I’m confident I can now make a call on this one – such is the madness of the next few weeks that I suspect little reading will be done. This is one of my favourite posts to put together (who doesn’t love a list?) because I get to think back on all the many brilliant reads I’ve been lucky to get my hands on. It’s been really hard whittling the year’s reading down, and there are lots of amazing books which I just didn’t have room for. Given my decision to only provide reviews for books I’ve enjoyed, any of the 51 I’ve written about are worth a look. But now, without further ado, let’s tap and unwrap that chocolate orange, crank up the singing santa, and let’s whizz through 2018.
Back in February, I read Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves and stated there and then it would make this final list. Sometimes you read a book that you know will stay with you and be important to you. This beautifully-told tale of female friendship and resilience felt like a classic from the outset, and I bought it as presents throughout the year. This also gets my ‘Book of the Year’ award, btw…
In March, I came across a debut YA novel that blew me away. Alice Broadway’s Ink was shortlisted for the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize and is the first in a trilogy to explore identity, prejudice and belonging in a brilliantly original way. The idea of our deeds and histories being visible for all to see, and the consequences of this in itself, is a timely concern and Broadway’s writing is vivid and compelling. I read the second novel in the sequence, Spark, in May and loved the development of the narrative. I’m now hanging on for the final one to appear.
April was largely taken up with reading one book. Just the one. At the tail end of 2017, I’d set myself a reading challenge for 2018 – I have to admit to failing this miserably (I suspect it’s because part of me just doesn’t want to read these books because there are so many others out there, and now I’ve just got a thing about them – probably without any good reason…). BUT. But I did read Moby Dick, and I loved it (which probably means I need to get back to that original list and not be so rubbish).
June was a good month. I finally got round to reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and wondered why on earth it had taken me so long to read this gothic classic. I also read Robert Seethaler’s poignant and powerful story of a young man’s growing awareness of the violence around him in 1930s Vienna. The Tobacconist was just as good as his earlier A Whole Life, and I hope his others are translated PDQ. There’s a quietness to his writing – I think this is what I love about Malik’s novel too – that belies the terrible scenes depicted.
In October I embarked on getting through the Man Booker shortlist (Reader, I failed to meet the deadline – but I’m currently enjoying Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under) and the two which ultimately stood out were Richard Power’s The Overstory and Robin Robertson’s The Long Take. The latter, a long verse narrative with a film noir feel, was unlike anything I’d read before – it didn’t win the Booker but I was glad to see it getting the recognition it deserves elsewhere. The Overstory has stayed with me in the way that books about big topics can – I look at trees with entirely new eyes, climate change seems even more terrifying, and our behaviour even more stupid.
In the same month, I also read Sarah Moss’ Ghost Wall. I’ve been a fan of her writing since hearing her read at an event in 2014. Again, and I’m realising a thread here, her writing is full of detailed observation delivered in an understated, thoughtful prose style. This is a short tale of menace and concealed violence in a family. The characters are carefully delineated and you find yourself holding your breath. She’s a writer producing classics.
In November I was able to get hold of a copy of Jasper Barry’s That Deplorable Boy. His Miremont trilogy, set in Eighteenth Century France, is like studying a beautiful tapestry – there’s so much rich detail – and, two books in, I’m very taken with the two main characters, the Marquis de Miremont and his young lover, Max Fabien. I’m very much looking forward to Part 3.
And finally, a book that isn’t quiet in the slightest, but which had me gripped, and one which I’m going to re-read again soon, just to see which clues I missed. Like a brilliantly complex game, Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a deliciously complicated whodunnit with a time-travelling twist. This is the book I’m buying as presents this Christmas.
And because I’m pants at making choices, and because I have read so many good books this year, here are links to three other notably enjoyable novels … Merry Christmas, everyone!
House of Glass by Susan Fletcher is a wonderfully gothic tale of a large country house and its inhabitants, past and present.
Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight is Elisabeth Hobbes’ latest historical romance and, like her others, is a romance with a dark edge. I don’t really go for romance novels generally, but Hobbes’ writing is vivid in its historical details and I always look forward to the next one.
Sleeping Through War, by Jackie Carreira, is a moving exploration of the impact of war on three women across the world.