Posted by: jowanderer | January 11, 2008

The Sunday Times best books of 2007: fiction


November 25, 2007

The Sunday Times best books of 2007: fiction

From hidden secrets to sizzling suspense, our reviewer kicks off the Sunday Times Christmas books selection by revealing the fiction that gripped him in 2007


On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Chatto £12.99

Focusing with high-fidelity acuteness on a fateful couple of hours in the honeymoon suite of a genteel Dorset hotel in 1962, this brilliant short novel is a triumph of finesse and nuance. Capturing with unerring authenticity the look and sound of a buttoned-up era about to be swept aside by the liberties of a gaudier time, McEwan shows how its ethos of verbal, physical and emotional restraint stifles a relationship. Where damage in his previous works was wreaked by violence, malice or disturbance, here it is brought about by decency, consideration and responsibility. As a period piece, the book shimmers with semi-satiric irony. As a story of two admirable young adults kept apart by inhibitions and the pressure of their pasts, it is deeply affecting: elegantly structured, subtly written and brimming with imaginative sympathy.

FIRE IN THE BLOOD by Irène N�mirovsky. Translated by Sandra Smith

A superlative novella that, like N�mirovsky’s masterpiece, Suite Française, has recently been retrieved from the miraculously surviving manuscripts of this prodigiously gifted author who died in Auschwitz in 1942. Set deep in the Burgundy countryside among acquisitive, distrustful landowners, it chronicles the unrolling of a terrible nemesis as hidden secrets come to light. Seasonal and agricultural rhythms governing its characters’ lives are atmospherically conveyed. Sensuous, tense and resonant, the book endows its closed-in community with wider significance, too, by turning it into a memorable emblem of time’s inexorable deadening of youth and vitality.

MISTER PIP by Lloyd Jones
J Murray £12.99

Initially, this seems a charming curiosity. On a tropic island in Papua New Guinea in the early 1990s, schoolchildren (and their families) listen enthralled as their village’s only white man retells the story of Great Expectations. When the civil war that has been raging in the distance closes in, Jones’s novel expertly clenches into something more fearful, and Dickens’s themes – orphanhood, loss of home, patronage, deceptiveness – take on urgent relevance. A haunting tour de force.

THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING by Alaa Al Aswany. Translated by Humphrey Davies
HarperPerennial £7.99

A controversial bestseller in the Arab world after its publication there in 2002, Al Aswany’s swarming, colourful account of people living in and around a once swanky, now dilipidated apartment block in Cairo scathingly indicts a society riddled with corruption and torn between state brutality and Islamist fanaticism. As chockablock with vivid characters, diverse storylines and moral and social indignation as a Victorian novel, it is as readable as it is courageous.

LIFE CLASS by Pat Barker
Hamish Hamilton £16.99

In this first novel of a projected sequence that looks likely to parallel her acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, Barker returns to fictional territory she has made her own: the first world war. This time, her central figures are young artists studying at the Slade. The impact of the western front and its abbatoir atrocities on them, their work and their relationships is explored with veteran expertise in a work alive with informed intelligence, psychological acuteness and a fascinated and fascinating concern with the ethics and aesthetics of depicting war damage.

THE GHOST by Robert Harris
Hutchinson £18.99

Largely reviewed as an acid attack on the couple who vacated 10 Downing Street earlier this year, Harris’s latest unputdownable thriller is far more than that: a sizzling suspense tale about doubleness and duplicity. Around a ghostwriter who has stepped into a dead man’s shoes to complete a retired prime minister’s memoirs coils a plot that has more gripping twists than an anaconda. Astringently funny, cynical, shrewd and taut, the story – with its seedy hack on the run, CIA chicanery and out-of-season setting (Martha’sVineyard in bleak mid-winter) – has a sardonic bravura reminiscent of one of Graham Greene’s “entertainments”.

THE DIG by John Preston
Viking £16.99

Delving back into the events that surrounded the discovery of the Anglo-Saxon burial ship at Sutton Hoo in 1939, Preston produces a little masterpiece of fictional archeology. Social, professional and sexual tensions quiver around the excited unearthing of the marvellous find beneath a grassy mound on a Suffolk estate. Portraying amateurs and experts racing against time (the outbreak of war is imminent) to preserve a remarkable survivor of the ravages of time, the novel is funny, humane and engrossing.

THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris
Viking £14.99

With the dotcom bubble burst, employees in a Chicago advertising agency anxiously eye the exit door through which one after another of them will be propelled into redundancy. Ferris’s often hilarious but also sometimes sombre debut novel is an engaging mini-epic of workplace woes, rivalries and alliances, wittily documented down to the last personalised coffee mug and mouse mat.

END GAMES by Michael Dibdin
Faber £12.99

Sadly, Dibdin’s last novel. Happily, one of his best. As Aurelio Zen investigates a gruesome murder mystery in the deep south of Italy, this maestro of crime writing, deploying all his powers of caustic intelligence, grisly inventiveness and blisteringly entertaining evocation of place, goes out in coruscating style.

TWO CARAVANS by Marina Lewycka
Fig Tree £12.99

Following the fortunes and misfortunes of an assortment of immigrant workers (Polish, Ukrainian, Moldovan, Chinese, Malawian) who share quarters while strawberry picking in Kent, this is an immensely likable comedy about resilience and resourcefulness. Darker concerns aren’t kept out of the picture: the characters have escaped from backgrounds of violence and underprivilege and are threatened by pitfalls of exploitation. But the novel brings a wealth of brio and winningly perceptive wit to its zestful attacks on prejudice and injustice.


1 The Quest by Wilbur Smith
(Macmillan) 164,360

2 Crystalby Katie Price
(Century) 155,355

3 Making Money by Terry Pratchett
(Doubleday) 144,790

4 On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
(Cape) 135,585

5 Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella
(Bantam) 124,935

Bestsellers list prepared by The Bookseller using data supplied by and copyright to Nielsen BookScan taken from the TCM 02/01/07-10/11/07

Available at Sunday Times Books First prices (including p&p) on 0870 165 8585


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