The best fiction of 2017

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One of the joys of the novel is its endless capacity for reinvention, and 2017 saw fiction writers trying out fresh approaches and new forms. The Man Booker winner was a debut novel from an author with 20 years of short stories under his belt: George Saunders’s magisterial Lincoln in the Bardo(Bloomsbury), in which the death and afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son is told through snippets of civil war memoir and a cacophony of squabbling ghosts, was a fantastically inventive exploration of loss, mourning and the power of empathy. There was an injection of the fantastic, too, in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Hamish Hamilton), which added the device of magical portals opening up across the globe to its spare, devastating portrait of victims of war, creating a singular parable about modernity, migration and the individual’s place in the world.

…. Jennifer Egan followed up her zippy Pulitzer winner A Visit from the Goon Squadwith a more conventional novel of American dreams, Manhattan Beach (Corsair); while Arundhati Roy’s second novel appeared a mere two decades after her first: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton) was a sprawling, kaleidoscopic fable about love and resistance in modern India. …

Of the many classical reboots, the most interesting was Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus), which contrasts the role of the modern state with timeless bonds of love and loyalty by replaying the Antigone myth through the story of two sisters and their jihadi brother. Hogarth Press’s project to novelise Shakespeare continued, with master stylist Edward St Aubyn recasting King Learas the downfall of a media mogul in Dunbar. Debut novelist Preti Taneja set her fierce, freewheeling version, We That Are Young (Galley Beggar), in contemporary India, with fascinating results.

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