Set myself a total of 50 reads this year, and have done that so I’m quite pleased, But, of those what really rocked my boat? The Booker threw up some interesting stuff. I’ve not yet gotten around to the winner but I thought Howard Jacobsen – J [my review] was certainly amongst the best he’d written, if not the best. Part dystopian love story, part comment on anti-Semitism (and anything similar). It won me over in a way his booker-winning previous novel The Finkler Question never did. Booker also gave us Karen Joy Fowler -We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves [My review]. If there was a more readable ‘good’ book this year, I’m not sure I came across it. A book about sibling love and kinship and establishing that bond of sisterhood. Build on a clever premise and beautifully executed. If Fowler was the easy then Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake [My review] was the difficult. Frustrating? Annoying? Hard to Read? Yep and then some. And yet, there is something more to this well worked tale of a man at odds with the changing world around him and the invasion of a foreign army. It’s not an easy read, but it is (eventually) a satisfying one.
I’ve always had a soft spot for crime and mystery novels and a few took my fancy this year. Benjamin Black – The Black Eyed Blonde: This was wonderful, convincing and enjoyable chandler-esq romp from John Banville’s crime writing alter-ego, and was certainly good enough that you finished it hoping we hadn’t seen the last of Philip Marlowe. Swiss author Joel Dicker gave us one of the blockbuster crime novels of the year with The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. An exploration of love and of whether or not the titular character is a murderer or not. Like a melding of Grisham and Conroy is was a great read. Then there was Guy Adams – The Clown Service. A fantasy spy novel of sorts. Witty, well pace and plotted and opening the door towhat, one presumes, will be a series. One of my favourite writers, Arturo Perez Reverte returned with The Siege. A book which provided a good take on the siege of Cadiz in 1811 whilst also unravelling a search for a serial killer. It’s a book which is not in a hurry to reach its resolution, but the meticulousness of its historical detail and the beautifully drawn central characters mean that that resolution becomes secondary to the drama. Both Perez Reverte and translator Frank Wynn make it a reading pleasure. Finally there was Waterstone’s book of the year, Jessie Burton – The Miniaturist. More a mix of gothic mystery and a coming-of-age story of 18th century Amsterdam that explores both feminism and the meaning of love to great effect.
Non-fiction threw up some delights. Andrew Jennings – Omertà: Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Organised Crime Family helped answer the question how corrupt is FIFA? Actually even MORE than you think. Is that even possible you ask yourself? Oh, yes. Riveting stuff. Even more riveting was Bob Stanley’s epic Yeah Yeah Yeah. The Story of Modern Pop: A chronological trip through the history of ‘the pop single’ in the UK/US, and is a pure delight from start to finish. If you have access to a streaming music service such as Spotify etc you’ll also find yourself checking out LOTS of stuff you didn’t know or had somehow forgotten about. Brilliant. And then there were two marvelous books on Adoption. Julia Davis – Preparing for Adoption [My review], which focussed on the ‘introductions’ stage of the adoption process and gave prospective adopters a framework to navigate this process and beyond and to make sure they do so in an attachment focused way. Then there was Sally Donavon’s Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting [My review]. One of the stand out book of any kind this year. It is full of humour and real life examples of practical guidance and strategies for adopters on how to deal with their children.
As a Librarian I can’t not mention Sophie Divry – The Library of Unrequited Love: This short book was a pure delight. Anyone who has ever worked in public libraries will identify with the central character – as we have all worked with someone just like them. Or you will feel some shared annoyances about work colleagues. Brilliant and very funny.
The best man alone, Robinson Crusoe-esq book of the year was undoubtedly Andy Weir’s – The Martian, about a trip to Mars that does not go to plan and one man’s attempt to get home. It manages to be engaging whilst also being (or at least seeming to this reader) convincing on its space science. M.R. Cary – The Girl with All the Gifts: proved you could ask the question when is a Zombie novel not a Zombie novel. This is a well constructed and executed tale of nature v nurture and the relationships between adult and child. One of the surprises of the year. Another pleasant surprise was Ransom Riggs – Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children [and the follow up novel Hollow City] This great new children’s book series about parallel worlds was terrific fun. I’m already waiting for part three due next year. Jenny Offil – Dept. of Speculation has appeared in a few best of lists. I’m still not quite sure what I feel about it. It is wonderfully written (as was Lost Things her debut novel 14 years ago) and its seemingly random collection of snippets from one woman’s life was as ‘literary’ as this list gets. One of my all-time favourite writers, Huruki Murakami brought us Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. No one does bonkers fantastical ordinariness better than Murakami, but for this outing he was back on the straight and narrow. This is a fairly conventional novel about how one event can colour one’s whole life. I loved it. Philip Gabriel’s translation jumps off the page and delivers its emotional heart and not for the first time the clear importance of music to Murakami’s writing is plane to see.
So then we have Brooke Davis – Lost and Found [My review]. A road trip across Australia with a little girl and too pensioners packs in a lot of cute and quirky as well as some poignant insights into grief and loss. Out in January, it will be one of the big books of early 2015. Yes, sorry, I am cheating a bit. Not only am I including Brooke Davis’ book which is not out until next month, but I’m also going to include Jonas Karlsson – The Room [My review] also out next month. Probably my favourite read of 2014 and already pace setter for book of 2015. It’s the The Trial as if it were written by Daniel Handler. Wickedly funny, well crafted, and immensely enjoyable.