Frontier Psychiatrist

Archive for the ‘Best Fiction 2011’ Category

In the latest Ali Smith novel, a precocious 10-year-old girl asks: “If a story isn’t a fact, but it is a made up version of what happened…what is the point of it?”  Her conversational companion, an eccentric middle-aged man, replies: “Think how quiet a book is on a shelf, just sitting there unopened. Then think what happens when you open it.”  In that spirit, each of 10 books below is a passageway to possibility, a free trip to another world: whether it’s India, Japan, or the Balkans, a college campus in New England, or a government office in Illinois. As with yesterday’s list of The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2011, these are listed in alphabetical order by author; ranking them further seems as problematic as ranking one’s friends, parents, or children.  Please add your own fiction favorites in the comments section below and check back tomorrow for the best poetry books of the year. Happy reading!

Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance

This quiet triptych of novellas set in India begins with an epigraph from Jorge Luis Borges (“One thing alone does not exist –oblivion”) and the fabulist spirit of the Argentine short fiction master informs the entire book. The first story features a civil servant who discovers an abandoned museum of forgotten treasures. The second stars a translator who tries to upstage the author whose work she’s commissioned to translate. The title story features a hermit whose solitude gets disrupted by a television crew. All three protagonists are lonely and artists in their own way; their stories meditate on  the relationship between the past, present, and future, especially the notion of legacy and what gets passed down between generations.  Whatever the 74-year-old Desai thinks about mortality, she clearly does not equate Death with oblivion.

And there was still more to see: cases that held all manner of writing materials with inks reduced to powder at the bottom of glass containers, pens and quills no one would ever use again, seals that no longer stamped; a chamber of clocks where no sand seeped through the hourglass, water had long since evaporated from the clepsydras, bells were stilled, cuckoos silenced, dancing figures paralysed. Time halted, waiting for a magician to start it again. -From “The Museum of Final Journeys”

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