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Our best books of the year - Fiction

Watch for trailer for First Person

One of the finest novelists of his generation

Richard Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1961. His novels Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, Wanting and The Narrow Road to the Deep North have received numerous honours and are published in 42 countries. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North in 2014.

Watch for trailer for First Person

One of the finest novelists of his generation

Richard Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1961. His novels Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould’s Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist, Wanting and The Narrow Road to the Deep North have received numerous honours and are published in 42 countries. He won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North in 2014.

Big things come from Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Her political writings include The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Listening to Grasshoppers, Broken Republic and Capitalism: A Ghost Story, and most recently Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, co-authored with John Cusack. Arundhati Roy lives in New Delhi.

Watch the trailer for The Heart's Invisible Furies

Internationally acclaimed John Boyne

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971. He is the author of ten novels for adults, five for young readers and a collection of short stories. Perhaps best known for his 2006 multi-award-winning book The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, John’s other novels, notably The Absolutist and A History of Loneliness, have been widely praised and are international bestsellers. In 2015, John chaired the panel for the Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is his most ambitious novel yet.

Watch the trailer for The Heart's Invisible Furies

Internationally acclaimed John Boyne

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971. He is the author of ten novels for adults, five for young readers and a collection of short stories. Perhaps best known for his 2006 multi-award-winning book The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, John’s other novels, notably The Absolutist and A History of Loneliness, have been widely praised and are international bestsellers. In 2015, John chaired the panel for the Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is his most ambitious novel yet.

Q&A with George Saunders

When writing a book that is so dialogue driven and has such colourful characters, do you imagine vocal tones for each character while writing it? Do they have a distinct sound in voice warmth and articulation in your head, or is the dialogue more of a visual construction?It’s both, actually. In my stories, where there are fewer voices, it’s more performative in my head – I have a sort of “accent” that I’m imagining and the impulse is to construct a very defined and even hyperbolic voice. With the novel, as soon as I realized how many characters there were going to be, the game changed a bit: there was no way I could create that many truly distinct and over-the-top voices. It just wasn’t within my capabilities. I found myself thinking of Tolstoy, and wondering how he did it in, say, War and Peace – how did he make the illusion of so many distinct personalities? And it seemed to me he did it by withholding voice, and giving each character some small trait, of thought or habit or (sometimes) speech – but, just the smallest “distinguisher.” I found myself imagining a room full of those Chinese terra cotta warriors. If the goal was to make that look like a crowd of individuals, it might be sufficient to just alter each with a slight variation – a moustache here, mismatched socks there.

This feels like a pivotal moment for America to be reflecting on its identity and history. What drew you to Lincoln as a person - and a persona - in America’s national narrative?Honestly, I had no interest in writing about Lincoln, and even some aversion. It just seemed so hard. Like writing about Jesus, or Moses. But I was drawn to this little, sad anecdote I heard, about him entering his son’s crypt. That stuck with me. So, at some point, if you assent to writing something based on that, you are assenting to dealing with The Man. But I did it reluctantly and craftily – resisted making it “about” him, tried to find ways to minimize his screen time etc. And in the end I thought: “Well, it is, of course, Lincoln – but it is him in a particular role (father, grieving) and on a particular night, and for only a few isolated moments during that night. And then the writer’s habits take over and you find yourself turning away from the big question, to the smaller and more vital ones: “Where is he standing right now? Where has he just come from? What, exactly, might he be thinking? Is he cold? What sort of jacket is he wearing? Where is he going now?”

What was a surprising thing you learned about Lincoln and his family during your research for the novel?I learned that he hated extemporaneous speaking. Always wanted to be speaking from a text he wrote (and wrote, and wrote). He felt that, given the incredible power of the office, he’d better err in the favour of being cautious and circumspect in his speech, and he knew, as all writers know (and I think he was the greatest American prose stylist) that truth is found through revision. So, I think it’s safe to say that Lincoln would not be on Twitter.

And finally, from a very big fan… are you really so funny in real life? No. I am often trying to be funny and falling a little short. So… see answer above, about revision. Not only is truth found through revision, but so is….funny?

Q&A with George Saunders

When writing a book that is so dialogue driven and has such colourful characters, do you imagine vocal tones for each character while writing it? Do they have a distinct sound in voice warmth and articulation in your head, or is the dialogue more of a visual construction?It’s both, actually. In my stories, where there are fewer voices, it’s more performative in my head – I have a sort of “accent” that I’m imagining and the impulse is to construct a very defined and even hyperbolic voice. With the novel, as soon as I realized how many characters there were going to be, the game changed a bit: there was no way I could create that many truly distinct and over-the-top voices. It just wasn’t within my capabilities. I found myself thinking of Tolstoy, and wondering how he did it in, say, War and Peace – how did he make the illusion of so many distinct personalities? And it seemed to me he did it by withholding voice, and giving each character some small trait, of thought or habit or (sometimes) speech – but, just the smallest “distinguisher.” I found myself imagining a room full of those Chinese terra cotta warriors. If the goal was to make that look like a crowd of individuals, it might be sufficient to just alter each with a slight variation – a moustache here, mismatched socks there.

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This feels like a pivotal moment for America to be reflecting on its identity and history. What drew you to Lincoln as a person - and a persona - in America’s national narrative?Honestly, I had no interest in writing about Lincoln, and even some aversion. It just seemed so hard. Like writing about Jesus, or Moses. But I was drawn to this little, sad anecdote I heard, about him entering his son’s crypt. That stuck with me. So, at some point, if you assent to writing something based on that, you are assenting to dealing with The Man. But I did it reluctantly and craftily – resisted making it “about” him, tried to find ways to minimize his screen time etc. And in the end I thought: “Well, it is, of course, Lincoln – but it is him in a particular role (father, grieving) and on a particular night, and for only a few isolated moments during that night. And then the writer’s habits take over and you find yourself turning away from the big question, to the smaller and more vital ones: “Where is he standing right now? Where has he just come from? What, exactly, might he be thinking? Is he cold? What sort of jacket is he wearing? Where is he going now?”

What was a surprising thing you learned about Lincoln and his family during your research for the novel?I always find it fascinating how people perceive situations differently, particularly conflict. I felt that a horrific situation like the one in the book would be infinitely more interesting if we were privy to multiple perspectives.

As you were writing, who did you envision as the prime audience for this book? It seems that the book contains lessons that could be useful to several age groupsI learned that he hated extemporaneous speaking. Always wanted to be speaking from a text he wrote (and wrote, and wrote). He felt that, given the incredible power of the office, he’d better err in the favour of being cautious and circumspect in his speech, and he knew, as all writers know (and I think he was the greatest American prose stylist) that truth is found through revision. So, I think it’s safe to say that Lincoln would not be on Twitter.

And finally, from a very big fan… are you really so funny in real life? No. I am often trying to be funny and falling a little short. So… see answer above, about revision. Not only is truth found through revision, but so is….funny?

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