From prizewinning poetry to bestselling thrillers, D-day to the credit crunch, Wolf Hall to a picturebook about a dying duck, our writers and guests pick the best of 2009.
The two best illustrated books for me this year have both come from abroad, and both are stunningly original. Tales from Outer Suburbia (Templar) by Shaun Tan, from Australia, is a collection of 15 short illustrated stories all stemming from sketchbook doodles. It's an unusual approach – most illustrations in books are reactions to the text, but here the pictures inspire the stories. They are all strange and beautiful. Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (Gecko Press) is a superb picture book from Germany, that tells a gentle story of the relationship between Death and a duck. Death is portrayed as a sympathetic figure in a dressing gown who is with us all the time, but who only comes into Duck's consciousness towards the end of his life. It is warm, poignant and witty.
I have read three novels this year, all of which were disturbing, original and brilliant. They are A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Faber), Vagrants by Yiyun Li (Fourth Estate) and The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck (Harvill Secker). Moore describes the pains and hazards of child adoption in the American chattering classes. Yiyun Li describes the effects of the execution of a Chinese dissident on those around her. Franck begins with the abandoning of a child on a German railway station and tells the tale of his mother, damaged by the interwar years. All are heart rending; all find new and exciting ways of constructing a story.
Read the rest of the recommendations here.