THE BIGGEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Meredith Jaffe

“Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a writer, not a genre”

– Carlos Fuentes, Mexican novelist and essayist

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In the Literary News

The long list for the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award was announced this week. Worth €100,000 (A$144,467), it is the most valuable prize for a novel published in English.

The nomination process for the Award is unique in that nominations are made by participating libraries around the globe. Using a selection criteria of ‘high literary merit’, a total of 152 books have been nominated for the 2014 award by libraries in 39 different countries. Australian titles that made the long list are:

  • The Voyage by Murray Bail
  • Lola Bensky by Lily Brett
  • The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
  • Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth
  • The Daughters of Mars by Tom Keneally
  • Lost Voices by Christopher Koch
  • Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

The most nominated books this year are Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and Canada by Richard Ford, both of which received nine nominations from libraries in Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Switzerland, Britain and America.

The shortlist will be announced on 9 April 2014 and the winner will be announced on 12 June.

 

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

the-lives-of-stelle-bainMarch 1916: Awakening in a field hospital in Marne, an injured woman realises that she has no recollection of what has happened for her to be here or even what her name is.

A nurse tells her she has shrapnel in her feet but otherwise there is not a mark on her. The woman is American but her uniform is of a British volunteer nurse. The woman thinks her name might be Stella Bain, knows that she can drive an ambulance and can draw. She is consumed by an insistent urge that she must get to Admiralty House in London but she has no idea why.

Once in London, exhausted, disoriented and ill Stella is taken in by the kindly Lily and August Bridges. In their home, Stella begins the slow journey to recovery. August Bridges is a cranial surgeon with an interest in this new idea of talk therapy. With his assistance, Stella is able to go to Admiralty House and meet the man who holds the key to her true identity. Armed with this information, Stella begins to unravel the mystery of what she, an American woman, is doing on the battlefields of a war her country is not engaged in and what terrible event drove her to flee her home, her country and her life.

Anita Shreve has crafted this novel so that the structure reflects the patchy reconstruction of Stella’s identity and the events that impelled her to join the theatre of war. So the recovery of Stella’s memory is a mystery in the process of resolution and the reader is there alongside Stella as each revelation fills in more of her story. In this multi-layered narrative, Shreve has much to say about the evolution of understanding about the psychology of shell shock evident in soldiers returning from the front and how losing one’s memory was sometimes the only way to deal with relentless horrors of war.

In the end, when this fragmented woman becomes whole again, she is a stronger version of herself—perhaps because of the sustaining power of love and the discovery that forgiveness can be the most healing act of all.

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Meet the Authors: Alan Gold and Mike Jones

Alan Gold and Mike JonesNovelist Alan Gold and screenwriter Mike Jones have collaborated to create the epic historical and political thriller The Heritage Project. A trilogy, it deals with the 3000-year history of the city of Jerusalem told via two families, one Jewish and one Palestinian, spanning time and geography.

This ambitious project pioneers an immersive form of storytelling called Storyworld which embraces all the different ways a story can be told in these modern times from the traditional printed book to visual and digital media.

Alan David Gold began his career working in British provincial newspapers but since immigrating to Australia in the 1970s, Alan combines literary criticism, teaching creative writing as well as writing his own works of fiction. Mike Jones is an Australian screenwriter who lectures in immersive storytelling and screenwriting.

They join The Hoopla to answer three quick questions about the first book in the trilogy, Bloodline.

What book(s) am I reading now
Alan: I always have a pile of books on my bedside as I rarely finish a book in one go…it’s a pleasure to return to a book and pick up where I left the plot…so the two books I’m deeply into at the moment are HHhH by Laurent Binet, and I’m re-reading (for the 5th time) Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Mike: With the news of Tom Clancy’s death this week I’ve picked up The Hunt for Red October which I read when I was about 15 and had a huge impact on me. Better than anyone, Clancy balances rich detail with sheer narrative momentum.

Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
Alan: I never begin writing before I’ve read a couple of random pages from James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a way of turning on my creative motor, of filling me with petrol. His linguistic and creative audacity are without peer in the history of the novel.

Mike: The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco left an echo in my mind many years ago I’ve never been able to shake. He writes the kind of books I’ll never be able to write. And I love Neal Stephenson for writing the kinds of books I wish I could write—stories that bind history, science and a sheer weight of ideas together in ways that are just mesmerising.

Phillip K. Dick’s short stories still dazzle me with their brilliance and I find myself bloodlinereturning time and again to reignite my love of science fiction. And Clive Barker’s horror novels are on-the-page scary and they gave me a real and lasting love of the dark…

In a nutshell, what’s your new book about?
Alan: Shells confine the nuts. But Mike Jones and I have been largely unconstrained in our three-book fictional documentation of the 3000 year history of Jerusalem, set against a series of modern stories of terrorism, love and deceit, all told through the lives of two families. The trilogy details the greatest events in human history, but from the perspective of the individuals who were unwilling participants.

Mike: Bloodline is a conspiracy thriller where an Israeli and a Palestinian discover they share a family-line and find themselves on the run from extremist forces. Whilst in the ancient past we trace those long family lines through the ages.

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On My Bedside Table

the-last-days-of-sarkAfter she finished her degree, Jude is hired by a wealthy banker who lives on the Channel Island of Sark to tutor his son over the summer holidays.

At first their lives have a structure as each morning Jude and Pip study maths, science or literature and Sofi, the cook provides coffee and cake. Pip’s mother Esmé is mostly absent, preferring to take meals in her rooms and generally avoid contact with anyone.

However, when Pip’s father returns to London, the structured life falls apart. For Jude, Pip and Sofi are all only children in an idyllic place cut off from the world, free to indulge their whims in whichever way they choose. It is only later, when they are older, do they find themselves wondering what happened to change everything.

In The Last Kings of Sark, Rosa Rankin-Gee has written an evocative tale of love and yearning carried by elegant sparse prose.

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the-last-winter-of-dani-lancingP.D. Viner’s crime novel The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is one of those stories that draws threads of mystery, thriller, revenge and of course murder into a sophisticated tale of remorse.

Dani Lancing is the much loved only daughter of Patty and Jim. After she goes away to University Dani is abducted, brutally raped and murdered by person or persons whom the police never find. The man who has loved her always, Tom Bevan, has pursued her killers relentlessly both in a professional capacity as Detective Superintendent of the Serious Crimes Squad and as a way to honour her death.

Her mother Patty, once a formidable journalist, has never given up the search for her killers, following every possible lead and paying others to investigate when her resources fail her. Twenty years on, Dani’s case is about to be split open when a man is reported to police as missing person by his wife. Twenty years, and the truth about Dani’s death will finally be revealed.

Original, gripping, haunting—the pages of this book just fly by as the tortured existence of its cast of characters is revealed.

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Booktopia’s Bestsellers of 2013

We are reaching the end of the calendar year, so it seems the perfect time to reflect on what the big books of 2013 are. This week, we feature the top five international fiction titles of 2013.

  1. Inferno Dan Brown BUY THE BOOK
  2. The Storyteller Jodi Picoult BUY THE BOOK
  3. Gone Girl Gillian Flynn BUY THE BOOK
  4. Never Go Back Lee Child BUY THE BOOK
  5. And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hosseini BUY THE BOOK

As the year rushes to a close, I am cramming in everything that has to be done before the kids break up from school and dreaming of long lazy summer days where the schedule is determined by appetites and not clocks. Already there is an ambitious pile of reading accumulating next to my bed reminding me that soon, soon, the holidays will be upon us.

What about you—are you yearning for summer reading? Are there books you are saving for those delicious endless summer days? As always, you can share what you are reading or planning to read in the comment thread below.

Until next week! Mx

 

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 src=*Meredith Jaffé is a writer, avid reader and The Hoopla’s books editor. Her reviews have been featured in the NSW Writers’ Centre 366 Days of Writing and in 2013 she was a member of the expert panel that selects the longlist for the Australian Book Industry Awards. When she is avoiding work, she cooks, plays Scrabble online or occasionally updates her Facebook page.

 

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