I’m thrilled to say that last week I finally reached my goal of reading 75 books this year. All of them have been so enjoyable, but as a massive fan of lists and rankings I have decided to try and make a ‘top ten’ for both fiction and nonfiction (the latter I will post separately so the list isn’t too overwhelming). I have also added a few comments and accompaniments along the way.
Note: these books are listed in no particular order (making a list was hard enough) and not all of these were published in 2015.
My Brilliant Friend
What you’ll need: the sequels on standby.
This beautiful quartet about two girls growing up in Naples was made for binging. Books One and Two are definitely my favourites; I found the optimism and promise of their childhoods a tad more entertaining than the mistakes, cynicism and political unrest of their adult years. Be prepared for a devastating shock in Book Four (I wasn’t and was thrown off balance for days).
In The Quiet
Eliza Henry-Jones is a remarkable writer, and the way she has managed to capture grief so well at such a young age is astounding. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next. Have tissues at hand.
My favourite fiction of the year could really just be list of Sarah Waters’ novels, but if I had to choose just one it would be Fingersmith. This is the only book I’ve ever read whose twist has actually made be gasp out loud with surprise. If you’re a fan of gothic lesbian crime novels then they don’t get better than this. The mini-series adaptation starring Sally Hawkins is also lovely and worth the watch.
The Bone Clocks
What you’ll need: time, and lots of it.
This tome is almost 600 pages long, and once you get started you won’t want to put it down. I saved it for my month long stay in Kalgoorlie for this exact reason: no friends and family around meant no pesky interruptions! A penchant for magical realism is also recommended, as well as access to Slade House (a shorter work set in the same universe that’s incredibly fun).
What you’ll need: a debriefing buddy, preferably one who has read the book.
When it comes to Tampa I second Roxane Gay’s opinion: ‘Five stars for sheer audacity and fearlessness.’
This incredible story of a female paedophile left me gobsmacked. There were times where I felt myself egging her on, before catching myself and thinking ‘wait a minute, the guy she’s after is fourteen!’ This mindfuck requires an excellent debriefing post-binge.
What you’ll need: wine.
I read The Strays shortly after getting married, a time when there was a lot of left over wine lying about. Drinking in the sun and submitting to this fabulous book about female friendship and Melbourne’s art world in the 1930s was damn near perfect. A worthy Stella Prize winner.
A God In Ruins
A God In Ruins is the sequel to Life After Life, so make sure to read that first. On reflection I think I enjoyed Life After Life more, but this is still a fabulous read and the sections set during World War Two are particularly interesting. I’m hoping that Kate Atkinson will write a novel focusing on Aunt Izzy next, as she is definitely the coolest character.
May We Be Forgiven
It took me until the end of this book to decide whether or not I liked it (verdict: it’s fantastic). May We Be Forgiven has about a million things going on, and I think the Guardian puts it best:
‘People are hospitalised, repeatedly; sacked, kidnapped, and incarcerated in sinister experimental correctional facilities. There is child abuse, abuse of prescription drugs, Internet sex, and a swingers’ party at a Laser Tag Emporium. There are subplots to do with a murdered woman, a Bar Mitzvah in a South African village, and the discovery that Richard Nixon wrote dark short stories.’
Also be prepared for lashings of black humour, a bizarre turn involving the protagonist’s brother George and a surprisingly neat ending.
Maxine Beneba Clarke
What you’ll need: The Big Issue No. 491: Fiction Edition 2015.
Just putting it out there, I think these might be the best short stories I have ever read. If you finish these and are after more, her story in TBI entitled Orientation Day is by far the best in this compilation. The woman is amazing.
On that note, if you happen to enjoy short stories by Australian women, Ceridwen Dovey’s Only The Animals and Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands are also great (and a couple more of my favourite reads of the year).
What you’ll need: The Robber Bride.
It was such a treat to discover that this collection contained a short sequel to The Robber Bride (entitled I Dream Of Zenia With The Bright Red Teeth); it’s well worth reading that novel first so this story makes more sense. The rest of the collection require no extras and are very entertaining, my favourites being Dark Lady, The Dead Hand Loves You and Stone Mattress.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
This was the year of short stories for me, and Hilary Mantel’s collection was another winner. I can’t choose a favourite story, as they are all so different and brilliant. However, I admit that The Long QT (which I first read in the Guardian in 2012) has a special place in my heart as I used it to remember what Long QT Syndrome was in first year medicine.
All The Light We Cannot See
There is so much to love about this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Just go and read it. Please.
Up next: Nonfiction!