Earlier this week, I wrote about the Russian reading that took up so much of my time during 2015 (you can see my conclusions and recommendations here). I did read other books too though, and there are some that I really want to mention once more before the year is out. I am aware that I have a tendency to go, possibly, just a teensy bit over-board with reading and recommendations. The list below is my attempt to be rigorous and self-controlled. They are the best (non-Russian) books that I have read this year. It’s been really hard to whittle down the list and books are in no particular order, they’re simply the fiction I have enjoyed most in 2015.
The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. I know that this is not the favourite of many Waters fans, but I loved it. Forget your expectations of the writer and lose yourself in the period Gothic claustrophobia of this wonderful novel.
A God in Every Stone, by Kamila Shamsie. I thought that the Bailey’s prize shortlist this year was really exceptional, but now, in December, this is the book that has stayed with me. Set mostly around Peshwar before, during and after World War I, it is very rare to find historical fiction done this well.
The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. This is my first Korean novel
and, based on it, I think South Korea may have the best fiction writers in the world. Moving, odd, powerful, disturbing and unexpected – no plot summary would do it justice, but I cannot recommend ‘The Vegetarian’ highly enough.
Cat out of Hell, by Lynne Truss. Without a doubt, this is the funniest book I’ve read all year. A brilliantly knowing horror comedy, I currently own it as an e-book, but I’m going to have to get hold of a physical copy too because I know that just seeing it on my shelf will make me happy. Genuinely scary and laugh out loud funny.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch. This brilliantly poisonous little novel about the boundaries between hypocrisy and barbarity was a joy from start to finish. There’s nothing like a book that upsets all your expectations, it’s worth reading for the presentation of the popular politician alone.
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami. I don’t think it’s just a reflection of my relief at finally being able to join the Murakami fan club; I really loved this magical and surreal fairy tale about what can happen in the liminal space between sleep and waking.
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. One things that great books do is reveal the world in at least some of its wonderful and baffling complexity. ‘A Brief History’ manages to capture this in a brilliantly sensitive exploration of society, while also teaching me about a country and period of which I was woefully ignorant.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is another book that has to go on the list because the images and descriptions it contains have haunted me since reading. It is my new standard for judging quazi-Victorian historical fiction in general and Fantasy writing in particular. A truly magical read.
The Shore, by Sara Taylor. This is a book I first saw in the spring and finally read in December after it was rightly shortlisted for the ‘Young Writers Award’. It’s either a collection of short stories or a superbly textured novel about the sprawling tribe who inhabit some isolated islands off the coast off Virginia. Either way, it’s a stunning, uncompromising debut from a major new writing talent.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. Just slipping in as my last review of 2016, I was left wondering why it had taken me so long to discover Jackson. Another Gothic tale, this story of isolation, murder and femininity more than deserves its Modern Classic status and is a must-read for everyone.
What does the list say about my own reading? Well, it’s unsurprisingly Gothic heavy. It shows that, individual as I try to be, I frequently agree with prize judges in their short-list selection. It also supports my hopes for 2016’s diverse reading – not all the authors are white and three of my top books are translations.
Overall, it’s been a great reading year, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring!