Gaskella’s Books of the Year

It’s that time of year again, and I thought I’d highlight my top reads chosen from the 90 I’ve managed to read, so they’re not necessarily published this year.

All the books I’ve chosen are ones I gave 9 or more out of ten to; I tend to be generous in my scoring, having given eleven 10/10s this year – or have I been lucky in my reading choices?

The links go to my reviews.  Do let me know what you think and tell me about your best reads of 2011 …

  • Best debut novelThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson – A bittersweet comedy that approaches art.
  • Darkest novel Comes the night by Hollis Hampton-Jones – A novel of twins set in the druggy world of the Paris fashion shows.
  • Most heart-warming novel Like Bees to Honey by Carole Smailes – A innovative novel chock full of Meditteranean sunshine.
  • Best YA novelThe Double shadow by Sally Gardner. Her first book for older teens and upwards is brilliant and complex.
  • Best modern classic in the makingRules of Civility by Amor Towles. Reminiscent of F Scott Fitzgerald, this great read might have the longevity to make it.
  • Best novel published before I was bornThe Hopkins Manuscript by R C Sheriff. A post-war dystopia from Persephone.
  • Best re-readLord of the Flies by William Golding. Didn’t affect me much as a teen, but decades later, I know it could happen.
  • Best crime/thrillerDirty Snow by Georges Simenon. Move over Maigret for some dark and nihilistic noir.
  • Most fun readRivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. I’ll be reviewing this soon, but if you’re a Londoner and like funny books, this could be one for you.
  • Best cover A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked in by Magnus Mills. Gorgeous cover, and a close contender for my book of the year.

… and finally, my Book of the Year 2011 …

 The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt. This novel resonated with so many of my cultural icons – The Blues Brothers, the Coen Brothers, TV Westerns and more, that I couldn’t help but love it.

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A Dark tale of twins: American – in Paris

Comes the Night by Hollis Hampton-Jones

Meade and Ben Ho are nineteen year old twins; they are Americans in Paris, rich kids.  They have one of those incredibly close, empathic and near telepathic twin relationships.  Ben Ho is at art school, Meade plays at cookery classes to occupy her days, but walks out on to become a model.

Meade is obsessed by her weight – she’s a bulimic; her brother thinks she’s too thin. Becoming a model takes that obsession to the next step and she becomes thinner still, surviving on just occasional mouthfuls of proper food which she usually throws up, washed down with booze, and a cocktail of drugs for every mood and occasion.

She gets a new boyfriend – an Iranian photographer. Majid has been tortured and this is reflected in the bondage of their lovemaking. When Ben Ho gets a girlfriend, Meade’s twin-ness is threatened and she begins to lose her sense of indentity and her thoughts get darker and darker…

I’m going to have a heart attack.
I’ll die on white sheets and Majid will wake up and find me. And my soul will be released, and I’ll be back in the womb with Ben Ho. I smooth my hair, fold my hands over my chest and wait to die, but I become so calm at this thought that my heartbeat returns to its normal, sluggish state, and I don’t die. So I get up and have a cigarette.

I wouldn’t be giving anything away to say that Meade’s descent into herself is inevitable. Once Ben Ho is no longer always around to ground her, and with no parents present to hold her in check, it’s just a matter of time.  Majid is no help – he’s going there in his own way too.

The fashion industry depicted is totally glamorous, and utterly corrupted by drugs and the need to be size zero. Friendship is not an issue for the models themselves…

Gathered around the punchbowl are smiling models, not a common sight. In a corner, a DJ is choosing his next record. I sip some punch, and it tastes of fresh strawberries and oranges.
One of the smiling models leans into me and says, ‘s ‘MDMA is the secret ingredient.’ I down my glass.

It’s a bleak, nasty world she’s living in.  Meade’s story is gripping and stunning in its dark intensity. Hampton-Jones’s biog tells that she has some experience in the fashion industry in Europe before moving back to the States, so she’s talking about what she knows – not a world I’d be happy in, but I was drawn into it briefly while reading this novel.  The novel is that dark that even while you’re desperate to get Meade into rehab and away from the world she’s chosen, you walk the path with her for the duration.  It was almost a relief to finish but, boy, it was a great read. (10/10)

Comes the Night is the author’s second novel. Her first Vicious Spring, appears to be similarly dark, although leavened with humour, following the sexual awakening of a school-leaver from a Christian fundamentalist family on an acid trip.  It sounds equally compelling.

* * * * *
My copy was kindly supplied by Penguin – thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:

Comes the Night by Hollis Hampton-Jones.  Penguin paperback,  July 2011,  230 pages.
Vicious Spring