… and other great books for under the Christmas tree. By Alastair Mabbott
So many notable novels have come out this year that any list would exclude literally dozens of worthy contenders. That said, any list which didn't include Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies (Fourth Estate, £20) would be incomplete. Mantel followed her Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall with a sequel which was equally ambitious and well-received. The past year has seen several old names come up with vigorous new work, including Umbrella (Bloomsbury, £18.99) by Will Self, Sweet Tooth (Jonathan Cape, £18.99) by Ian McEwan and Telegraph Avenue (Fourth Estate, £18.99) by Richard Chabon. Best of all was Richard Ford's excellent Canada (Bloomsbury, £18.99), an understated treatment of bank robbery and murder from a teenage boy's perspective. Also, after her vibrant London novel, NW (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99), Zadie Smith's critical stock has sharply risen again. But some of the most cherished novels of 2012 have come from lesser-known names. Katherine Boo spent four years in the slums of Mumbai researching Behind The Beautiful Forevers (Portobello, £14.99), a devastating portrayal of street-dwellers struggling to survive against insurmountable odds. Meanwhile, Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis (Faber, £12.99) showed the same city as a fevered hallucination seen from an opium den. Everything about Laurent Binet's HHhH (Harvill Secker, £16.99), was post-modern and non-linear, an inventive way of recounting the 1942 assassination of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. Readers were unfailingly moved by the relationship between a girl and her late uncle's lover in Tell The Wolves I'm Home (Macmillan, £12.99) by Carol Rifka Brunt. Adam Johnson turned out a captivating, irreverent novel about a North Korean spy in The Orphan Master's Son (Doubleday, £18.99), which quickly found an audience, as did, perhaps more surprisingly, Ned Beauman's completely unclassifiable The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre, £16.99). And Shalom Auslander's Hope: A Tragedy (Picador, £16.99), a darkly comic novel about moving to the sticks, gave the great tradition of Jewish-American fiction another shot in the arm.
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