In total I’ve read 86 books this year. Most of them were newly published novels. If you read my reviews, you’ll know how much I engaged with and got out of many of these books. Just because I’m picking ten to highlight here doesn’t mean I think many of the others aren’t great works in each of their own unique ways. There’s no way to really compare the inventive distinct voice of “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” with the refreshing perspective on WWII that “The Spring of Kasper Meier” gives or the majestic view of an extensive family in Calcutta that “The Lives of Others” provides. Still more difficult is to judge books of short stories against each other. While some stories in books like “All the Rage” or “The American Lover” or “The Best American Stories of 2014” could be counted amongst the most powerful things I’ve read this year, other stories in these books haven’t stuck with me as much. And, of course, browsing other best books of the year lists, I’m aware just how many other new much-lauded books I simply haven’t had time to read yet. I haven’t even read this year’s Booker prize winner. But I think winter is designed for cosy afternoons inside catching up with reading while drinking cups of tea.
The ten books I’m singling out here simply had a tremendous personal impact upon me. I’d gladly thrust copies into the hands of any reader and call them essential. Click on the titles to read my full thoughts on each.
A section of writer EM Forster’s life is fictionally mined by Galgut to reveal the power of a quiet life. It hit me like a punch in the face.
The Blazing World
What could be the most inventive and daring artistic hoax of the century forces us to question our assumptions about gender and the meaning of art.
The Walk Home
This short novel about a Glaswegian boy caught in the crossfire of ideological and family struggles deserves to be more widely read and remembered.
Fantastically inventive and the most relentlessly entertaining book I’ve read all year, Barker’s novel of stories within stories subversively questions the meaning of identity.
H is for Hawk
This memoir about grief breaks the mould showing Macdonald’s very personal experience of managing her feelings through training a goshawk and exploring the life of writer TH White.
How to be Both
Smith is a revolutionary writer. Language is never a passive, dead thing in this author’s books. In this new novel her words perform gymnastics and make me want to do backward hand-springs.
The Paying Guests
No two love stories are the same. This novel gives us the tale of a most extraordinary affair that shows how we can be both generous and selfish in passion.
Lovely, Dark, Deep
Many books of short stories come across as uneven, but every tale in this collection stands out. Using an impressive arsenal of literary styles, Oates writes about people as far ranging as an unlikeable victim of cancer who won’t tell anyone about her illness and a viciously aggressive teenage boy writing about his death.
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Rachel Joyce’s literary sequel to her popular first novel, shows an elderly woman physically inhibited by her illness shining light on her lifetime of experiences like a prism reveals the entire spectrum of colours.
Two disparate stories that are divided by a century come together in this tremendous and emotionally-enthralling novel about war, photography, sexuality and race.