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Fiction of the year 2016

14th December 2016 - Frances Gertler, Web Editor

Fiction of the Year 2016


It’s that time of the year when we look back over the past 12 months in fiction and try to do the impossible – come up with a list of just 10 must-reads and a further 10 highly recommended titles from all those books that had their first outing in 2016. With so much great fiction published each year, and with only a limited number of hours in which to read, any such list necessarily omits some equally deserving books for no other reason than lack of time to read them all. That’s why we’re asking you to tweet your top three with the #TopFic16 and we'll include our favourites below.




1. Paul Beatty – The Sellout - Foyles book of the year

Of all the various prize winners this year, one book does seem to have claimed top spot amongst them all and not just because the prize it won was the Man Booker, but because it seemed to be a universally applauded choice and was indeed our own Book of 2016 here at Foyles. Our Senior Buyer Heather Baker said of it: 'To say this is a daring, multi-layered, iconoclastic, laugh-out-loud masterpiece is to understate how much I loved it. It made me cry, it made me snort with laughter, and it still makes me furious. Beatty shines a fierce light into places that many would rather remain hidden, and does so with such sharpness, anger and erudition, underpinned with so much love and humour. It is in the truest sense a great American novel.'  The book is a biting satire about a young man's attempt in the wake of the failure of the Civil Rights movement to reinstitute segregation and slavery in his home town, setting himself on a path that will take him all the way to the Supreme Court.

* You can read an extract from it here and also watch an interview with Man Booker judge Jon Day about the judging process and the shortlist.







There’s no real reason to set these two debuts apart from amongst the other books in this list, as each of them holds its own alongside the work of the more established authors, but the authors' names might be less familiar to you - though that looks set to change if these first offerings are anything to go by.

2. Joanna Cannon’s charming The Trouble with Goats and Sheep (paperback due 26.12) is a book with a huge heart. Set in the long hot summer of 1976, it centres around two young girls’ search for their missing neighbour and the secrets their investigation uncovers. It’s about growing up, community, faith and belonging from an author whose light touch belies her profound psychological insight and a carefully constructed narrative. 

Read our exclusive interview with the author here.











3. In Daisy Johnson’s startling first collection, Fen, the wild is always close at hand, ready to erupt. In the liminal land she depicts, animals and people commingle and fuse, curious metamorphoses take place and people and things you thought you’d parted from return, even if you'd rather they didn't...  Daisy’s voice is unique and assured as she explores an unquiet land and the lives of – mostly – the women who live there and are contained by it.

Read an exclusive interview with the author here, and her own introduction to the collection, plus watch a video of her talking about the book.










4. Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave.

Chris Cleave’s fourth novel moves between Blitz-torn London and the Siege of Malta to tell a story of passion, loss, prejudice and courage inspired by the author’s grandfather, who endured the Siege, and his grandfather’s fiancée, a bright and fiercely principled schoolteacher in and around London during the same period. It manages through the stories of a small group of individuals to convey a real sense of the horrors of war and its arbitrary nature, while asking important questions about bravery, survival and loss. And, like all Cleave’s writing, it’s a real page-turner.

Read our exclusive interview with the author here.










5. Autumn by Ali Smith

Any new novel from Ali Smith is cause for celebration and this small masterpiece is just the first in a quartet exploring Ali’s trademark themes of life and death, the passage of time, the power of stories, growing up, friendship, art and love – all executed with the lightness of touch, joy in language and gentle humour we have come to associate with her work. And so contemporary is it, it’s as if the ink has not yet dried on the page: it offers a real snapshot of the confusion and turmoil that followed the Brexit vote, giving it an immediacy that demands attention. Read it. You won’t regret it.

Read our exclusive interview with Ali Smith.










6. Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

This marked a complete departure from Israeli author Gundar-Gushen’s first novel One Night, Markovitch, which was set in the past and is altogether lighter in tone. Waking Lions is a gripping, suspenseful and morally devastating drama of guilt and survival, shame and desire from an author of whom it has been said that with this novel she invented Israeli noir. The novel centres around one moment in Dr Eitan Green's life, when he fails to stop having hit an Ethiopian migrant while speeding after an exhausting hospital night shift. It is a decision that changes everything, especially when the man's wife knocks at his door and tells him the strange price of her silence...The book looks at the darkness inside all of us and forces us to ask: what would we do? Gripping, provocative, original, It’s stayed with me more, perhaps, than any other book I read this year.

Read our exclusive interview with the author here.






7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

This was a worthy contender as a shortlistee for the Man Booker prize. Set in China, it is a history of revolutionary idealism, music and silence, in which, in the face of China's relentless Cultural Revolution, three musicians struggle to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Via an intricately plotted narrative, Thien manages to combine the epic with the personal, making for a profound exploration of a momentous 50 years.












8. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Barry is unusual in being equally beloved by both readers and other writers. In her Christmas pick for Foyles, Ali Smith said: ‘nobody writes like, nobody takes lyrical risks like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does, so that you come out of whatever he writes like you've been away, in another climate.’This book tells the story of young Irishman Thomas McNulty who joins the US army and becomes embroiled in first the Indian Wars and then the Civil War.

Read our exclusive interview with Sebastian Barry.









9. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in 10 years represents a real shift away from some of the more experimental techniques for which he’s known, towards a more conventional and grounded examination of an American family in crisis. While the discovery of his affair causes devastation to Jacob’s family, the State of Israel is also facing destruction in the wake of an earthquake, which triggers a new war in the Middle East. But that’s to make it sound more heavy-going than it is: it’s also full of profound psychological insight and plenty of humour.


Read our interview with Jonathan Safran Foer here.








10. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

There are a few unconvincing developments in Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice, but you somehow don’t mind because the book is such a delight to read overall: charming, witty and a genuinely winning tribute to Jane Austen, perfectly capturing her arch tone and sharp eye for detail, especially when it comes to Mr Bennet. The action is transposed to Cincinnati, Ohio, and Elizabeth is a 38-year-old freelance journalist yet to find a partner. Older sister Jane, also unmarried of course, is a yoga teacher, about to encounter new reality TV show star, ‘Chip’ Bingley. A fun holiday read.

Read our exclusive interview with Curtis Sittenfeld.








Also highly recommended:

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Fabulous historical novel, the follow up to her debut, After Me Comes the Flood.

Read our exclusive author interview here


Nicotine by Nell Zink

A fierce and funny tale of family and politics.

Read our exclusive author interview here


The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

A young girl steps out of the confines of her life in 18th century London.

Read our exclusive author interview here


Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

The fourth book in the Hogarth project series, in which authors such as Margaret Atwood and Howard Jacobson offer their own take on a Shakespeare play.

Read more about the Hogarth project here


The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Recounts a passionate love affair between a young drama student and an older actor, in McBride's trademark stream-of-consciousness style.

Read our exclusive interview with the author


The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

Fiscal crisis hits a near-future America and millions of American families find themselves fighting for survival.

Read our exclusive interview with the author


The Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah brilliantly continues the adventures of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.

Hear Sophie Hannah talk about her book


My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Another striking debut, this one follows the fortunes of Leon in England in the early 1980s when his mother is no longer able to look after him and his baby brother.

Read our exclusive interview with the author


What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

The story of an American expat struggling with his own complicated inheritance while navigating a foreign culture.


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Worlds collide when a plane crashes into the ocean leaving only 2 survivors in this thriller that explores themes of love, fame, wealth, art and power.


Now it's over to you! Tweet your top three with the #TopFic16 and we'll include our favourites below.






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