A brilliantly propulsive Australian crime thriller by Chris Hammer; a standout second novel by Irish sensation Sally Rooney; a mile-a-minute, long-time-coming page-turner by Henry Porter; a quietly powerful, wise and humane novel by Anne Tyler; and an empathetic but never sentimental debut by Naima Coster that dares to probe the dynamics of a fractured family: these are my picks for the books that have already made 2018 a stellar year for reading.
Scrublands by Chris Hammer
With Scrublands, Chris Hammer has fashioned a meticulously written and propulsive crime novel, notable for its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully-drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.
This a book that has earned its every bit of its pre-publication buzz. Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero, reporter Martin Scarsden, on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation, which ultimately has a profound effect on the veteran newsman.
Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that. It’s relentless, it’s compulsive, it’s a book you simply can’t put down.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney’s ability to recognise and deftly chronicle the nuanced, critical moments of human relationships, is again brought to the fore in Normal People, her brilliant follow-up to last year’s Conversations With Friends. It takes an unflinching look at the intricate nature of love and friendship, and the impact a person can have on another person’s life. More impressively, it demonstrates the difficulty of communicating with those you care for most, and ultimately how important it is.
Normal People is — without question! — one of the finest novels of 2018. God, I wish I could re-live the novel again for the first time.
Firefly by Henry Porter
Henry Porter deserves to be revered among the greats of spy fiction. Readers of Charles Cumming, Mick Herron and, yes, even the grandmaster himself, John le Carré, will bask in Porter’s backlist — the Robert Harland series in particular — and his latest, Firefly, will surely be remembered as one of 2018’s great espionage novels.
The action bristles and the characters seduce: Firefly is an intricate, layered thriller that delves into the Syrian refugee crisis. Brilliantly set up, tautly executed, and brutally human, Porter’s latest is as engrossing and well-crafted a thriller as you are likely to read this year.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
Clock Dance is an intimate and tender tale of marriage, family and home. Achingly observant and endearing funny, Anne Tyler brilliantly explores a woman’s steps towards reshaping her own destiny and choosing her own path. The book brims with insights that sum up entire relationships. I haven’t been so moved and in love with a book and its characters for a very long time.
One of the things I love most about Anne Tyler’s fiction is that she never lets style triumph over substance; the understated simplicity of her writing is artistry of the highest order. Her prose is assured, warm and graceful; never ostentatious. You sink into an Anne Tyler novel; it envelopes you, and you don’t realise how deep you’ve dived into her world, how invested you are in her characters, until something snaps you back to cold, hard reality, and you realise from the placement of your bookmark that you’re nearing the end of your time with this incredible storyteller. Clock Dance is a novel to savour; equally enjoyed in the moment, and upon reflection.
Halsey Street by Naima Coster
The only disappointing thing about Naima Coster’s debut Halsey Street is that, at time of writing, there are no plans for an Australian release. It is a breathtaking novel that navigates emotional minefields with realism and grace.
Set against the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn, Naima Coster’s freshly rendered family saga explores how familial ties fray and bind again in tumultuous circumstances. Penelope Grand, former artist and current waitress, reluctantly returns home from Pittsburgh to care for her ailing father, Ralph, who lives secluded in his house on Halsey Street. Penelope’s discontented mother, Mirella, abandoned Ralph after an accident that almost crippled him, returning to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to live the life she always dreamed of. But Ralph’s been unhappy for some time, a ghost in a shell since even before his tumble down the stairs, when his iconic record store closed. Penelope’s return doesn’t serve as the restorative act she intended. Indeed, perhaps their fissures run too deep…