31 Dec 2020

Dan's top titles for 2020

2020 has provided us with some seriously outstanding fiction, and here are my personal top three titles for the year; two with a common theme of tragic and severe environmental change and the extremes humanity will go to given licence, and the other a retelling of one of western culture's greatest mythologies. And perhaps 2020 was the year of escapist reading for me as all three titles are imbued with a certain magic or otherness;

1. The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott

The Rain Heron A stunning second novel from an amazing Tasmanian talent who's debut novel Flames will be etched into my brain forever. Again, in this follow-up, his writing evokes an ancient and mythical connection with the natural environment as this tale spins a web of cataclysmic actions and consequences. The mythical rain heron is at the centre of the converging stories of three women; one attempting to stay solitary after a string of bad experiences in life, another on a course of control and destruction at the behest of an overseer, and the last exploring traditions and the morals of a life lived by one's own terms. Great character depth, a gripping plot, and evocative and lyrical prose against a backdrop of the natural world makes this an engrossing and deeply satisfying read - an inspired addition to a rapidly ascending CV for the young Tasmanian! 

2. Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Tender is the Flesh A virus has spread amongst the animals that carnivorous humans feed on, making them poisonous for human consumption. The fear of contagion leads to the widespread eradication of all animal life from our world, give or take the odd feral population. With no mass-produced protein to eat, the government establishes the farming of humans for meat and consumption. We see this new world through the eyes of a recently-bereaved man who works at a processing plant, as he interviews two hopeful applicants for a job. We see first hand the manner in which the product is prepared (bred), processed (slaughtered), and transformed into an edible food source for the masses. Make no mistake, this is horrific - even more so with the normalised approach to the subject by the writers expert hand. Of course along with this new industry comes corruption, cruelty, politics, and greed, and that gives us scope to explore some of the darkest sides of human nature. The characters are crafted so well as to be utterly believable, and as the plot unfolds we are privy to a world-gone-wrong... this story also serves to shine a light on how we treat our animals farmed for meat, and could easily be the most effective piece of veganism propaganda ever created! Superb storytelling from an exciting literary voice from Argentina, but be warned that this is not one for the faint of heart.

3. By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

By Force ALone A stunning, and I mean stunning, retelling of the saga of King Arthur by an Israeli author known for his inventive, complex, and dramatic style. His poetic prose is sublime, evocative, and supremely brutal at times, weaving magic and mysticism together to paint this age-old story in a new light. In this version of the famous saga young Arthur is raised as a ward and a gutter-rat in post-Roman Londinium, doomed to a life of thievery and a potentially early grave at violent ends. But he exhibits a difference from the other local hoodlums and begins his rise to be king of a united England. There's scheming, politics, and the honour of thieves laid bare in this story, a tale that describes England as the grey and mud-strewn land that civilisation left behind, the characters often evoking words and thoughts of Greeks, Romans, and other past influences in order to justify their brutalities or betrayals, desperately clinging on to better thinker's ideas. What the author has done here is to continue the evolution of the myth by incorporating elements that have been added through its history - the story is so familiar to us but at one time in its telling there was no Lancelot, no Guinevere, and Merlin was not always we picture him. With each retelling every generation of storyteller has added embellishments that have created more and more depth to this story and is perhaps the key to its longevity. With this title the saga continues and is still very much alive, and as the author so elegantly distils it; "...this story of Arthur, just a sad, simple tale of violence and greed". So if you like your Fantasy Fiction with a heavy dose of magic and mythology, a grim edge, and superbly written prose, then get on this!

For more great reads, head to our World of Fiction pages on nelsonpubliclibraries.co.nz