Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My Top Five Reads of 2016

Another year gone and another pile of books read. In fact, I find that I read about 80 books last year, a good portion of them graphic novels, to be sure, amounting to c. 19500 pages. Picking the five best reads from this pile is not easy. Actually it would be, if I was willing to fill the entire list with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels. But since that would make for a dull list, I will only give one spot of the five to that, most excellent of novel series.

In retrospect, it seems that the novels I loved the most were all what one might call classics in one sense or the other. No werewolf tales in the mix this year, unfortunately. Also, I should say that The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien almost made the list (I read it to my daughter) as did Paul Féval's last musketeer novel (not available in English, so far that I can see). If you are interested, you can find my previous articles here: 2014, 2015

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

This was the year that I finished my second circumnavigation, so to speak, of the series, but I also began my third read-through a bit early. It was my goal to pick up some seagoing vocabulary in Finnish in order to co-author a short story with my wife (which we did, and which received an honorary award), so I read the novel in Finnish rather than the usual English. But even the somewhat uneven translation could not strip the first novel of its excellence. The first chapter with the meeting of Lieutenant Aubrey and Steven Maturin is a shining example of writing in any language.

My full review here

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Scaramouche: A Romance of the French Revolution from 1921 is perhaps the most acclaimed of Sabatini's works and one of the best historical fiction novels ever written. Perhaps one of the most admirable aspects of the novel is how the political analysis and discussions of human condition in it still apply to modern times, especially so right now when politics in Europe and elsewhere have become more radicalised than in a long time. The French Revolution put people against people in a bloody conflict that might make for downbeat story, but Sabatini instills it with laughter, wit, swashbuckling and romance in hefty enough doses to counter the devastating nature of the revolution. This is definitely one of the historical novels that everyone respecting, or interested in, the genre should read.

My full review here.

The Duel by Joseph Conrad

The Duel - A Military Tale explores the concepts of honour and pride through the acts and lives of two men, d'Hubert and Féraud, who have very different ideas of what they mean. Conrad does not reveal the deeper aspects of his duelling characters until the end, but he does describe the fear and other emotions that run through d'Hubert's mind very well as the story progresses. And his description of the Russian campaign drew a truly horrible image of what it must have been like for Buonaparte's troops to march to war in that hostile, cold land, where those who fall behind end up as dark patches of frozen bodies in the white landscape. The ending (not quite the same as in the film adaptation) was surprisingly touching and went deep into the characters.

My full review here.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

A fine translation of a great classical play about Cyrano de Bergerac, who is a hero, a poet, a duellist and tragically in love. It is a comedic drama in the original sense, daring to show humour and wit despite the fact that it is heading towards rather a (melo)dramatic finale. Cyrano, who is a heroic duellist and a swordsman, ends up helping a young man to seduce the very woman he himself is in love with. He woos the woman in darkness, pretending to be the young handsome fellow, writes letters to her in his stead and the only satisfaction he receives in return is to watch the young couple fall deeper and deeper into love with each other.

My full review here.

The Laughing Cavalier by Emmuska Orczy

A fun little novel set in the 1624 Netherlands where the protagonist gets involved in deadly political plots. Offers some nice historical details, but also raises some questions about its accuracy when it comes to certain details. The writing style is very pulpish in the way that the protagonist is clearly a superior being in comparison to his fellow human beings. Despite its sometimes funny writing style and the overt melodrama, I enjoyed the novel very much.

My full review here.