The Hindu's top 10 fiction books of 2018

From the rich pickings of the year, our list of the 10 best fiction books

Updated - January 09, 2019 02:48 pm IST

Published - December 22, 2018 04:00 pm IST

Choosing our top 10 books from the rich array was a very difficult process

Choosing our top 10 books from the rich array was a very difficult process

The year yielded an exceptionally rich harvest of novels, both within India and abroad. Established names like Julian Barnes, Mario Vargas Lllosa and Haruki Murakami came up with new titles, but lesser known voices also produced startling works, such as Amitabha Bagchi and Shubhangi Swarup. The growing popularity of translations meant works of writers like Japanese author Sayaka Murata or Tamil writer Perumal Murugan getting the recognition they deserve. Indian writing was lush with promise: Anuradha Roy, Anjum Haasan, Mahesh Rao, Ankush Saikia, Aditya Sudarshan, and more, while across the border, Pakistan and Bangladesh came up with some brilliant works as well. Choosing from the rich array was difficult but here’s our Top 10 for 2018, arranged in no particular order.

'Half the Night is Gone' by Amitabha Bagchi

Publicised as the “great Indian novel”, it spans three generations of two families, captured with a delicate architecture

that spans pre- and post-Independence India, but the shifts in time are conveyed less through the description of external events than through the characters who live the change. At one level, all the characters in the meta novel are the creation of the Hindi novelist Vishwanath, who is himself a character in Half the Night . It is one of the most audacious and accomplished novels of recent times.

Read our review here .

'Polite Society' by Mahesh Rao

This adaptation of Austen’s Emma to a 21st century Delhi has the Austenian preoccupation with class, but in a far more darker setting. The “polite society” of the title refers to Lutyens’ Delhi and within that, to the tiny set of “old money” families that interact as little as they can with the metropolis beyond. Ania Khurana “considered herself a native of Prithviraj Road, rather than Delhi,” and lives in a bubble, spoilt and privileged. Unlike Emma , the book offers no sympathy for Ania, while cleverly exposing the ingrained hypocrisies of the jet set.

Read our review here .

'The Only Story' by Julian Barnes

The book begins with a question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?” Here’s a novel with the familiar Barnesian tropes — the ageing protagonist looking back, English suburbia, the ravages of loving. When 19-year-old Paul falls in love with 48-year-old Susan at a tennis club, contrary to expectations, there is no titillation in the affair, only dreariness. And it curdles into outrage as Susan slips into depression and alcoholism, and Paul tries to rescue her. A novel that will take you back to Barnes’s Booker-winning A Sense of an Ending.

Read our review here .

'A Day in the Life' by Anjum Hasan

The 14 stories in Hasan’s sixth book live up to the high standards of prose we have come to expect from the author. In elegant, chiselled language, the stories follow a motley cast — a much-married couple, mother, daughter, Muslim woman, husband, son, an army veteran. The defining characteristic of the quirky tales is their subversive humour, which bubbles up no matter how ominous the situation. There is also the city — Benaras, Bengaluru — which can be as real as a person. Literary echoes add depth and make the ordinary extraordinary.

Read our review here .

'All the Lives We Never Lived' by Anuradha Roy

The outside world raises high clamour in this novel set in the years of the Independence struggle and the World War II, where historical figures like Tagore, Begum Akhtar, the critic Beryl de Zoete, the German painter and curator Walter Spies make suitably dramatic appearances. But Anuradha Roy’s characters are defined by their interiority. The story is less about political than about inner, personal quests. At its heart is a young boy whose mother leaves him in order to follow her calling as an artist. The boy grows up and cannot stop trying to find reasons for his mother’s desertion. What he finds out makes this a deeply sympathetic study of women’s desire and its consequences.

Read our review here .

'Red Birds' by Mohammed Hanif

This book is an unsparing critique of war and of America’s role in the destruction of the Middle East, and achieves it in unexpected ways — by combining modern and ancient farcical traditions of storytelling. In a morally ravaged world where nobody can be trusted, a philosopher dog becomes the ethical compass. This magic-real world is really tragic, but you don’t know when to laugh and when to be shocked and when to surrender to shocked laughter. What remains at the end of all this satire is the voice of a grieving mother who “wants her son back. She wants to go to sleep watching him snore gently.”

Read our review here .

'The Town That Laughed ' by Manu Bhattathiri

Here is small-town India in all its R.K. Narayanish charm, to which is added the quality rarely found in Malgudi: vindictiveness. Karuthupuzha, a small town in Kerala, is marked by sameness and tiny changes and resistance to change. One of the village eternals is Joby, “a man who was drunk all day long, all week long, all month long”. Unofficially crowned the town buffoon, he feels impelled to live up to his reputation by drinking himself to death. The villages do their bit to further his self-destructive mission by cheering him on. There are laugh-out-loud moments aplenty here, but they don’t conceal the pettiness and claustrophobia of small-town life.

Read our review here .

'You Can’t Go Home Again' by Sarvat Hasin

A set of interconnected stories about life in Pakistan. The protagonists are members of Karachi’s elites — childrenof businessmen and officials who have grown up together since their kindergarten days. Their life is like that of any other privileged Asian teenager till one of them goes missing. This stokes the fear that’s always simmered just below the surface: “any of us could be next.” Moving from air-conditioned cars to hotel rooms to parties, the book’s evocative prose brings to life the carefully assembled personas that hide the sometimes traumatic, sometimes confused selves beneath. Of people trying to come to terms with contemporary life, with the secrets in their past, but also just with life itself.

Read our review here .

'Convenience Store Woman' by Sayaka Murata

Who would have thought that the convenience store, that impersonal, white-lighted zone you forget as soon as you turn your back and your trolleys on it, could serve as a metaphor of modern living? The 36-year-old protagonist, Keiko Furukura, a supermarket worker, finds in the convenience store the meaning her lived life has failed to give her. The store’s instruction manual becomes her instruction manual for life — offering her tips on how to conduct herself in front of strangers. Sayaka Murata reverses the definition of the ‘normal’ to make us realise the actual madness it stands for.

Read our review here.

'Latitudes of Longing' by Shubhangi Swarup

A poetic novel that blends the natural with the supernatural (the cast includes a yeti looking for human company). The fault-lines Shubhangi Swarup talks of are as much geographical as they are something that run deep within the hearts of each character. Like Marquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude , Swarup uses magic realism and sensuous prose to weave love stories — of a man and goddess, of two octogenarians, a man and his plants — and through these human interactions throbs the insistent pulse of the earth.

Read our review here .

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