A quick post about the last three books I’ve read this year and then my list of best books. I loved Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. Poetical, magical. Beautiful writing. It takes a while to realise what the author’s doing. It’s a novel but reads like a memoir. I had to check it wasn’t a memoir. So real. Another book about dealing with grief – seems to have been my thing this year.
By Grand Station I Sat Down And Wept was amazing. Thanks to Jessa Crispen for alerting me to it via Twitter. Written in 1945 it’s a memoir like no other. A woman writing about her relationship with a married man. That description doesn’t begin to describe it. She takes you into her emotions – her yearning for him, physical and spiritual longing. And by describing her emotions she tells of their life together. Him arriving from overseas to meet her (with his wife in tow), being arrested for being in an illicit relationship (those were the times), being pregnant. Being left. The true story is amazing. The author pursued her lover. I love her agency in this whole story. You wonder, as Yann Martel does in the Foreword, whether George knew what he was getting into. He doesn’t seem a worthy subject for this homage. She had 4 children with him, while he never left his wife. The book is indescribable. I’m not sure Angela Carter’s blasted by lightening is the right metaphor. It’s certainly raw and emotionally devastating.
I was wary about Anne Enright’s The Green Road having not particularly enjoyed her Booker Prize winning The Gathering years ago. I think she is a beautiful writer, but once again, I didn’t care for any of her characters. I do love the cover though.
Now here’s my best books of 2015 list – in order because I liked them all.
1 The Neopolitan novel cycle, Elena Ferrante. I’ve been recommending this to everyone. Immerse yourself in another life with all its striving, it’s missteps and accomplishments – to realise ultimately you just deal with the hand you’re dealt. I enjoyed the two middle books best but it’s a very individual choice. You have to read them all – and in order to appreciate them: My Brilliant Friend, The Story Of A New Name, Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay and The Story Of The Lost Child.
2 A Dance To The Music Of Time, Anthony Powell. Another novel cycle – 12 books published in four volumes, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter each containing three novels telling the lives of inter- connected characters from school through to university, building careers, marriages, affairs, war, success, failure, madness, illness and finally old age or death. Commenced after the Second World War and going up to the 1960s or thereabouts. I loved the first books best – right up to the final volume which I still enjoyed just not so intensely. I loved how the small accretion of detail built up into a whole. How the significance of chance encounters emerged later. How characters crisis crossed with each other. All just like life itself. And peoples characters were revealed by what they did, not described by an authorial voice.
3 The Iceberg, Marion Coutts. This was a close run thing with the next two books. But wins because of the immediacy and truthfulness of the writing which manages to author conveys big things happening through small observations. Heartbreaking but not dispiriting. What an accomplishment.
4 Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, Max Porter. For the idea of the bird which is quite magical and a wonderful way of dealing with something unbearable and for the poetical writing.
5 By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, Elizabeth Smart. For its audacity and baring of the soul!
6 H Is For Hawk, Helen McDonald. When I read it I thought this would be my favourite book of the year. I loved everything about it – training the goshawk, recalling TH White, the few (too few I felt but more would have made it a different book) references to her father and to her life as a precariously employed academic. It’s pleasing to see Helen now with a column at the New York Times and on the authors circuit.
7 The Department Of Speculation, Jenny Offil. For its elusive telling of a marriage enduring stormy waters. I loved it and mean to read it again – just haven’t yet.
8 Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey. It’s so long ago I had to check that I’d read this book this year. It was so clever. A mystery really but the protagonist had Alzheimer’s it was also about how families communicate with a family member with that horrible disease. All the clues were laid out – you just didn’t see them. A completely satisfactory ending.
9 A Spy Among Friends, Ben Macintyre. A real mystery here. How Philby was protected right to the end. A great achievement to retell this well told story and make it gripping. A nice Afterword by John Le Carre.
10 All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews. For shedding light on something that’s really difficult to understand (suicide) in a really accessible way. Beautiful characters dealing with the inexplicable, juggling their livestrying to do the right thing. Lovely in it’s normalcy.
11 Us, David Nicholls because it was fun to read and also had a good ending – so rare in novels.
12 The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me, Sofia Zinovieff. For the extraordinary characters and how she dealt with her unusual inheritance.
13 – 19 Walking The Woods And The Waters, Kayak Morning, Au Revoir To All That, Traitor’s Purse, Vile Bodies, The Illuminations, The Green Road