Best books of 2017: 24 stand-out novels
From thrilling murder mysteries to sweeping historical epics, here are the fiction and non-fiction titles to look out for
With new releases from literary giants such as Arundhati Roy and Paula Hawkins, as well as much-hyped debuts from a clutch of exciting young authors, 2017 was a vintage year for book lovers.
With everything from the latest award-winners to the sleeper hits, here are the must-read books you can't afford to miss from last year:
Adults In The Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment, by Yanis Varoufakis
The Greek former finance minister's latest book only came out on 3 May but already it's been called "one of the greatest political memoirs of all time" by The Guardian.
Varoufakis, a firebrand economist who ultimately resigned from the left-wing government in 2015, describes his Sisyphean struggle to renegotiate his country's relationship with the EU.
The result is a fascinating reveal on the hidden world of what he calls the "deep establishment" – a labyrinth of intractable officials and backhanded dealings, not least the disastrous Greek bailout itself. According to Varoufakis, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew the bailout would fail but did it anyway to save the French and German banks. Varoufakis is a master of clarity and, as Theresa May prepares to steer the good ship GB through the dangerous shoals of Brexit, this is an invaluable account of how the political establishment really works.
The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
Joshua Ferris, the Dylan Thomas prize-winning author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, publishes his first collection of short stories, which is fast-becoming one of the most anticipated books of 2017.
Comprising 11 tales, some originally published in the New Yorker, the Dinner Party explores an array of emotions from a deeply human perspective.
Ferris's subjects vary from marriage and ambition to the very modern condition of Fomo (fear of missing out), with his sprawling narratives featuring prostitutes, pizza, a life-saving heart attack and an existential crisis triggered by a spring breeze.
"The Dinner Party immerses us in the comic and strange realities of modern life, as we journey through the lives of the unlovable, the unloved, and those who love too much," writes his publisher Penguin Books.
Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
When internet sensation and poet Patricia Lockwood is forced to return home, she is confronted by childhood memories of her father, a hippy Catholic priest who happens to be married, worships the blues and loves action films, and her mother who obsesses about natural disasters and Satan worshippers.
Covering family hunting trips to pro-life sit-ins, the result, Vogue says it is "an autobiography that is by turns hysterically funny and deeply poignant" while Business Insider UK praises the "poetically precise language and darkly hilarious observations [which] spark zingers that will make you rethink your own childhood indoctrinations".
I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
When he died, F Scott Fitzgerald left behind a stack of unpublished stories that have remained unread for almost 80 years.
The Great Gatsby author had every intention of seeing them printed, but some of the works touched on subject matters just too controversial for his day.
“Rather than permit changes and sanitising by his contemporary editors, Fitzgerald preferred to let his work remain unpublished,” says his US publisher, Scribner.
Now the last remaining stories, sourced from libraries and private collections, including those of Fitzgerald’s family, have been compiled into a collection edited by Anne Margaret Daniel.
While the title tale, I’d Die For You, is drawn from Fitzgerald’s time in North Carolina, when his and his wife Zelda's health was falling apart, the stories span his career from 1920 to the time of his death in 1940.
The Great Gatsby Autograph Manuscript
Don’t miss the chance to own your own small slice of literary history with the autograph manuscript of the Great Gatsby, written in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own hand and including important revisions and amendments.
Just in time for Christmas, Parisian publishers, SP Books are releasing 1,800 hand-numbered luxury editions printed from the copy donated to Princeton Library by Fitzgerald’s daughter, Scottie in 1950.
Each manuscript is presented in an iron gilded slipcase and accompanied by a foreword from film director Baz Luhrman, whose own 2013 adaptation starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.
Whether you are revisiting the novel as seasoned Fitzgerald fan or coming to it for the first time, readers can experience an intimate insight into the writer’s mind and thought-process, giving new life to a well loved classic.
“Fitzgerald might have written with the Jazz Age panache of someone with Champagne swilling in his mouth, but this limited-edition facsimile offers a much more complete portrait of the effort behind his best known manuscript” says Vogue, while the Daily Telegraph described is as “the perfect Christmas gift for bibliophiles”.
Phone by Will Self
Unspooling over 600 pages without a single paragraph break, Will Self's new novel, Phone, is "a kind of epic anti-tweet", says Duncan White in the Daily Telegraph.
Set predominantly in the nineties but covering the emergence of digital culture, the rise of mobile communication, web surveillance and the war on terror, it is "confrontational" and "remorseless in its commitment to its own difficulty".
A novel of "grand ideas, powered by a ravenous curiosity" about the role of the technological revolution in our private and public woes, "Phone nonetheless bristles with anxiety about the abuse of "intelligence" - in medicine, in warfare, in software, in love", says Boyd Tonkin in the Financial Times.
The third book in a trilogy, Phone "is the most ostensibly political", says Stuart Kelly in the New Statesman. Taken as a whole, it will "be seen in years to come as one of the most significant literary works of our century, books that reflect and refract the hideousness of our times".
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
The Booker Prize-winning author of Midnight’s Children returns with his latest novel on “hypocrisies, social realities, and political dangers of contemporary American culture, drawing readers into an inescapable mystery and the magnetic villain at its centre”, says Harper's Bazaar.
Beginning with the election of Barack Obama and ending exactly eight years later, the story centres around the fabulously wealthy figure of Nero and his three sons. Aminatta Forna in The Guardian describes it as “a parable of modern America” in which Rushdie “puts his finger on the nationwide identity crisis” by exploring race, reinvention and the different bubbles of US life.
Like Midnight’s Children, The Golden House is divided into three books “but though it interrogates the murk of modern life — the rise of the Tea party, post-truth politics, billionaire profligacy — its main concern is the dangerous historical amnesia built into the all-American identity”, says the Financial Times.
Comparisons have been made with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, but the novel “is too rich and too riotous” says Forna .
“Rather it is a modern Bonfire of the Vanities, New York seen from the inside and the outside, as only a writer of multiple selves such as Rushdie – Indian, British, now a New Yorker – could do.”
The Book of Dust, Part 1 by Philip Pullman
The author of the bestselling His Dark Materials series has finally given his fans a date for the release of the first volume of his long-awaited new trilogy.
The Book of Dust, which explores the early life of His Dark Materials' hero Lyra Belacqua, will go on sale on 19 October.
Although the action begins ten years before the events described in Northern Lights, Pullman said the book was an "equel" to His Dark Materials, taking place in the same universe and with appearances from familiar characters.
He added that he wanted to delve further into the concept of "dust", the mysterious cosmic substance that holds the key to knowledge and power in his fantasy world.
"At the centre of The Book of Dust is the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organisation, which wants to stifle speculation and enquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free," Pullman said.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra
From terror attacks to Trump and Twitter wars, anger seems to be the predominant emotion in public life at the moment.
Pankaj Mishra's book, which fellow author John Banville calls "urgent, profound and extraordinarily timely", explores how globalism, technology and the West's botched foreign policy have left hundreds of millions of people angry, lost and ready to embrace radicalism of all kinds.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
An ambitious debut novel which stretches from 18th-century Ghana to the present day, Homecoming follows the diverging paths of sisters Esi and Effia and their descendants after Esi is sold into the US slave trade and Effia remains in West Africa as a wealthy slave trader's wife.
Yaa Gyasi "shares [Toni] Morrison's uncanny ability to crystallise, in a single event, slavery's moral and emotional fallout", says US Vogue. "No novel has better illustrated the way in which racism became institutionalised in this country."
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Hawkins's debut novel, The Girl on the Train, has been one of the most talked-about books in the last couple of years, so following it up was always going to be tough.
Into the Water traces a similar path of murder, mystery and deception as its predecessor, revolving around the case of a single mother and a teenager found dead in the same river, months apart. Expect twists and turns aplenty as the deaths dredge up a small town's murkiest secrets.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
It has been 20 years since Arundhati Roy published her Booker prize-winning debut novel The God of Small Things, so the release of her second book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is "perhaps the most eagerly awaited book of the year", says The Guardian.
The first reviews will appear closer to the book's release date, but the publisher promises "a glorious cast of unforgettable characters, caught up in the tide of history".
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
"Mohsin Hamid seems to know what we'll be talking about before we do," says Literary Hub, citing the British Pakistani author's unusual spin on the contemporary issues of migration and displacement.
Exit West is "a timely love story", says the Daily Telegraph, that opens in an unnamed city on the brink of violent collapse. But then the action takes a sharp twist into magical realism, as lovers-turned-refugees Saeed and Nadia discover a literal "portal" to the outside world.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
In the 1920s, Oklahoma's Osage Indians became incredibly wealthy thanks to the discovery of oil on their tribal lands. And then the murders started.
One for true crime fanatics, New Yorker journalist Grann unravels the dark tale of a greed-fuelled campaign of murder which left at least 60 Osage people dead, and how the newly-formed FBI battled a conspiracy of silence and the indifference of local law officers to catch the killers.
How the Hell Did This Happen: The US Election of 2016 by PJ O'Rourke
Who better than one of America's most-respected humourists to make sense of an election in which real life frequently appeared to approach satire?
"Crumpled, rumpled, charming, chaotic, funny, clever", O'Rourke has long been one of the few outspoken Republican voices in mainstream political satire, says The Guardian. In How the Hell Did This Happen: The US Election of 2016, O'Rourke tackles the complex topic of how his party ended up nominating a man he has called a "lunatic" – and how that "lunatic" won.
House of Names by Colm Toibin
A new work by arguably Ireland's greatest living write, House of Names is a "spellbinding adaptation" of Aeschylus’s drama, says Vogue.
Focusing on Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Cassandra and its tragic consequences, the book has a "controlled, hushed quality, like that of a Morandi still life, which only serves to heighten the terror and pity of the tale", says The Guardian.
The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich
Over some 500 interviews, Belarusian-born Svetlana Alexievich sets out to record the experiences of an estimated million women who served in the Soviet Army during the Second World War. First completed in 1983, it was initially banned in the USSR then released in a heavily censored version in 1985. Following her 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature it now appears in English for the first time.
Despite the 30-odd-year delay, “it is still shockingly fresh”, says Lucy Hughes-Hallett in the New Statesman. Gerard DeGroot in The Times calls it a “hauntingly elegiac book” adding that it demands to be read again and again.
Its form is oral history – transcribed interviews echoing, reinforcing and contradicting each other with minimal linking commentary. While there’s nothing new in that, “in Alexievich’s sensitive hands, the medium becomes musical. Her voices are a chorus. Their testimonies, cut and patched together, coalesce to make up an oratorio of overwhelming emotional power”, says Hughes-Hallett.
While some critics have objected to the lack of all-but-brief interlinking passages, says Caroline Moorehead in The Guardian, “if anything the few that are there intrude.” But the “seamless flow of voices” is an example of “oral history at its finest”, an essay on the power of memory “that maps not events but the character and emotions of those involved in them”.
Smile by Roddy Doyle
In the latest novel from the celebrated chronicler of Irish life, a chance meeting in a pub leads a man to reflect on his life and confront the confused memories of his childhood at a Christian Brothers school.
Little else is known of the plot, but "the phrases 'blackly funny' and 'heart-breaking' have been overheard", says the Irish Independent, suggesting fans of Doyle's previous bestsellers, including The Commitments and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, will not be disappointed.
Origin by Dan Brown
Brown's clunky descriptions and wobbly grammar may leave literary snobs tearing their hair out, but millions have fallen under the page-turning spell of his globetrotting thrillers.
His Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon returns this autumn and according to The Bookseller, the adventure-loving academic will deal with "codes, science, religion, history, art and architecture" and an "earth-shaking discovery" - all guaranteed to please Brown's fans.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders' first novel was released in February and this year he became only the second ever American to win Britain's highest literary award, the Man Booker Prize.
The novel is set immediately after the death of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year-old son Willie during the US civil war. Historical fact mixes with supernatural elements as Willie's death raises an array of talkative ghosts, 166 to be exact, from the “bardo” a Tibetan version of the afterlife. The ghosts live in the graveyard where Willie is buried and tell the story of Lincoln's rumored visits to the crypt to hug his son's body. The result is a highly original, often humorous reimagining of history which never loses sight of the father-son bond at its heart.
“Saunders's enlivening imagination runs wild in detailing the ghosts' bizarre manifestations, but melancholy is the novel's dominant tone,” says Publishers Weekly.
Baroness Lola Young, the chair of the Booker Prize judging panel, said the form of the novel stood out because of its new and innovative style.
“This really stood out because of its innovation — its very different styling and the way in which it paradoxically brought to life these not-quite-dead souls in this other world,” she said. “There was this juxtaposition of the very personal tragedy of Abraham Lincoln with his public life, as the person who’d really instigated the American Civil War.”
In an interview with Interview Magazine, Saunders discussed his process of writing the novel and how he incorporated facts and his own creativity.
“There was one sequence of days when I had halfway decided to use the
historical nuggets, but I wasn’t quite sure it would work. I’d be in my room for six or seven hours, cutting up bits of paper with quotes and arranging them on the floor, with this little voice in my head saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t writing!’ But at the end of that day, I felt that the resulting section was doing important emotional work.”
Winter by Ali Smith
A follow-up to last year's acclaimed Autumn, Winter is the second instalment in Scottish writer Smith's planned seasonal quartet. Autumn, a meditation on time and memory revolving around the relationship between a young academic and her dying mentor, was heralded by The Guardian as a "beautiful, poignant symphony". Smith has kept quiet about what readers can expect from Winter, but told the paper she saw the season as "a place where you can see really clearly".
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
Contemporary literary master Haruki Murakami's Men Without Women catalogues seven tales of men who have found themselves wandering through life alone.
The author, known for the likes of Norwegian Wood and IQ84, says his first collection of short stories in nine years charters a world filled with "vanishing cats and smoky bars, lonely hearts and mysterious women, baseball and the Beatles, woven together to tell stories that speak to us all".
Murakami's previous book, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, became a New York Times bestseller and his latest writings are said to feature the same wry humour that has defined his entire body of work.
Ranked by The Guardian's Steven Poole as "among the world's greatest living novelists", Murakami is renowned for his tales of emotion and intrigue and is sure to delight readers with his new collection.
The Rules Don’t Apply by Ariel Levy
Expanding on her powerful personal essay about miscarrying, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia”, the New Yorker writer “stages a daring feat of literary courage” by exposing her deeply intimate recollections of the infidelity that upended her marriage - and life as she knew it, says Harpers Bazaar.
Titled ‘A Memoir’, Levy’s story is about getting everything she wants - an exciting wife, her dream job, pregnancy - and then losing almost all of it over the course of a few short weeks.
“Brilliantly written, and soaring on Levy’s signature eye for detail, the memoir conjures grief, success, love, anger, addiction, and betrayal at a rapid-fire clip that feels very much like the thing it describes, which is, of course, life”, writes Keziah Weir in Elle.
The Exile by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
Opening with an account of Osama Bin Laden's movements on 11 September 2001, The Exile is a near day-by-day account of the following decade, covering his time on the run in Afghanistan, his departure to Pakistan and his eventual death at the hands of US Special Forces in 2011.
The range of people interviewed here is "stunning", says Prospect. Through meetings with presidents, generals, diplomats, spies, al-Qaeda operatives, CIA officers and members of Bin Laden's own family, Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy try to answer the most pressing questions surrounding the War on Terror: how the most wanted man on the earth managed to evade capture for so long and how much Pakistani authorities knew of his whereabouts.
The result, says Prospect, "is an egregious family tale" as well as "an insight into the dynamics of jihadism itself".
Some of the arguments here "can be contested", says The Guardian, and it may be that "a few details turn out to be wrong" or will need revising as new information emerges, but that should not take away from the author's supreme achievement in "producing the best account yet of what happened to al-Qaida after 9/11".