BooksDecember 13, 2016

The Spinoff Review of Books presents the 20 best fiction books of 2016


You’ve seen all the other best-of books lists and as the saying goes: they’re shit! Yeah nah this is the only one you need, as the Spinoff’s team of democratic experts bring together literary fiction, New Zealand stuff, and total fucking awesomely readable junk.

Commonwealth (Bloomsbury, $33) by Ann Patchett

The Spinoff’s choice as the best novel of 2016. “It creeps up on you, this novel. It opens in 1964, at a christening party in suburban Los Angeles. Bert Cousins shows up uninvited with a big bottle of gin. The backyard is full of citrus trees groaning with oranges – the mixer. Everyone gets rather loose, and Bert unwisely kisses the hostess…”, wrote Holly Walker.

The Sellout (Oneworld, $28) by Paul Beatty

Satire, kind of; funny, definitely. Winner of the 2016 Man Booker prize, and the subject of a tormented, wonderful review by Charlotte Graham.

Night School (Random House $38) by Lee Child

The 21st Reacher, and a kind of prequel. It’s 1996, and he’s still in the army. In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school. That night he’s off the grid. As per, fucken A.


All Day at the Movies (Vintage, $38) by Fiona Kidman

The Spinoff’s choice as best New Zealand novel of the year. Our most confident storyteller and our most observant writer of character sets out a family epic that begins in 1952, in Motueka, where a young war widow finds work picking tobacco…the years pass, generations follow, New Zealand flows past the window. Magisterial.

The Girls (Chatto & Windus, $37) by Emma Cline

Much-hyped and much-admired novel based on the crazy girls of the Manson Family. “A fine book, a spell, a dreamy conjuring of that summer of ’69. A companion-piece to Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides,wrote Sarah Laing.

deleted scenes for lovers (Victoria University Press, $30)  by Tracey Slaughter

Longlisted for the 2017 Ockham national book award. “These stories are note-perfect, plentiful, and pack an emotional punch that reverberates for days. If there’s a theme, it’s trauma, and the honest but often harmful ways ordinary people respond to it. In Slaughter’s New Zealand – which is really just New Zealand – there’s no shortage of trauma,” wrote Holly Walker.


Mount! (Bantam, $38) by Jilly Cooper

“No other writer could get away with a cast of characters that runs to 11 pages, including: ‘BETHANY LATTON: a beautiful bitchy nymphomaniac; HEREWARD MACBETH: a baby, known as Hereward the Awake, and MR WANG: a corrupt Chinese mafia warlord who is cruelly colonising Africa. Also a sexual predator known as ‘The Great Willy of China’. There is also a cast of animals that runs to six pages”: The Guardian.

The Sympathizer (Corsair, $28) by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Very nearly the Spinoff’s choice as novel of the year. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Nguyen’s novel remained in the best-seller chart at both Unity stories for much of the year; readers obviously responded to the story told by a Communist double agent, a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the fall of Saigon, and builds a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in LA.

All the Light We Cannot See (HarperCollins, $24.99) by Anthony Doerr

“This novel will be a piece of luck for anyone with a long plane journey or beach holiday ahead. It is such a page-turner, entirely absorbing: one of those books in which the talent of the storyteller…defies one’s better judgment:” The Guardian, almost reluctantly admitting that one of the most popular novels of the year, set in World War II, about a little blind French girl and a clever German boy, is such a pleasure to read.

Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley (Victoria University Press, $30) by Danyl McLauchlan

A bumper year for funny New Zealand novels. The noirish, farcical sequel to the noirish, silly Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley, tells a tale of cryptic maps and ancient evils and, you know, mysterious mysteries. “Why is a bath full of ashes? Why are pale people buying up an entire book stall? Who is the comely treasurer carrying a golf club?…Entertaining”: David Hill, NZ Herald.


A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse (Lawrence and Gibson, $23) by Brannavan Gnanalingam

Told you it was a bumper year for New Zealand novels! Publisher’s blurbology:Rachel McManus has just started at the New Zealand Alarm and Response Ministry. One of the few females working there, she is forced to traverse the peculiarities of Wellington bureaucracy, lascivious colleagues, and decades of sedimented hierarchy. She has the chance to prove herself by investigating a suspected terrorist, who they fear is radicalising impressionable youth and may carry out an attack himself on the nation’s capital.” Longlisted for the 2017 Ockham national book award.

Dear Mr M (Text, $36.99) by Herman Koch

“Mr M’s downstairs neighbour is listening when he takes a shower. He’s imagining the scene at his dinner table and the look on M’s wrinkled face when he makes love to his much younger wife. He’s following him to book signings, inspecting his mail and pursuing his wife when she goes out of town…So begins Dutch writer Herman Koch’s Dear Mr M, full of suspense and intense creepiness,” wrote Wyoming Paul.

The Vegetarian: A Novel (Portobello, $23) by Han Kang

Winner of the 2016 Man Booker prize for International Fiction. “After a violent and disturbing nightmare, an ordinary Korean woman decides to stop eating meat. She empties the kitchen of fish, eggs, pork, and for the first time ignores the commands of her husband. Her behaviour becomes increasingly extreme and harmful to her own health, spiralling into mental illness…This is a book about the rejection of life, of society, of the self ,” wrote Wyoming Paul.

My Name is Lucy Barton (Viking, $26) by Elizabeth Strout

Fact: this book featured on more best-books of the year lists in the quality press in Britain and the US than any other novel. “A heart-wrenching depiction of a clumsy, yearning, mother/daughter relationship…If you want someone who understands relationships, love, aloneness, dread, humanity, and truth, and who has the lightest touch in the world of literature, then read her,” wrote Linda Burgess.


Magic (Delacorte Press, $28.95) by Danielle Steel

There’s Jean-Philippe and Valerie Dumas, who are devoted to each other and their young children. He’s a rising star in the financial world, she’s an editor at French Vogue. And there’s the epitome of a stylish power couple from Milan, Benedetta and Gregorio Mariani, who run a venerable Italian clothing empire. Gregorio projects strength, but has a weakness that will ignite a crisis in their company and their marriage. Also there’s Chantal Giverny, an award-winning screenwriter, and Dharam Singh, one of India’s most successful tech entrepreneurs. Couples, sex, travel, wealth: her number one New York Times best-seller is a return to form.

Trust No One (Upstart Press, $34.99) by Paul Cleave

Latest sizzling crime novel by the New Zealand boss of the craft. A crime writer claims his books are real – that he committed the murders he wrote about. No one believes him. Is he telling the truth?

Red Herring (HarperCollins, $30) by Jonothan Cullinane

When Dad’s finished his Lee Child, this’ll make a perfect next book – a thriller set in Auckland in 1951. It’s fast, it’s detailed, it’s a damned good read. Publisher’s blurbology: “A man overboard, a murder and a lot of loose ends…Into the secret world of rival union politics, dark political agendas and worldwide anti-communist hysteria steps Johnny Molloy, a private detective with secrets of his own.”

Eileen (Vintage, $26) by Ottessa Moshfegh

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize. US novel about a lonely woman who lives in a drab New England town and works in a correction facility for boys. She lusts for the most handsome of the prison guards. She touches herself and smells her finger and catalogues her body’s flaws…Unsettling”:  The Guardian.

The Name on the Door is Not Mine: Stories new and selected (Allen & Unwin, $36.99) by CK Stead

The master gathers up new and old stories in one seamless collection. There’s a lot of sex in it, a lot of playfulness, a lot of really good writing in the Spinoff’s choice as second best book of short stories of 2016.


American Housewife (Doubleday, $43) by Helen Ellis

The Spinoff’s choice as best book of short stories of 2016. “The razor-sharp stories in Ellis’ first collection send up wealthy housewives, the literary world, and reality television. A sinister book club recruits a new member. Neighbours in an upscale apartment block go to war over how to remodel their common hallway. An ex-competitor rescues child beauty queens and re-homes them with barren society wives. In the best and longest story, ‘Dumpster Diving with the Stars’, a blocked writer competes in a mad reality series with a couple of scientologist A-listers and a frightened Playboy bunny,” wrote Holly Walker.



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