Fiction, Non-Fiction, Reviews

The best books of 2015

My apologies for the mixture of photos in this post – I have lent out some of the books featured so wasn’t able to take a nice photo of them and had to find images of the covers online. Not ideal, but there you go…

 

Somehow 2015 is over, and I have naturally been thinking about all the books I’ve read this year, and which was the best, and the worst, and which ones were in between. According to GoodReads I red 34 books in 2015 (one off my target of 35!), which is less than I usually read – I blame the new, busier job I started half way through the year!

I read a couple of super dupers early in the year, namely Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan, and Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Two very different books, but I loved them both. Bonjour Tristesse is sort of a coming-of-age tale, but it’s also about love and relationships and jealousy, and it is beautifully crafted. Tracks could also be seen as a coming-of-age tale, though it is about the author finding herself in the desert, which is a bit different to a posh holiday by the sea. It is fascinating, engaging, emotional, and just brilliant. It also proves why dogs are better than people.

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One of my very favourite books this year was The Blue Tattoo by Margot Mifflin. It was a random book I heard about on Twitter, but it was just wonderful to read. It is the story of the life of Olive Oatman, who was captured by Native Americans in the 1800s and lived with them for a few years before being ‘returned’ to ‘her people’. There are many other stories like Olive’s but this is a good place to start with this genre.

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The next amazing book I read was The Mighty Dead by Adam Nicolson. I was umming and ahhing about this one, but then Carolyn’s amazing post convinced me I must read it. And it was wonderful! Even thinking about it now fills me with hope and wonder. It celebrates everything about Homer and demonstrates why The Odyssey and The Iliad are so integral to the development of Western literature, and why we should all appreciate them more.

(image: goodreads.com)

(image: goodreads.com)

Since then I’ve mostly liked the books I’ve read (with one notable exception), so I’m just going to pick out a few…

I adored Forgotten Fatherland by Ben McIntyre. It popped up in my GoodReads recommendations, and it is one of the weirdest and most brilliant books I have ever read. It tells the story of Elisabeth Nietszche (sister of the philosopher) and the Aryan colony she set up in Paraguay with her husband. They were essentially early versions of Nazis, and in later life, when she returned to Germany, Elisabeth was a friend of Hitler and his party. He even came to her funeral. It has to be read to be believed.

(image: goodreads.com)

(image: goodreads.com)

I also very much enjoyed the three Shirley Jackson books I have read this year: Hangsaman, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. They are all weird and strange and brilliant, and I loved all of them a lot. I am now on a mission to read everything Shirley Jackson ever wrote, and she has set a lot of wheels in motion in my head with my own writing. If I could be a modern-day version of her as a writer, I’d be happy. More Shirley in 2016!

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I must recommend the two books about mental health that I read this year: The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor and Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. The former is quite dark and a bit bleak, though with a hopeful ending, and was really fascinating. I preferred reading Girl, Interrupted as it was less matter-of-fact and more about a very personal experience. These two books work in different ways, but both are illuminating, moving, and very well-written.

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And lastly I want to mention the book I recently posted about, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. It is the first book of Atwood’s I have read, and I think it was a good place for me to start. This is more my kind of thing than her science fiction/fantasy novels, and I will definitely read more of her work – just not all of it. I loved Alias Grace for a lot of reasons – I loved the setting and the atmosphere, the descriptions of daily life in Victorian Canada (and learning about that country’s history), and I loved the ambiguity and nuance of Grace and her story. Read more in my recent post here.

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So there you have it! The best books I have read this year. I am looking forward to many more fantastic reads in 2016.

What have been your best books of 2015?

 

 

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Fiction, Reviews

Sweet Francoise 

I don’t remember the impetus behind my finally buying a copy of Bonjour Tristesse, but I’m glad I did. Honestly it sat on my shelf for a long time – there are too many new books! – but deciding to do TBR20 made me pick it up again. I have a beautiful PMC edition whose cover promises romance, mystery, and lots of French sexiness.

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Gorgeous, isn’t it? I love these new editions with the white band at the top and bottom. This photo is also a really excellent choice for Bonjour Tristesse – a young woman and a (possibly older) man, sheltering her. Youth is so important to this story, in all its forms. Anyway. It’s a lovely book throughout, and Sagan’s language is simultaneously easy to read and elegant, charming, particularly when our narrator Cecile muses on herself:

I do believe that most of the things I took pleasure in during that period [in Paris with her father] simply came down to money – the pleasure of fast driving, of having a new dress, of enjoying those shallow pleasures, and anyway I only call them shallow because I’ve heard people say they are.  It would come more naturally to me to regret or disown any distress or fits of mysticism I may have had. My love of pleasure and happiness constitutes the only consistent aspect of my character. Perhaps I haven’t read enough.

In passages like this Cecile seems remarkably self-aware for a seventeen-year-old (though she may be a little older when writing her reflections, but not by much). It’s moments like this that really made me fond of Cecile, and made me marvel at the duality of simple/complicated in this book. If you recount the plot, it is simple, but there are a million small, human, moments that perfectly demonstrate how difficult it can be to be young, to be jealous, to have desires. I was fascinated by Cecile’s relationship with her father and their dependence on each other. They are sort of like a platonic husband and wife, living life firmly together, and tolerating each other’s relationships whilst still wanting each other to be happy. The lack of Cecile’s mother is vital. It means that she takes that position of her father’s companion, and wants him for herself, and yet still craves a mother figure. For me this is what fuels her complex, contrary feelings towards her father’s fiancée Anne.

I wish I had read Bonjour Tristesse when I was in my late teens, and I would recommend it to anyone of that age, girl or boy. It is the perfect antidote to most ‘teen fiction’ and yet it perfectly captures the feelings you have at that age. Cecile’s experience is an extreme example, but it is wonderful to know that feeling like that isn’t wrong or strange. It is part of life, part of becoming an adult. I personally remember having about a thousand different feelings at once, and constantly changing my mind and opinions about people and things. It’s totally normal and reading about it in such a classic, revered, French book like Bonjour Tristesse makes it all feel valid. Thank you Francoise!

Francoise. (image: the100.ru)

Francoise. (image: the100.ru)

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