This is the second in my series of top ten authors. Today I focus on what I call literary fiction authors, those who win industry awards like the Booker Prize, and the Costa Prize. Please remember these are my personal choices and I am sure many of you will have different opinions, and I hope you share those with me.
Maggie O Farrell
I first came across Maggie O Farrell when I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which is such a beautiful story. Since then I have gone on to read several of her other books and have never disappointed. In 2010 she won the Costa Book Award for The Hand that First Held Mine,that follows the lives of two women fifty years apart, and looks at their roles as mothers. As with all her books they are very evocative of the time they represent and deal with some difficult issues, I highly recommend her books.
I have been a huge fan of Barbara Kingsolver since I was given a copy of The Poisonwood Bible to read by a friend. The story is narrated by the wife and four daughters of an evangelical Baptist missionary Nathan Price, who takes his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959. It is an eye opener of a story and the different perspectives of the women bring different aspects to the fore and make it a fascinating read a w follow their journey and how it effects them later in life. Since then I have read The Lacuna looking at the McCarthy communist trials in 1950’s America and Flight Behaviour which looks at global warming. Barbara’s books do not shy away from difficult topics, and she is a wonderful wordsmith making her books an engaging and fascinating read.
A S Byatt.
I am often asked to recommend to books to people and they always ask my favourite read. It is hard to pick one book, but the one always come back to is A S Byatt’s Possession. It is a beautiful book, and combines the genres of thriller/mystery, romance and historical fiction. It is set in the present where the main protagonists are trying to solve a literary mystery and in the nineteenth century where to two writers who are subject of the mystery fall in love with tragic consequences. I don’t very ofter re read books, unless they are the classics, but Possession breaks that rule. It is totally immersive as a read and will engage your full attention from start to finish, and it won the Booker Prize in 1990. I have also read The Children’s Book set in late nineteenth century England and the world of arts, crafts, and the Fabian Society and follows the family of writer Olive Wellwood. I have also read her quartet of novels that follow the life of character Frederica Potter; The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman.
Probably like many others I first picked up an Ian McEwan novel when Atonement was made into a film, and the book is a lot better than the film; I much prefer the ending to the book. Since then I have read nearly all his books, he is a master story teller, and is expert at catching human emotions, and really bringing the reader in the plot making for an excellent reading experience. Amsterdam won the Booker Prize in 1998 and I have to say it has one of the best endings to a book I think have ever read. His books have very emotive subject matters that will stay with you long after you have finished the book. I highly recommend Saturday, Enduring Love and A Child in Time, which was adapted by the BBC and on our televisions at the weekend.
Donna Tartt is only known for her three novels, The Secret History, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch. I have read The Secret History and The Goldfinch and thoroughly enjoyed both. They are both very long books and what comes across is Donna Tartt’s attention to detail and understanding of the human psyche. I love her characterisation; she brings them to life with a real understanding of who they are. A common theme in her books is social class, and the entitlement of the rich against the what those with no many stove for. The narrative of both The Secret History and The Goldfinch take the viewpoint of the poorer character as we watch them navigate life and the situations they find themselves in. Don’t be put off by the size of these books, you will be drawn in by the plot, characters and writing. The Little Friend is on my ever growing pile of books to be read.
Rose Tremain has written many books in different genres, and won a lot of awards for her writing. I have read quite a few of her books but my favourites are Restoration and Merivel: A Man of His Time, which tells the story of Robert Merivel, a seventeenth century physician of Charles II and his dogs. Rose’s characterisation and plot detail are brilliant, she brings the court of Charles II, with all its eccentricities, to life. Another of my favourites is Trespass, which is a thriller set in France. All her books are beautifully written, have interesting characters and plots that pull you in.
Sebastian Barry is writer of not only novels but plays and poetry. His 2008 novel The Secret Scripture won the Costa Book of the year. It is a haunting novel about the story of Roseanna McNulty, who has spent over fifty years in a Mental Hospital. As Roseanne writes her biography, we hear her story of her childhood and how she ended up in the hospital. This is a novel that still stays with me today, and I have recommended it to many people over the years. The writing takes into account Roseanne’s age of one hundred, the language she would have used before she entered the hospital, this gives an honesty to the book, you believe that these journal entries are written by Rosanna herself. It is a real eye opener of a story, and looks at the ignorance of the times in Catholic Ireland. He latest book, Days Without End, about an Irish émigré who goes to Canada then America to escape the Great Famine, has won the 2016 Costa Book Award and 2017 Walter Scott Prize.
Kazu Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day will probably go down as a modern classic, and won the Booker Prize in 1989. The book is narrated by Stevens, a butler who has dedicated his life to his employer and job. He reflects on his life and his relationship with former housekeeper, Miss Keaton. It is a beautiful novel of missed chances and his loyalty to Lord Darlington. I think this is probably the most famous of his books but for me, I prefer Never Let You Go. This is a wonderful, yet haunting novel about a group of students growing up and coming to terms with their childhood and their future in an alternative England. This is a book that once read will never leave you.
Like Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith was included in Grants’s list of 20 of the best young authors, she was also included in the 2013 list. White Teeth focuses on the later lives of two war tome friends, one English and one Bangladeshi, and looks at the relationship between the British and those from former colonised nations. It won many awards and has been included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best selling novels from 1923 to 2005. I favour On Beauty about a mixed-race British/Amreican family living in the United States. I found this an interesting book in its focus on what is beauty, the differences between cultures and in its value in liberal and academic families and life. It an insightful and in-depth read, showing Zadie Smith to be a skilful writer. On Beauty won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2006. Her latest book Swing Time is on my very large TBR pile.
As well as being a novelist, Colm Tóibín is a short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet. Earlier in the year I reviewed his latest book House of Names, which is beautiful retelling of the Greek Tragedy of Agamemmnon and The Curse of the House of Arteus. This book has a lyrical quality to the prose, and brings to life the characters and their voices the narrative. I studied Ancient History and love these ancient tales and Colm Tóibín skilfully makes this story accessible to today’s readers, and hopefully help keep these Greek Tragedies alive. Brooklyn won the Costa Award in 2009, and was named in the Observer as one of the ‘Ten Best Historical Novels” Over the years he has received many accolades and prizes for his writing, both for his fiction and non-fiction works.
Thank you for taking the time to read my top ten literary fiction authors. Please let comment or tell me on social media some of your favourite literary authors.