Books of the Year 2018

woman and books

In a departure from the usual, I thought I would list all the books I’ve read this year. I choose books mainly based on recommendations from friends, followed by recommendations from reviews in the papers and on the radio, and then from suggestions on my Kindle. This year, however, I wanted to include in my reading some classics that I had never looked at properly before. Here’s the list, in reverse order. I’ve marked the ones that surpassed my expectations with *, and any that I thought were overrated with !

  • White Oleander – Janet Fitch
  • Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton
  • Vox – Christina Dalcher
  • I am, I am, I am – Maggie O’Farrell
  • Less – Andrew Sean Greer
  • Release – Patrick Ness
  • The Spare Room – Helen Garner
  • Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
  • The Power of Acceptance – Annemarie Postma
  • The Happiest Kids in the World: Bringing Up Children the Dutch Way – Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
  • Letting Go – David R Hawkins
  • C’est La Vie – Fabrice Midal (in translation)
  • Journey by Moonlight – Antal Szerb (in translation)
  • Four Seasons in Rome – Anthony Doerr
  • The Forgetting Time – Sharon Guskin
  • The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing
  • The Jane Austen Book Club – Karen Joy Fowler
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
  • Say My Name – Allegra Huston
  • The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
  • Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
  • There are No Grown-ups – Pamela Druckerman
  • David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  • Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe *
  • Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (in translation)
  • Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K Jerome
  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac !
  • Men Explain Things to Me – Rebecca Solnit
  • Hunger – Roxane Gay
  • Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel (in translation) !
  • Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
  • Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
  • Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** – Sarah Knight
  • Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
  • Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
  • Lolita – Vladimir Nabukov
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (in translation) *
  • Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë !
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot *
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • The Photographer’s Wife – Suzanne Joinson
  • The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain
  • A Dark-Adapted Eye – Barbara Vine
  • Where Have All the Boys Gone? – Jenny Colgan
  • We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Doll’s House – Tania Carver
  • All the Single Ladies – Rebecca Traister
  • Lullaby – Leila Slimani (in translation)
  • The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
  • The Return – Victoria Hislop !
  • Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie
  • The Sun also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafron (in translation) !
  • The Hours – Michael Cunningham
  • Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  • My Education – Susan Choi
  • Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel
  • The Power – Naomi Alderman
  • Force of Nature – Jane Harper
  • Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
  • How to Break Up with your Phone – Catherine Price *
  • I See You – Clare Mackintosh
  • The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwallader
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  • Friend Request – Laura Marshall
  • Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

 

Shot in the Dark

Brandenburg Gate

At this time of year, Europe always turns a shade darker. I’m reminded of a quote from the Hungarian writer Antal Szerb, whose Journey by Moonlight I have just finished: “In London November isn’t a month, it’s a state of mind.”

I mentioned back in February that one of my flash fiction stories from last year had been selected for publication in an anthology, but then didn’t give any more details: it’s the story below, which has always been one of my favourites.

Microfiction in 250 words: The Photograph

Mehr Musik! A new album for autumn

Piano card tricks

Viele Grüße from Germany! After a summer of travelling around Santiago de Compostela, Porto, Lucca, and Oxford, I’m now working in the beautiful northern port of Hamburg, and here is my latest collection of songs:

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel

[I’m travelling around so much that, this year, the blog is going to take a summer holiday too. Meanwhile, here’s a short story written and set in Liège twenty years ago, before the euro, before smartphones, before Two Days One Night, and well before the more recent news headlines about that city.] 

Ça va?” asks Pascale as we bump over yet another pothole on the way up a mountain to her parents’ house for Sunday lunch. Actually, a mountain might be too poetic a name for it. It might be a slag heap. There are so many of them, decaying slowly on the outskirts of the city. At first glance they look like volcanic cones full of exotic promise and then close up, all you see is the disappointing reality of industrial decay. I met Pascale last week in an old attic, which has been the local chapel since the council ran out of funds to heat the church. I squeezed in among dozens of Catholic refugees, kneeling on the bare boards. Pascale took pity on me because she thought I was a refugee too, at first. I threw my clothes in the bin the next day. But she was actually closer than she realized.

“Now you can meet some real Belgians,” she says encouragingly to me. “It must be quite hard being British abroad and not being a typically British… What do you call it? A lager loot.”

Continue reading “Fallen Angel”

More competition news

Chains

[I recently discovered that one of last year’s stories had been shortlisted for the Writers Online 750-word short story competition, so – quite happily – I’m reposting it here!]

Trapped

We feel sorry for Justine because she has a – I’ll keep my voice down – boyfriend.

Mimi and I have long been Free, but Justine’s still shackled to a man. She’s tied. She’s tangled up. She is – in other words – Trapped.

“She’s late,” says Mimi. “What’s her big news, anyway? Has she seen the light?”

“About time!” I say. I was Trapped once. Last year, I spent several weeks entangled with a green-eyed guy called Sam. He kissed me up against the fridge, but left trails of laundry everywhere. When I found his dirty socks in the sink, I saw sense.

Continue reading “More competition news”

Competition news

Gooseberry

[I was very pleasantly surprised to read – in the Galician rain – that my latest microfiction story had been longlisted for the Irish Fish Flash Fiction prize. So here it is:]

Gooseberry

The third seat – the window seat – was empty. So was the aisle one. Violet toyed with her book in the middle. A chill was slicing in.

There were a few last-minuters loping down: a red-faced guy with a belly, and a sun-kissed young man. Violet looked straight ahead.

The red-faced guy shuffled into the row opposite with a grunt and a trace of onions.

“Ah,” said the sun-kissed young man, stopping short, and Violet’s heart took a breath. He looked round with a frown. “I thought there were three of us?”

No way, thought Violet, suppressing a grin. There’s no way he’s on this project too.

“I guess they’re running late!” she said, and offered her hand, but he was busy stowing his case.

“Well,” he said, to no-one, “I guess they’re running late!” and he folded his limbs into the aisle seat.

“Violet,” said Violet, after a second.

“Robert,” he said, with a yawn, and started rifling through the magazines. The pilot crackled an announcement. Violet looked sideways, at the shape of his nose, the sweep of his hair.

She opened her book, and closed it again.

“So,” she began, “Is this your first posting abroad?”

“What?” said Robert, and then there was a flurry and a voice, a female voice, calling, “Sorry! Typical me!”

Robert was already on his feet. The red-faced guy was gawping.

“So sorry!” said a young woman. “I’m always late!”

“We’d have held them up,” said Robert, grinning, and she smiled back: “Wouldn’t be a first!”

Violet curled up tight and let their third colleague slide past into the window seat.

“So,” called Robert, leaning over Violet’s lap, and she contorted forward, and then back. “Is this your first posting abroad?”

The chill was beginning to prickle. The flight was thirteen hours.

© Joanna Rubery 2018

Total Eclipse

Eclipse

“We’re going to miss it!” squealed Mohammed, face pressed up against the window.

“I’m going as fast as I can!” said Abraham, scrabbling round for dark glasses. “Ready?” he added at the door, and heaved it open. The chill was deathly.

Mohammed tore ahead. “I’m going to watch the whole thing!” he cried. “Eyes wide open!”

“Don’t look at the sun, Mo,” called Abraham.

“Eyes wide open!” yelled Mohammed, bouncing over a rock.

He’s obsessed, thought Abraham, as he crested the hill and looked out. This morning, his brother’s first words had been, “The truth is out there!” followed by a long and rather awkward stare.

The cliff dropped away below them, sliding sheer into the desert.  Up above, the sky was silvering.

Mohammed had clambered up onto a boulder. He waved a high-pitched: “This is it!” and the two of them watched the disc edge into the dazzle. The whole world seemed to pale and fade. Their shadows lengthened, and there was nothing, for a while, but an unearthly silence.

Then Mohammed said, “We used to live up there, you know.”

“Here we go,” murmured Abraham.

“There’s evidence!” said Mohammed, “There’s loads of stuff that makes no sense!”

“Including you,” said Abraham. His mike crackled.

“Where do you think we came from?” said his brother, sweeping round his arm. “This desert?” His suit creaked. “This dry rock?”

Abraham focused on the ball of brilliant blue, suspended against white light.

“You and your conspiracy theories, Mo,” he said.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

Kate’s Boyfriend

Boyfriend

[I used to belong to an online writing group, and each month we would write a story with a theme and a word count. This time, we were asked to write about ‘She Never Wanted It Anyway‘ in exactly 300 words.]

Her boyfriend would have blue eyes tonight, she decided: ice-blue.

No. Kate paused: why not violet? It was her favourite colour, after all, although the eyes might look a little disembodied – even Kate found her ideal man’s specifics hard to set in stone. Still, by now her experiment had woven himself into her walls, a fine-figured shadow, vaguely tall and hazy-faced, whistling in the bath, clattering in the attic, and even radiating a reassuring warmth in bed. Once she could have sworn she actually saw him through the window, taking out the rubbish. As it was, Mark – a neutral, no-nonsense name – suited her just fine. They could go days without talking, and then, on demand, he would materialize in a mental shimmer.

“What are we doing tonight?” she half-heard from the hallway.

“Sophie’s coming over,” she said, uncorking a bottle. “Remember?”

“Blonde Sophie?” asked Mark, chipper.

Kate looked up. The violet suited him, although oddly, she couldn’t quite see through him this evening.

“The very same,” she said, remembering her friend’s text: I’m finally getting to meet THE MARK??!!!

Kate prepared two glasses and her excuses: “on emergency call” would do. When the doorbell rang Mark usually vanished, so she was surprised to find him beating her to the front door, and even more so on hearing Sophie cry:

“At last!”

and – to Kate’s astonishment – throw her arms round him on the doorstep. Kate stood, open-mouthed: Mark’s blurred lines had sharpened under Sophie’s hands, his shadows shifting into a shape all too real. She watched, numb, as Mark waltzed her friend into the kitchen.

***

Kate found the texts a week later, and smiled. Sophie was welcome to him. She’d soon discover that there were certain parts of Mark where Kate had been – let’s say – overly experimental.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

More publishing news!

Library

In a surprise move, another one of my flash fiction stories from last year has been selected for publication in an anthology of writing from 2017. Again, I’ll update you with more details when it’s ready.  Meanwhile, from Galicia at Carnival time, íhasta luego!