It isnâ€™t quite We Need to Talk About Donald, but Lionel Shriverâ€™s satirical dystopia, The Mandibles (Harper Collins Â£16.99), paints a chilling and timely portrait of the death of the American dream. Its befuddled yet charismatic president isnâ€™t Trump, and the wall built on the Mexican border is to stop hungry Americans crossing to their richer southern neighbour, but this is nonetheless a caustic and prescient leap into the not-so-distant future.
I canâ€™t remember a year in which so many first-rate novels have been published after Man Booker cut-off time in October. Thereâ€™s Ali Smithâ€™s Autumn (Penguin Â£16.99), for one, which carries out a real-time appraisal of the events of 2016, her exquisite prose seemingly writing itself as you read it. Thereâ€™s also Zadie Smithâ€™s Swing Time (Hamish Hamilton Â£18.99), a poised and moving portrait of a friendship, nodding to Elena Ferrante and re-examining our notions of happiness and home. Naomi Aldermanâ€™s The Power (Viking Â£12.99) is a fabulously inventive vision of a world in which women seize control. Redolent of Margaret Atwood, it does what all good speculative fiction should â€“ using its dazzling what-ifs to prompt questions about the way we live now. I also found Linda Grantâ€™s The Dark Circle (Virago Â£16.99) extraordinarily affecting. Finally, thereâ€™s my book of the year by some distance, Colson Whiteheadâ€™s The Underground Railroad (Little Brown Â£14.99), a tale of escape from slavery in the American deep south. Itâ€™s a profound and important novel, but more than anything itâ€™s an absurdly good read, gripping you in its tightly wound plot, astonishing you with its leaps of imagination. If Whitehead doesnâ€™t win every prize going next year, Iâ€™ll appear on Saturday Review in my underpants.
The Man Booker judges chose another novel about race, and a dystopian one, Paul Beattyâ€™s The Sellout (Oneworld Â£12.99) as their winner. Itâ€™s a book of coruscating satire and the darkest humour whose bilious narrative voice leaves you at once enthralled and exhausted. Also on the shortlist was David Szalayâ€™s All That Man Is (Vintage Â£14.99), a collection of funny, moving, sometimes desperately sad stories that take us across Europe and deep into the soul of modern man. Graeme Macrae Burnetâ€™s entertaining His Bloody Project (Saraband Â£8.99) tells of a brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869, while Madeleine Thienâ€™s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Â£12.99) is a wide-ranging family saga about history, music and art. From the longlist, Wyl Menmuirâ€™s Daphne du Maurier-inflected The Many (Salt Â£8.99) is a slim and spooky read, while JM Coetzeeâ€™s The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker Â£17.99) is pleasingly baffling, suggesting hidden depths and multiple layers without ever quite revealing them.
The Costa awards picked up a number of novels whose omission from the Man Booker had left me spluttering. Sarah Perryâ€™s The Essex Serpent (Profile Â£14.99) is simply gorgeous, a vivid and atmospheric tale of Victorian mores and monsters, while Kit de Waalâ€™s My Name Is Leon (Viking Â£12.99) and Rose Tremainâ€™s The Gustav Sonata (Vintage Â£16.99) were both moving and finely crafted novels about youth and friendship. Francis Spuffordâ€™s Golden Hill (Faber Â£8.99) was a thing of wonder, a novel that not only plunged you into the lives of its characters but also the literary history of its age.
I was delighted to see Mike McCormackâ€™s visionary Solar Bones (Tramp Â£12) win the Goldsmiths prize â€“ itâ€™s a lyrical, mind-altering hymn of a novel, changing our ideas of whatâ€™s possible within the form. Elsewhere, I found Adam Bilesâ€™s rollicking Feeding Time (Galley Beggar Press Â£8.99) a dark and riotous take on our ageing world. Julian Barnesâ€™s The Noise of Time (Cape Â£14.99) reminded me of Laurent Binetâ€™s HHhH, interrogating the conventions of historical fiction and painting a compelling portrait of its compromised hero, Dmitri Shostakovich. I adored Anjali Josephâ€™s The Living (Fourth Estate Â£12.99), which leapt across continents to tell its moving and carefully constructed tale, while the interlinked stories of Joanna Walshâ€™s Vertigo (And Other Stories Â£8.99) came together to give us a vision of the bookâ€™s damaged, distant narrator that was profoundly affecting. Finally, I want to mention Karan Mahajanâ€™s The Association of Small Bombs (Vintage Â£12.99), which asked us to consider the lives of low-level terrorists and their victims, lives which rarely find themselves mentioned on the pages of newspapers, let alone in novels.
It was a fine year for books in translation, with Han Kang following up the Man Booker International-winning The Vegetarian with Human Acts (Granta Â£12.99), an extraordinary novel about politics and torture, about the way we memorialise past wrongs. Deborah Smithâ€™s translation is typically lucid and readable. I was also pleased to see Gerard Reveâ€™s funny, shiftless and poignant debut novel, The Evenings (Pushkin Â£12.99), available in English a mere 71Â years after appearing in the originalÂ Dutch. Itâ€™s like BS Johnson and Kafka wandering the crepuscular streets of 1940s Amsterdam together â€“ in a good way. Finally, we come to LadivineÂ (Quercus Â£14.99) by Marie NDiaye, a dreamlike intergenerational story of the French immigrant experience. If this year was all about Brexit and Trump, your 2017-vintage nightmares are likely to feature Marine Le Pen. Ladivine is a haunting, melancholy and immaculately translated novel, a thing of beauty for ugly times.
â€¢ Click on the titles to order any of the books above for a special price. Free UK p&p over Â£10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of Â£1.99