The Year’s Best…

Ralph photo  22013 Highs and Lows

By Ralph McAllister

Should we give pride of place to the All Blacks or Eleanor Catton?

Let them share the pedestal.

BEST SHORT STORIES would be from Ron Rash and Bernhard Schlink. 

Rash is one of my favourite novelists but he is also a master of the shorter genre.

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY, fourteen gems of Appalachian violence and compassion, may not exactly cheer you up,but it will certainly stimulate you to read more and more of his work,not just his novels but his poetry too.

Schlink’s SUMMER LIES is a new collection by the author of THE READER,with themes of deceit and betrayals,chance meetings and growing old,all told with a master touch.


BEST BIOGRAPHY undoubtedly is Jung Chang’s EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI: The concubine who launched modern China.

Many of our readers will know Chang from  WILD SWANS and her biography MAO,both fine achievements .

This time she devotes her skills to one of the most remarkable  leaders of all time.

Rising to power in the mid 19th century, after living with the other concubines in  the Forbidden City,surrounded by eunuchs,with some of whom she fell in love ,she and her vision abolished foot-binding and “death by a thousand cuts”.

She established industry,rail networks,electricity,an army and navy.

For sixty years she coped with invasions from France and Japan,quelled quite ruthlessly internal strife,most of the time hidden literally behind a screen,as no woman could  be seen to be giving commands in front of the court and the young male Emperor.

A quite fascinating book.

She will be in New Zealand for the New Zealand Festival in March in Wellington and her lecture should be compulsory attendance for all admirers of her work,none of which has been published in China. 


All the old favourites published this year and maintained their reputations.

Ian Rankin delved into the past of Rebus with SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE.

Jo Nesbo with his eighth Harry Hole THE POLICE came out of retirement to ouwit a serial killer of other cops.

Michael Connelly with GODS OF GUILT was back in the courtroom with Mick Haller defending pimps and fighting the usual corporate corruption.

And my dear darling favourite James Lee Burke was back with LIGHT OF THE WORLD and Robichaux,Alafar,Clete and the rest fighting forces of evil in Montana.

Take your pick from any of those,you won’t go wrong.


Apart from THE LUMINARIES which stands head and shoulders above most that was written this year there were others which intrigued and excited me.

Australia first ,always  after Catton!

COAL CREEK by one of the great Australian writers ,Alex Miller is the brilliant story of not too bright Bobby who lives in the hinterland of Queensland and falls for a young townie.His dilemma is compounded by his being chosen as a deputy sheriff who has to hunt his best friend. Keep your handkerchief ready for the ending.

Then there is seventy eight year old Thomas Keneally,fifty years of writing ,and  who  shows no sign of flagging in the tale of  massacre in New South Wales  in 1944 when  254 Japanese were killed after breaking  out of the prison prison camp.

Most were intent on dying because of the shame which would mark their return to Japan,so it was an attempt at mass suicide.

SHAME AND THE CAPTIVES explores the different perspectives of captors and captives as perhaps only a novel can do.

This is another fine example of quality from the author of SCHINDLER’S ARK. 

Finally my two favourite favourites if that is allowed.

Tilly Lloyd at Unity Books gave BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter her personal rating of twelve out of ten,

I remonstrated with her saying that even she did not have that right of exaggeration.

Then I read it.

Enough said.

A wonderful story of Italy in the sixties and present day Hollywood with love stories and flawed but lovable characters, all put together with great skill and it is funny.

THE TILTED WORLD by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fenelly has us plunged  into the tragedy of the Mississippi floods in 1927.

It is a story of murder and mayhem,sabotage and sandbagging of love and despair,all told couched in the most exquisite language, with obvious parallels to Katrina and the Satan of a president at that time,according to Franklin.

Let us hope that something in the list excites you and if not try one of these and I shall have a laugh at your expense! 


THE MAN WHO FORGOT HIS WIFE by,  oops I have forgotten.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt,where oh where was the editor?

THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON, something about fishing in North Korea.

Compliments of the season !