Evie's Best Books of 2011

Here are Evie Wyld's choices for the "best books" of 2011 for Mariella Frostrup's "Open Book" on Radio 4.

devilThe Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock (Vintage)

It's not often you read a book in which the author has successfully balanced darkness and comedy so cleverly. There's something compelling about an author who can write about the worst things inaginable, with such an extraordinarily poor and bleak landscape as their backdrop and still manage to get out of it a bouncy and colourful voice which is utterly compelling. It's set in rural Ohio and West Virginia, and its drunken and violent and unsettling - dream.



  stormA Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block (Faber and Faber)

There are sentences so beautiful in A Storm at the Door that you reread them over and over wondering how Blocl's brain works. It's a kind of imagined memoir of his American grandparents. His grandfather spent much of his life in an asylum in Boston. It's tough and manic and extraordinary, dotted with occasional photographs of the coulple, which is a touch I love. You could say it's an interesting examination of truth in memoir, and the thin line between fact and fiction, but more that that it is a beautifully written book.


chlorineA Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vives (Jonathan Cape)

A graphic novel that takes place almost entirely in a swimming pool. There are pages with practically no words but just the acutely observed sensation of being in a public swimming pool - the light and the movement, the strange isolation. It's a love story about a man who starts swimming to treat his bad back, and who meets a woman in the pool. Not a lot that you can see really happens, but a lot is sensed, I reread this about once a month.


waterline Waterline by Ross Raisin (Penguin)

I'm baffled as to why Waterline hasn't been on heaps of prize lists. In the bookshop when I recommend it to customers, sometimes they'll say it sounds too sad, but sad things happen in novels, because they're about life. Rant over, this is a fabulous book and it's a devastatingly good book to follow God's Own Country. Waterline is a journey between Glaswegian shipyards, Australia and London, and it's about death and guilt and sadness, but it's also written by Ross Raisin, which means the writing is exceptional and darkly funny even in its most crippling sad bits.


vintageThe Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers (Maclehose Press)

This is the story of an old sheep shearer who has spent his life filled to the gills with alcohol, and who has just been told that if he drinks again, his stomach will rupture and he will kill himself. He works on a vineyard in south Australia now, and the drinking culture there is just as heavy as that of the shearers, the suspicion of non-drinkers is just as tough. The dialogue in this book is the thing that stunned me. Chambers gives the voice enough space that seemingly banal conversations become beautifully funny and meaningful. There's a story repeated over and over about a dog stealing an ice cream that made me happier than any other storyline this year, possibly ever.