Top 10 fiction books for Christmas
As the nights draw in and the fires come on, there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a good book. Affordable, educational and fun, books (the physical kind) also make great Christmas presents, too, creating memories that will last long after the wrapping paper has been torn off and thrown into the recycling. Trawling around independent book shops is also a treat, with great examples in Norwich, Holt, Swaffham and Wymondham to name but a few hotspots.
In the next few posts, I’ll be covering Christmas book ideas for kids, young adult books and coffee tables but let’s kick off with the Top ten fiction titles. Reading glasses at the ready…
Exposure by Helen Dunmore (Windmill Books, Penguin Random House)
London, Winter 1960-1961: it’s the height of the Cold War and Lily Callington will do anything to protect her family after her husband is falsely imprisoned for treason. A deadly cat-and-mouse game ensues with the sinister scene-stealing Julian Clowde. Novelist, children’s writer and poet, Dunmore doesn’t disappoint after her haunting novel, The Lie.
The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (Bloomsbury)
When lovelorn Annie McDee stumbles across a long-lost Watteau sketch she is drawn into a byzantine world of art dealers, auctioneers, racketeers and a terrifying 90-year-old collector called Memling Winkleman. It’s a slow starter but get through its first 100 pages and this Dickensian art world caper fairly clips along.
Number 11 by Jonathan Coe (Faber & Faber)
Coe’s most scathing State of the Nation novel since his 1994 classic What a Carve Up! A diverse collection of characters including the latest grotesque incarnations of the Winshaw dynasty enter in and out of the memoirs of its put-upon protagonist, Rachel. Comic, satirical and always readable, you’ll have to find out for yourself why it’s called Number 11.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Fourth Estate, HarperCollins)
When debt-ridden student Pip Tyler (aka Purity) starts working for a charismatic Wiki-Leaks-like hacker, she embarks on a journey to find her father, and herself. Prepare to be dazzled by characters the equal of Trollope and a kaleidoscopic narrative to match. Could this be The Great American Novel? We have great expectations…
Sweet Caress by William Boyd (Bloomsbury)
Sweet Caress spins a picaresque tale of photo-journalist, Armory Clay. From her eccentric childhood to the demimonde of 1920s Berlin, through 1930s London and New York to her exploits in Occupied France and the Vietnam War, it’s another of Boyd’s compelling tales of a supposedly real life lived to the full. And then some…
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (Faber & Faber)
A charismatic visitor appears in the wilds of Cloonoila and wreaks havoc in a small Irish coastal community. Fidelma McBride’s headlong infatuation with the satanic stranger takes her to the very outer reaches of London society and the Hague International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. This is an intense, searing novel from O’Brien who, in her ninth decade, is at the height of her powers.
Villa Triste by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by John Cullen (Daunt Books)
It’s been 40 years since the last English translation of Modiano’s elliptical novel about a young man’s debauched summer in the company of an enigmatic doctor, a seductive actress and her depressed Great Dane. Winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, Modiano has been described as ‘a Marcel Proust of Our Time.’
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)
Nathaniel Steepleton is a lowly British Home Office telegrapher. When a gold timepiece with magical properties appears in his home, it starts a journey into the world of the watch’s maker and sinister inventor. Accompanying Nathaniel through Victorian London and Japan is plainspoken Oxford physicist Grace Carrow. This wry debut novel from newcomer Pulley ticks along nicely.
Where my Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
An English doctor faces up to the events that have shaped his life: World War II service in Italy, his idealistic psychiatric work in the 1960s and a passionate affair with a certain Genoese lady. Nobody writes about War like Faulks. A heady mix of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Magus, it’s a must-read.
Contagion by Thelma Fisher (Folly Press)
A self-published novel printed in hundreds rather than thousands is hardly the stuff of bestsellers. However, Fisher’s intense novel about imploding family relationships set in foot-and-mouth-riven Cumbria is bucking the trend. Fisher, an ex-CEO of National Family Mediation and co-author of Divorce for Dummies clearly knows a thing or two about the human heart.