Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2016

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It's been a rich year for literary fiction and we had great fun debating which were our favourites - but here they are in alphabetical order by author.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything.

Isn't that one of the great opening lines of literature?

Our black hero and narrator, surname Me, first name unknown, was born in the southern Los Angeles suburb of Dickens and subjected to an isolated upbringing dominated by his father's extreme views on race, supposedly the subject of a psychological memoir which will solve their financial problems, but cruel and unnatural to anyone with an ounce of humanity. To add insult to injury Me discovered after his father's death (a racially provoked shooting) that there was no memoir. A drive-by shooting produces nothing more substantial than a bill for a drive-through funeral, but it starts Me on the path which will end in the Supreme Court, the subject of a race trial: Me v the United States of America. Full review...

The Strays by Emily Bitto

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Lily comes from an ordinary suburban family, but on her first day at a new school she meets Eva: the super-confident middle daughter of artist Evan Trentham. The girls fast become firm friends, to the exclusion of all those around them and it isn't long before Lily is spending more time at the Trentham's than she does at home. Why wouldn't she? Their life is everything her family's isn't. Full review...

Father's Day by Simon Van Booy

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When devastating news shatters the life of six year old Harvey, she finds herself in the care of a veteran social worker, Wanda, and alone in the world save for one relative she has never met - a disabled ex-con, haunted by a violent past he can't escape. Moving between past and present, Father's Day weaves together the story of Harvey's childhood on Long Island, and her life as a young woman in Paris. Full review...

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

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If the point of literature - as opposed to the less exalted though just-as-worthwhile forms of writing - is to force you to think about the real world, the political world, the painful life-as-we-know-it world, whilst catching you up in a story about something that never really happened, but, you know, might well have done so…and if you think that matters, then you must read this book. Full review...

Different Class by Joanne Harris

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St Oswald's Grammar School For Boys is in crisis. A murdered schoolboy, a procession of new Head Masters, a(nother) new Head Master, a Crisis Intervention Team and a potential merger with St Oswald's all female counterpart, Mulberry House. Roy Straitley is not altogether dismayed at the prospect of delaying his retirement; St Oswald's has been his life, man and boy and a crisis is a crisis after all is said and done, isn't it? It's probably his duty to stay and help right the ship. So when the latest of the new Head Masters and his duo of crisis managers walk into the staff room, Straitley can't quite believe his old eyes. The new Head is an ex-pupil of St Oswald's; a boy who, in his time at the esteemed old School caused such an uproarious scandal that one of the Masters ended up in prison! At the time, this boy, this Harrington creature, slipped away quite unscathed by the furore he quite literally left in his wake and now here he stands, addressing the staff of his old alma mater, using the kind of PR buzzwords that make Roy Straitley's hair stand on end, as if nothing had ever happened. As if this demon child had not been the cause of the kind of disgrace and ignominy that had almost closed the school. Full review...

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

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Josh and Alexandra Hammond have two daughters. Iris is eleven years old and neurotypical: her brain works in the same way as most people's, but her elder sister, Tilly, is thirteen and on the autistic spectrum. Her parents are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with her. Even her special and rather expensive school has indicated that they can't continue. She's subject to mood swings and unpredictable and inappropriate behaviour. Josh is lucky - he goes to work - but Alexandra is stuck with the problem, which is why Scott Bean, educator and expert in parenting, appeals to her. The name came to her attention on a couple of occasions: she subscribed to his newsletter, heard him speak and what he had to say rang a bell. Before long he was coming to the house for private consultations. Full review...

Thin Air by Michelle Paver

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It's 1935 and the British raj still exists. It's also the golden age of mountaineering. Young doctor Stephen Pearce has just broken up with his fiancee and caused rather a stir in stuffy London society. Partly because he loves climbing and partly to get away from gossip, he joins his brother Kits on an expedition in the Himalayas to climb Kangchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain. They're following in the exact footsteps, route and all, of the notorious Lyell Expedition in which five men lost their lives. Full review...

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjon and Victoria Cribb (translator)

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Sixteen-year-old Mani Stein - Moonstone in translation - existed on the fringes of society. He lived in Reykjavik and in 1918 the night sky (and the day for that matter) was lit by the eruptions of the Katla volcano. The Great War was raging, or possibly grinding on, but life in the capital carried on much as usual. There were shortages, such as coal, but there was the new fashion and it was for the movies that Mani lived, seeing every production he could, sometimes several times. He dreamed about the films, changing them to suit his tastes, working his own life into the plots. But there was another reason why Mani was a misfit: Mani was gay and frequently made a living as a sex worker. Full review...

The Blackbird Singularity by Matt Wilven

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Thirty-something writer Vince Watergate sees his partner's pregnancy as a fresh start. He stops taking his lithium and the new clarity of mind lets him start writing his best work in ages. He befriends a blackbird in the garden with the help of a bag of sultanas, and begins preparing the baby's room. For a short while, everything seems full of peace and hope. But Vince and Lyd's first child, despite having died a couple of years earlier, might not have completely left them and the blackbird might not be as friendly as Vince first thought. Lithium withdrawal, stress, and the pressure of appearing 'normal' push Vince into a frightening, irrational place. Can he fight his way through it and return to his family? Full review...

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

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Yolanda and Verla wake up disorientated. They realise they've been drugged. Yolanda thinks that perhaps they are in some kind of mental facility - She knew she was not mad, but all lunatics thought that. Verla just sits, still and frozen, waiting. And soon enough, two men arrive to reveal their fate. Yolanda and Verla, along with eight other girls, have been brought to a remote farmhouse surrounded by an electrified fence. Their heads are shaved. They are dressed in uncomfortable, scratchy, Amish-style clothes. They are tied together like a chain gang. And, like any chain gang, their days are marked with forced labour. Two men, one more cruel than the other, and a so-called nurse are their jailers, not their guardians. Full review...

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