The 10 best works of fiction in 2017

SINGAPORE - War and displacement marked many of this year's finest fiction offerings, as the world continues to be wracked by the global migration crisis and the threat of terrorism.

Many novels took bold sojourns into history, whether to 1940s New York, a graveyard during the American civil war, or the various leftist movements in Singapore's past.

But what stands out in the grim currents of today are these books' gift for finding lightness despite gravity and grace in the midst of horror. Olivia Ho picks the 10 best works of fiction reviewed by The Straits Times in 2017.

1. Autumn by Ali Smith


The first in a seasonal quartet, rushed out as the first post-Brexit novel, Autumn traces the unlikely relationship between a 101-year-old in a coma and a young art history lecturer.

With subtle grace, it depicts the shades of unrest in a country divided within itself, against a wider meditation on the passage of time.

2. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen. PHOTO: VIET THANH NGUYEN

A woman wakes in the dark to a knock on her door. It is her brother, dripping wet and no older than he was the day she watched him die on a fishing boat out of war-torn Vietnam, 25 years ago. This short story collection about Vietnamese migrants hits like a punch in the gut.

3. Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

George Saunders' Lincoln In The Bardo is the result of his fascination with death when he was a child.PHOTO: CHLOE AFTEL

This strange, transcendent ghost story, set in a graveyard where the young son of United States president Abraham Lincoln has been entombed, won this year's Man Booker Prize. Featuring a staggering 166 voices, it achieves far more than the sum of its very many parts.

4. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

A migrant himself, novelist Mohsin Hamid has shuttled between Pakistan, the United States and Britain for much of his life. PHOTOS: KASHI, RIVERHEAD BOOKS

In an unnamed country on the brink of civil war, a young Muslim couple find a magical door that helps them escape their collapsing society. Pakistani author Hamid's fluid, fantastical take on the global refugee crisis is a layered and ultimately hopeful ode to migration.

5. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Indian author Arundhati Roy's second novel is well worth the 20-year wait. PHOTOS: MAYANK AUSTEN SOOFI, HAMISH HAMILTON

A motley crew of characters are brought together by the discovery of a dark-skinned baby abandoned at a protest site in this novel, which marks Indian author Roy's return to fiction after 20 years. From the military occupation of Kashmir to the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, it is a magnificent, sweeping work about a divided India.

6. The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Now based in Spain, author Muhsin Al-Ramli fled Iraq after the death of his poet-brother, who was hanged in 1990 for his involvement in an attempted coup against former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. PHOTOS: KHALED KAKI, MACLEHOSE PRESS

This freshly-translated novel is a harrowing depiction of the atrocities the ordinary Iraqi has endured for the past half-century. Ibrahim the Fated survives the horrors of war only to become a gardener in the palace of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in whose opulent gardens he is forced to bury thousands of corpses.

7. State Of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang

Jeremy Tiang read books and watched films by and about former detainees and travelled to Malaysia and Thailand to meet those who had been involved in the Malayan Emergency for his novel, State Of Emergency. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF JEREMY TIANG, EPIGRAM BOOKS

From the Hock Lee bus riots of 1955 to the detentions without trial of the "Marxist conspiracy" of 1987, Singaporean author Tiang's debut novel takes a sensitive, compelling look at the history of leftist movements in Singapore and Malaysia.

8. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan


This immaculately researched historical novel immerses the reader in World War II New York, as formidable heroine Anna Kerrigan tangles with gangsters and becomes the first female diver in the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

9. The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

Author Alice McDermott's novel The Ninth Hour is set in Brooklyn. PHOTO: EPIC PHOTOGRAPHY / BLOOMSBURY

Illuminating is the word that best sums up this novel about a widow, her daughter and the order of Brookyln nuns who take them in after a tragedy. Its everyday scenes are so finely painted that one sees the light on surfaces.

10. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie


The Greek tragedy of Antigone gets an update for the age of terrorism in this blistering exploration of divided loyalties, as two British-Pakistani sisters try to cope with their brother suddenly running off to Syria to join the media arm of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).