New novels that impressed me this year were Tracy Chevalier's At the Edge of the Orchard, Sarah Moss's The Tidal Zone and Sarah Perry's deservedly-praised Victorian Gothic The Essex Serpent. I'd already read several of Tracy Chevalier's titles (including the excellent Remarkable Creatures, which I've reviewed here) while Sarahs Moss and Perry are authors I'll be looking out for in future. I shall certainly re-read The Essex Serpent, and the same goes for Ali Smith's dazzling How to be Both – two linked but very different stories, one of a modern teenager undergoing therapy, the other of a Renaissance frieze-painter - which can be read in either order, with links and overlaps gradually revealed. In this ingenious jigsaw puzzle of a book, there's more than can easily be picked up in a single reading.
It was thanks to my Reading Group that I read Katherine McMahon's The Crimson Rooms, set in the immediate aftermath of the First World War: a murder mystery, seen through the eyes of a young female lawyer, and a poignant and realistic portrayal of the effects of war on participants and others. My final fiction choice is Trio, by Sue Gee, which has all her hallmarks: powerful emotion rooted in realistic situations, wonderful sense of place and time (Northumberland, in this case, in the late 1930s), acute observation of weather, seasons and human behaviour. There's music too, in this latest novel; descriptions of performances by the Trio of the title will have you searching YouTube or your CD collection so that you can listen as they play. And reading Sue Gee always makes me want to write, which is a bonus.