Pete’s Picks for 2011 – Part Two

I’m cross posting this with the Case Notes blog where it will pop up on the 23rd, so those of you who read my personal blog will get a chance to be indifferent about the books I especially liked in 2011 before everyone else.

Copy and paste as follows:-

In Part One I listed my favourite works of the year in several different categories. For Part Two I’m going to name the thirteen books that impressed me the most in the year just gone, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that some of the titles are repeat offenders from the first list. To reiterate what I said before, these are personal choices and not intended as any sort of definitive ‘best of the year’ – I only read a fraction of what was published in 2011 and am not in a position to make that kind of judgement call, even if I wanted to.

In no particular order then:-

The Third Section – Jasper Kent

As I said before, this was a wonderful romp of a novel, a vampire story set against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russia. The plot was gratifyingly Byzantine, with the interplay between the three main characters effortlessly driving the story forward, and along the way it presented one of the most convincing portraits of a conversion to the vampire state that I can remember reading. For pure fun it left everything else standing.

The German – Lee Thomas (Lethe)

Set against the backdrop of World War 2 this novel by Lee Thomas tackles themes of homophobia and small town prejudice, and dares to do so by presenting an unsympathetic protagonist, almost as if the author is challenging readers to separate principles and personality. The supernatural element is muted, with human evil very much to the fore.

Frankenstein’s Prescription – Tim Lees (Tartarus)

A gripping tale which looks at what happened to Frankenstein some years after the events described by Mary Shelley in her seminal text, the story told by a ‘young blade’ who at first sees an opportunity for personal wealth, but undergoes a rite of passage that leads to a new revelation about the nature of his world. It starts with comedy and moves inexorably into tragedy, the elegance of the prose offset by the graphic descriptions of carnage.

The Dracula Papers – Book 1: The Scholar’s Tale – Reggie Oliver (Chômu)

Oliver’s first novel, like the Kent book mentioned above, this is a wild romp of a tale, a picaresque account of the early life of the Transylvanian prince who was to become the archetypal  vampire. Oliver’s wry take on the human condition combined with wit and unflagging invention are a delight, and I hope he goes on to complete this series which has about it all the marks of an epic in the making.

The Ritual – Adam Nevill (Pan Macmillan)

Nevill’s follow up to Apartment 16, this book is even more bleak and tense than its predecessor, with its protagonists lost in the wilderness and stalked by an implacable adversary, the novel evolving into a textbook example of a bad situation that just keeps on getting worse. There’s a strong filmic quality to the story, and I really hope the option mentioned in the White Noise section of Black Static #25 translates into something more tangible.

Dead Bad Things – Gary McMahon (Angry Robot Books)

McMahon is growing in stature with every new book, and this novel with its unrelenting exploration of the less savoury aspects of human society is his best yet, juxtaposing pedophilia and petty cruelty with a cosmic dimension of otherness that is totally convincing. He gives his characters hard choices to make, and is equally demanding of the reader.

Revenants – Daniel Mills (Chômu)

This is the first novel by Mills, a work that put me in mind of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for the way in which a Puritan community in New England tears itself apart through suspicion and guilt for the sins of the past. Like Nevill, Mills captures on the page a hostile environment, but his characters are all too recognisable, and the supernatural element is so low key as to be almost invisible, a New England version of Monsters from the Id.

Loss of Separation – Conrad Williams (Solaris)

Williams is a prose stylist par excellence, and all his dazzling skills are on display in this story of a broken man searching for his missing girlfriend; a former airline pilot confronting an ancient evil that menaces a seaside town. The bleak and minatory atmosphere of this blasted landscape is brought to life on the page, with horror peeping out from between the bars of history and civilisation.

The Thing on the Shore – Tom Fletcher (Quercus)

Science and the world of communication technology meet the numinous in Fletcher’s second novel, as a creature from another dimension tries to break through into our own, using the staff of a call centre to achieve its ends. Much of the strength of the book lies in the diverse collection of flawed characters Fletcher gives us as dramatis personae, turning their assorted weaknesses to the good.

The Painter, The Creature, and the Father of Lies – Clive Barker (Earthling)

This substantial volume offers an encyclopaedic compendium of the wit and wisdom of one of speculative fiction’s most adventurous spirits. We get Barker’s views on his own work, that of his peers, and much else beside. Agree with him or not, he is always challenging, articulate and thought-provoking, and reading this book is like chatting with an old friend, somebody who loves the fantastic every bit as much as you do, but can express that love far more eloquently.

I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like – Justin Isis (Chômu)

This collection of stories exploring the psychology of Japan was my introduction to the work of Justin Isis. Each piece is assured, written with razor sharp precision that allows the author to dissect the emptiness of his characters’ lives and the world in which they live, exposing the superficialities with which they (and presumably we also) fill up the endless hours.

I Smell Blood – Ralph Robert Moore (Sentence)

Moore is a pyrotechnical writer of great energy and drive, with a Tarantinesque quality to his stories as their narratives dip and dive, explode off in all directions at once. He doesn’t flinch from showing explicit violence and sex, with scenes that both repel the reader and celebrate the human condition in all its sleazy glory. With the short novel Kid to boost the word count, this book is as strange and unsettling as anything else I read last year.  

Delicate Toxins – Edited by John Hirschhorn-Smith (Side Real)

With eighteen stories celebrating the oeuvre and milieu of German writer Hanns Heinz Ewers (1872 – 1943), this handsomely bound anthology brings together the work of established writers of weird fiction and comparatively new scribes, with quality as the only commonality. There’s a wonderful air of decadence wafting through the enterprise, the stories complementing each other and the ideas melding into a cohesive whole. Particular kudos to Daniel Mills for ‘The Naked Goddess’, the standout story in a very strong selection.

So what impressed the heck out of the rest of you in 2011?


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8 Responses to Pete’s Picks for 2011 – Part Two

  1. Although I read an enormous amount of fiction as a child, especially once I started working in New York City at age 17 and had access to all its three story bookstores, I have to admit that like some writers, once I stated writing myself, I stopped reading.

    That does remind me though that when I was eleven or so I discovered what I believe was called the Grove Press book club, one of those “we send you a book every month through the mail” services, and through them I was able to acquire, and read, books no bookseller would have ever sold to a kid.

    My parents had a bookshelf in their dining room, even though they themselves rarely read. Once I moved out of the family home, and into my more modest digs a town or two away, I didn’t have room for all those books, left many of them behind, and my parents filled up the empty shelves with them.

    They’re both dead now, God bless them, but I still remember visiting them off and on for dinner, and seeing on the shelves in the dining room, proudly displayed, the collected works of the Marquis deSade, Last Exit to Brooklyn, The Ticket That Exploded, Our Lady of the Flowers, and who knows what else, with them having absolutely no idea of the content of the books.

    I used to wonder what their occasional dinner guests thought looking up at the bookshelves and seeing those titles, but of course it’s possible they weren’t readers either. But if they were, I would think it would lead to some nervous eye exchanges while the mashed potatoes were passed around.

    Thanks for the inclusion of I Smell Blood, Pete. “Strange and unsettling” is exactly the effect I strive for, since it is, to me, a perfect description of life. At least as I see it.

    • petertennant says:

      You’re welcome Rob.

      And funny you mention Grove Press, as I was thinking about them the other day in relation to Henry Miller. They published the first US editions of “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn” – there’s a marvellous account of all the shenanigans in Mary Dearborn’s Miller biography “The Happiest Man Alive”. Both the publisher (Barney Rosset?) and Miller were ducking and diving to avoid getting served with injunctions to stop printing, and Miller himself was in two minds – he’d been a firebrand when he wrote the books but had mellowed with age, and wanted to be judged by his ‘non-sex’ writing rather than face the possibility of gaol as a pornographer. And, by way of showing that there is nothing new under the sun, Miller hadn’t got the copyright done properly and a pirate edition was coming out, so Grove had to beat that to press. Lots and lots of kerfuffle going on.

      Then the books get published, sell out in the first week and go straight to the top of the book charts. And the rest is history. Yay!!!

  2. owlwoman says:

    I’m so far behind with reading that I only got hold of Clive Barker’s ‘Mister B. Gone’ late last year. Halfway through, I have mixed feelings (and I’m a huge Barker fan) so far but glad to be reading him again. Tempted by the tome you mention here, too. One day, eh?

    • petertennant says:

      Hi Julie. Yeah, I read and reviewed “Mister B. Gone” when it came out and wasn’t too impressed, partly because they’d built it up as Barker’s return to his horror roots, which I didn’t feel was accurate. This one though is wider ranging and some fascinating stuff – particularly suprised by his views on computer games and modern art (he really, really doesn’t like it). The only real complaint I have is that there’s maybe a little too much repetition, though it didn’t seem that way when reading. Plenty of artwork in the book too.

      This one I’m really looking forward to:-

      Loved the first two Abarat books. Nobody has sent me a review copy yet though, so might have to buy my own. What’s the world coming to?

      • owlwoman says:

        I might have to get ‘The Painter’ – I’ve read various bits of essays and interviews online but a collection would be a great reference book. And I’m very interested in whether there’s anything in there on his collaboration with Coil for the original soundtrack to Hellraiser. I’ve tried getting a question to him about them, but it seems to be a no-go area.

        I have the first Abarat book with all the artwork in – the reason I got it, really – but haven’t read the others. Bite the bullet and get your wallet out!

  3. petertennant says:

    No mention of Coil in “The Painter” that I can see, but they do get a sentence in Douglas Winter’s biography of Barker from a few years back – ‘Clive’s choice of soundtrack musicians, the industrial electronic band Coil, was considered unacceptable by New World, but he was delighted by the excellent (although more conventional) score by Christopher Young.’ Then there’s a footnote about the band releasing the music on CD with an endorsement by CB – ‘The only group I’ve heard on disc whose records I’ve taken off because they made my bowels churn.’

    You probably know all this though.

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