Having read and enjoyed many great best reads lists by other book bloggers for 2015, I thought I would add my own list into the mix.
This isn’t something I normally do as all the books that make it on to my blog are great reads. However, there are 12 books that were so extraordinary and resonant that my memory replays whole scenes with the visual impact of an IMAX movie the moment I think about them.
Becoming Unbecoming by Una is, in my opinion, one of the most important novels published in 2015. As it is a graphic novel it may have slipped under your radar. Within theses pages is a sensitively rendered yet powerful exploration of the blame and shame culture that surrounds sexual violence. Set in the seventies in the era of serial murderer Peter Sutcliffe, known as The Yorkshire Ripper, this graphic novel examines how the reporting and investigation of the Sutcliffe killings undermined, devalued and restricted many female lives. The novel does not feature gratuitous violence, instead much is left to the imagination and it is a much more emotionally powerful reading experience because of what the author chooses to leave out. If you’d like to find out more here’s my full review and there’s a wonderful review over on the Savidge Reads blog.
The Last Pilot by Ben Johncock is an absolute joy to read. Johncock’s writing is taut and spare yet it has a quietly powerful resonance that evokes deeply emotional imagery. Prepare to have your heart shot into the galaxy of human emotion as you read The Last Pilot, just remember to pack plenty of tissues for the moment that Harrison is drawn into a black hole of loss and despair. This is one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read about the infinite capacity of the human heart to dream, love, grieve, survive and thrive despite the heart-breaking impact of adversity. Read my full review.
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Reading this novel is like watching a life go completely off the rails as unspoken truths come hurtling down the track, smashing through the lies and deceit to leave the hausfrau, Anna, in a perilous position. The writing is piercingly perceptive, as disturbing as it is enlightening, as an almost forensic spotlight is turned on the self-deception that is practiced by almost everyone within these engrossing pages. Read my full review
Disclaimer by Renee Knight. A disclaimer is a statement that denies something, especially responsibility, and that’s why this novel is so brilliant. Everyone in it makes a disclaimer: some because they have taken a situation at face value, some because of a need to protect and others because they don’t want to face the truth, because to face the truth would mean they would have to take responsibility for their actions. This gripping and well conceived novel put me through an emotional wringer. I was in tears by end as every character finally understood what they were and weren’t responsible for, and what it had cost them. Read my full review.
Ghosting by Jonathan Kemp. It’s quite possible to be a ghost in your own life, to exist yet not really feel alive, to become subsumed by another person’s expectation of who you are and what you should be until you no longer recognise yourself. In many ways this is 64-year-old Grace’s experience, until the day she thinks she’s seen the ghost of her long-deceased first husband, Pete. To say I loved this novel would be an understatement. Reading Ghosting is a heart-breaking yet uplifting experience. The writing is brimming with tenderness, insight and compassion as Grace gradually begins to reclaim herself rather than slip back into old habits and beliefs. As I turned the last page I hoped that the autumn of Grace’s life would be as golden as the leaves drifting down the black and white cover of this beautiful novel. Read my full review.
The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. This is an insightful, poignant and clever novel about the value we put on great art, love and life. There’s considerable skill on display in this novel, on the surface it appears to be light and comical but beneath the surface there is perceptive emotional depth as Rothschild takes you on a tour of the history of art from a rather unusual perspective. After reading this wonderful novel you will have a new appreciation of art and why it commands such high prices. Read my full review.
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels. Sean Michaels has reimagined the life of the inventor and Russian spy Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the inventor of the first electronic instrument – the Theremin – in 1920. The sentence structure has a sense of rhythm that’s quite breathtaking at times, some are short, no more than four or five words yet they resonate with meaning. The description of the sound of a theremin was so evocative I could hear it, like a forgotten memory, it sent me in search of the sound on YouTube where I found the love of Lev’s life, Clara Rockmore. Us Conductors is an original story of unrequited love that travels from America to Russia through some of the biggest world events from 1920s onwards, and is one of the most fascinating historical novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Read my full review.
The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis. This extraordinary novel depicts the human cost of war. The pages are peppered with vividly evoked scenes of the physical, emotional and mental trauma that many Armenian families went through during the massacre of their people in WWI. Makis has given the Armenian people a voice that shares the pain of the past and ends on a hopeful note. I was in tears by the end, they were cathartic tears as I grieved for those who were lost and acknowledged the light of a new generation that still burns thanks to those who survived. Read my full review.
I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers. This is a finely balanced, insightful and powerful novel that explores the impact of violence and how grief, blame and the desire to redeem past errors of judgement can be deeply complex, as each decision made by Turner ripples outwards causing unbearable pain and torment for himself and everyone involved. Snap up this stunning literary thriller for an unnerving and unforgettable reading experience. Read my full review.
Belonging by Umi Sinha. The story moves from India to England covering the Indian Cawnpore Massacre of 1857 to the First World War, when the lines of what was and wasn’t acceptable behaviour due to the English class and Indian caste systems became increasingly blurred, as new rules were made, bent and broken. This novel makes you think about the damage that secrets and lies can inflict on the unsuspecting and innocent. Silence is used as a mask, a shield and as a weapon depending on whether or not the protagonist feels like they don’t know where they belong, or that they are the property of someone with no control over their own lives. Every character is a fully realised human being with strengths and weaknesses, and Sinha writes each one with sensitivity and empathy as the truth of each situation is gradually unveiled. Love is the overriding emotion in this novel, a deep love that comes from understanding what has gone before in the hope that what is to come will be better, which is why this novel is one of my favourite books of the year. Read my full review.
The Good Son by Paul McVeigh. The voice McVeigh has created for young Micky Donnelly is full of energy and high spirits, filled with passion, humour and warmth. A sense of time and place is established within seconds on the opening page as Micky announces that he was born on the day the Troubles in Northern Ireland began, while his mother jokes that he’s the reason they started. McVeigh has captured the naïvety and complexity of being a little boy in an untenable situation with great sensitivity and compassion. If you choose to invest in The Good Son, you can do so in the knowledge that you are in the hands of an accomplished storyteller. Prepare to laugh and cry as Mickey Donnelly takes hold of your heart and never lets it go until the last page. Read my full review.
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. The novel features a little girl called Peggy who is taken away from everything she knows by her father who has survivalist fantasies. Peggy spends many years in isolation with her father and the novel sensitively explores the impact this has on her development as she leaves her childhood behind and becomes a young woman. Fuller has written a complex, devastating and completely unforgettable début novel. There is subtle artistry and exceptional skill in how Fuller shows rather than tells the reader what is happening to Grace and her father. The final scene is exquisitely drawn and resonates with such raw emotional power that I’ve never forgotten it. Read my full review here and/or my interview with Claire Fuller here.
I hope you enjoyed reading my list and that it encourages you to check out a few new reads. Please feel free to add your thoughts and recommended reads from 2015 in the comments section.