maim and maim for keeps' - is a thug and a drunk who lives in a small-town corner of Newfoundland. The narrative offers up a series of episodes in Keith's life, each one brutal, quick, funny. I just thought this was such a vivid and powerful insight into the mind of a young man who seems determined to win that race to the bottom.
Between Faith and Doubt: Dialogues on Religion and Reason by John Hick
Written entirely as a conversation between John, the author, and a sceptic called David, theirs is a sincere and open discussion on knotty subjects like the existence of God, the question of evil, the possibility of a life after death. John's religious posture is one of a belief in transcendence, based on the pluralist idea that all the major religions orbit the same god, or as the Sufi mystic Rumi has it: 'the lamps are different but the Light is the same.' A joyous book to read in that spooky zone between Christmas and the new year.
Sunjeev Sahota is the author of Ours Are The Streets and The Year of the Runaways.
Have you read any of the books on Sunjeev's list? Let us know what you think in the comments below!