Books, books, and more books – what of their writers? Top picks in writing 2017

Books get all the attention. What about those who labored over them? Here are the Masthead’s 2017 top picks by category for writers reviewed.

Well, all right: one of these categories is more negative than positive – read on.


Best for ingenuity in prose

(Who worked magic with their words?)

Roberto Bolaño

I’m still thinking about 2666 and what Bolaño accomplished with it. Bolaño demands a lot from his readers, and this is a novel that asks you to be patient and a mighty bit uncomfortable. It demands a degree of self-abnegation and, very probably, mental exhaustion. But if you make it through, you’ll see why it’s remarkable in its execution.



Best for structure of story

(A difficult tale needs a seasoned author)

Paul Auster

Auster really blew me away with 4321 because the architecture of that novel is sound. Auster had a clear vision for his work, he took huge risks and he still made something saleable. The premise behind 4321 is the different ways a human life can pan out, nature versus nurture and everything in between. Auster experimented with his protagonist as his story progressed, and under a less experienced hand this story could easily have been a shambles.



Best in characterization

(I do have a thing for character-driven stories)

Stephen King
(Honorable mention: Stieg Larsson)

Alexander Skarsgård did a fine job of Pennywise with that liquid laugh, but the recent movie feels very little like King’s huge novel because the novel was more about the Losers than it was about the creepy clown. The farther you get into It, the more invested you become in King’s characters, each of whom has a personality of his own. Eddie and Ben might still be my favorites of the bunch.

Larsson, of course, created Lisbeth Salander. More than this, he made her believable as a character, writing her in a way that makes us feel as if we know her even as we know nothing about her. She’s outlandish but doesn’t feel cartoony, and in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Larsson gave us a character cliff-hanger if you will – his Millenium series is a series I’m definitely continuing.



Most overrated author

(Who really disappointed me this year?)

Agatha Christie

As my dear ol’ dad so eloquently put it: she can’t hold Conan Doyle’s jockstrap. I read Murder on the Orient Express and am scratching my head as to what the fuss is. It’s not that Orient Express was bad, it just wasn’t anything more than disposable fun.  Queen of Mystery my arse.



Most underrated author

(on the flip side, who was my favorite surprise?)

Patrick Hamilton
(Honorable mention: Nikolai Leskov)

Hamilton was very much a member to the Lost Generation but also so overshadowed (snubbed actually, if the back jacket to my Europa edition tells me anything) by that milieu’s more prolific writers. Hangover Square demonstrates that he had an acute understanding of male-female dynamics as well as a talent for writing with split personality. It’s eerie to see the little bits of madness crop up in the rational and for reason to cut through insanity, and Hamilton did it so well.

Leskov is another man we’ve overlooked in large part because of his contemporaries’ talents (i.e. those of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy et al). His stories and novellas will charm you, and translators Pevear and Volokhonsky gave us something special in their recent collection named for Leskov’s most well-known work, The Enchanted Wanderer.

→ Which writers were tops for YOU in 2017?

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