The best books of 2012

Featuring Richard Milward, Shalom Auslander, Jo Nesbo, Zadie Smith and Kevin Powers

The best books of 2012

Shalom Auslander

1 Kimberly’s Capital Punishment

While Apples and Ten Storey Love Song hinted at a very special talent burning away inside Middlesbrough writer Richard Milward, even his most ardent fan would have been hard pushed to imagine the glories he would give us with this year’s offering. Featuring a central character who tries to come to terms with her partner’s suicide, Kimberly’s Capital Punishment is a typically punchy and experimental tale which puts most other 27-year-old British authors firmly in the shade.

2 Hope: A Tragedy

The Holocaust might still be a subject too far for many when it comes to finding humour, but Shalom Auslander had already made great literary hay with Jewish guilt, paranoia and self-loathing. Here, he cranks it up a notch with his debut novel, imagining what might have happened had Anne Frank not died at the hands of the Nazis but escaped to live a life of seclusion in a farmhouse near New York. Holed up, she has been working on a novel when she is finally discovered by Solomon Kugel. Will he have the guts to throw Frank out on her ear?

3 Phantom

Scandinavian crime continued to be impossible to avoid in 2012, and the literary works of Jo Nesbø have helped cement the genre in our minds. Phantom is the seventh novel featuring Harry Hole, a typically messed-up modern detective and some might have concluded that it will be the last book led by this crimebusting anti-hero. After three years in Hong Kong, Hole returns to Oslo and finds the Norwegian capital rife with a new class A drug while a murder takes place very close to home.

4 NW

One of the most anticipated novels of the year was the new one by Zadie Smith, and the hype and excitement were certainly justified with her tale of four thirtysomething Londoners who grew up together on the same council estate. It’s a story of race, family and friendship, but above all acts as a love letter to a city (and a specific area within it) that Smith can’t let go of.

5 The Yellow Birds

Awarded the Guardian First Book Award, this tale of combat by ex-US military man Kevin Powers may not have been a direct memoir but was clearly penned from desperately real experiences. Everyone from Damian Lewis to Colm Toibin loved this hypnotic debut about Private Bartle whose story shifts between his intense period serving in Iraq in 2004 and the tough time he has on returning to his Virginia home a year later. A highly detailed, short but sharp shock with an unflinching finale, this is a story for our times.

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