In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite books that were released between 2000-2009. It turns out my two favorite books of the early aughts – Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – were released in the mid-1990s. Oh well. With one exception, I only included books that were newly released in this decade…
10. Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach
This unique little novella is probably not one that I would re-read, but I did like it enough to buy it after I’d checked it out from the library. There was just something so elegant and insightful about its painfully realistic depiction of an inexperienced couple’s awkward wedding night in 1962.
9. Lin Enger: Undiscovered Country
2008 was a very good year for novels. As I said in my review: “Undiscovered Country is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in small town Minnesota.” I still think it’s a shame a certain bloated, boring copycat Oprah book club selection stole the attention and praise this novel rightfully deserved.
8. Maggie O’Farrell: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
I summed it all up in my review: “Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has quickly become a favorite writer of mine. Her new novel The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale. “
7. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness
One of the most unique books ever written. I would have put it at #1, except it’s too painful for me personally to ever re-read. As I said in my review, “Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.”
6. Emma Forrest: Namedropper
Compared to the rest of the list, this book probably ranks higher for nostalgic value than the quality of the novel itself. It’s a fun read about the loves and semi-adventures of vivacious, melodramatic, Elizabeth Taylor-obsessed Viva, including her encounter with an ill-fated indie musician that was inspired by Jeff Buckley.
5. Lee Maynard: Crum
Most of the world may not know who local writer Lee Maynard is, but he is known in West Virginia as the infamous author whose book Crum has been banned in various bookstores throughout the state. The book fictionalizes and scandalizes portions of Maynard’s adolescent years in Crum, WV. It’s been called an Appalachian Catcher in the Rye, but I think it’s far superior.
4. Robert Cremins: A Sort of Homecoming
This book was originally released in Ireland in late 1999, but the paperback edition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2000. It was Brendan‘s favorite book then, and I read it when we were living in Ireland during the summer of 2000. I agreed with Brendan’s assessment that the novel perfectly and humorously captured the real Dublin of that time.
3. James Long: Ferney
I’m cheating a little here, as Ferney was originally released in the late 1990s. But the edition I bought and read this year was a 2001 reprint. As I said in my review: “Ferney is a tale of immortal love trapped within the confines of mortal flesh…the narrative is intricately and intelligently crafted.” This is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it.
2. Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
This delightful little book is one that I expect to read over and over again throughout my life. I said in my review: “I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in. “.
1. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief
As I said in my original review, “The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany..” It was #1 on my 2008 book list, and I think it will eventually be considered a classic.
Undiscovered Country is told in hindsight as the protagonist Jesse records the events surrounding the death of his father during a hunting trip a decade after it happened. While waiting for the coroner to rule on whether the shooting was a suicide or an accident, we are introduced to Jesse’s vamp of a mother Genevieve and his covetous uncle Clay. Like Hamlet, Jesse believes he sees the ghost of his father while we the readers are left to wonder if it is merely a symptom of his own grief stricken madness. The vision plants a suspicion in Jesse’s mind that soon evolves into obsession, and Jesse is driven to seek the truth as well as vengeance from his uncle.
There’s a side plot involving an Ophelia inspired romantic interest, but it’s Jesse’s inner turmoil as well as his interactions with his vixenish mother and possibly villainous uncle that are most riveting. This is the rare novel that contains two climactic scenes – the first and most of tense being the claustrophobic confrontation in Clay’s ice fishing lodge. Whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or not, I recommend Undiscovered Country if you want to read a strong and suspenseful drama.