Which books have been your favourites in 2011?

As 2011 draws to a close, I’ve been looking back at the highlights of my reading year. What were yours?

Favourite new releases of 2011

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst Pure by Andrew Miller Gillespie and I by Jane HarrisHow I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve HelyThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  1. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst: A masterly novel of pathos and sly wit (over-rated writers, hopeful but mistaken biographers), charting the fate of several generations from the Edwardian era to 2008.
  2. Pure by Andrew Miller: Youthful idealism is chastened by suffering and guilt in this humane and elegant novel. I hope that it wins the Costa book awards. See The Guardian’s recent interview with Andrew Miller about his return to historical fiction.
  3. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris: A slow burning book that becomes increasingly eerie and haunts you afterwards.
  4. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely: As someone who has previously worked in the book publishing industry, I found this amusing book painfully close to the truth.
  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: By the end of this fable, you too may be a rêveur, one of the devotees of the circus.

Other reading highlights of 2011 (not new releases)

Cloud Atlas by David MitchellCloud Atlas by David Mitchell: An astonishing, brilliant, bold and daring novel. Although it is full of dystopian darkness and tragedy, it leaves you feeling uplifted.

There are six related stories, with characters returning in different guises, playing out the same themes. Mitchell creates a distinct voice and world for each story, using different styles (dystopian science fiction, political thriller, tragi-comic picaresque memoir, historical fiction, epistolary novel). The connections aren’t immediately obvious, as the stories are set far apart in time and place (the Korea of a possible future, Bruges in 1931, the Pacific in the nineteenth century, Hawaii in a post-apocalyptic future, London in a time close to our own, the US in the 1970s) and each narrative has its own tone of voice and vocabulary, but the seemingly disparate parts come together in a satisfying whole. A virtuoso performance.

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: Thomas Cromwell comes to life as a believable, fully rounded character. Mantel keeps surprising you, even when you know how it must end.

Good news: there will be two sequels to this wonderful novel. See The Guardian’s story.

The Campus Trilogy by David Lodge: When I suffer withdrawal symptoms on finishing a book, I know I’ve been having a good time. I finished David Lodge’s hilarious Campus Trilogy (the novels Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work) today. A few hours later, I topped up my Lodge supply by buying another one of his novels, The British Museum is Falling Down.

The Campus Trilogy by David LodgeChanging Places, so nimble and well-structured, is one of the funniest books I’ve read, up there with Three Men in a Boat and How I Became a Famous Author. Small World perfectly captures an atmosphere of in-fighting, rivalry, ego and insecurity, insularity, corruption and toadyism in its farcical way. It’s about academia, but anyone from a similarly incestuous world (say book publishing or Hollywood) would appreciate the jokes. What a fabulous trilogy of comic novels!

I feel guilty, though, about having bought Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work in a Vintage Classics omnibus edition for just $12.95. I doubt that David Lodge is receiving much in royalties for such a cheap edition. I can only hope that rather than devaluing books, such editions promote the author’s backlist and new releases.

Oscar's Books (PB) by Thomas WrightOscar’s Books: A journey around the library of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright: In Oscar’s Books, Wright details what books were in Oscar Wilde’s collection and what role they played in his personal and artistic development. Wright’s work to reconstruct Wilde’s library and track down volumes that he owned is poignant because the books were auctioned off — along with all the Wilde family’s possessions — when Wilde was arrested.

Read reviews of Oscar’s Books by The GuardianThe Independent and Literary Review.

What I read in 2011 (new and old releases)

  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  2. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
  3. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (abandoned – I blame the e-book format, not the novel)
  4. Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac
  5. Vivian Gray by Benjamin Disraeli (abandoned)
  6. Oscar’s Books by Thomas Wright
  7. A Harlot High and Low by Honoré de Balzac (abandoned)
  8. Son of Oscar Wilde by Vyvyan Holland (again)
  9. Mrs Oscar Wilde by Ann Clarke Amor
  10. The Life of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson
  11. The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert
  12. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Collins Classics (read selections from this again)
  13. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
  14. Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers by Gyles Brandreth
  15. Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells
  16. The Small Hand by Susan Hill
  17. The Cult of Beauty, edited by Lynn Federle Orr and Stephen Calloway
  18. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
  19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (abandoned)
  20. Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
  21. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope (abandoned)
  22. Decadent Poetry: Wilde to Naidu, edited by Lisa Rodensky
  23. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  24. The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
  25. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
  26. Brideshead Abbreviated by John Crace
  27. The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies (abandoned)
  28. How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
  29. Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle
  30. History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
  31. The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
  32. Pure by Andrew Miller
  33. Childish Loves by Benjamin Markovits
  34. The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
  35. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  36. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  37. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  38. The Campus Trilogy by David Lodge
  39. The British Museum is Falling Down by David Lodge (December)
  40. How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish (December)
  41. The Portrait of Mr W.H. by Oscar Wilde (again – a neglected classic) (December)


  1. I’ve been meaning to read ‘The Night Circus’ and ‘Gillespie and I’. Thanks for your review.

    I’ve heard good things on other websites, but they seem wonderful from this post.


    1. I was wary of The Night Circus because there had been so much marketing and publicity hype, but it is enjoyable as a very visual, dream-like fable. It’s not surprising that the writer is also an artist.

      Gillespie and I sneaks up on you. It’s a tale with a creepy twist, which makes it very hard to write about without giving the game away. When I finished, I wanted to go back and read it all again from the start.


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