Every year when I put my top ten reads together, I start by thinking that the year hasn’t been all that brilliant for reading, and then discover it’s been amazing. Seriously, it’s pretty great that I’m lucky enough to read such fab books every year. This year I had a 24 book shortlist, but have whittled it down to ten (and, as always, no re-reads and only one per author). And… here they are! In reverse order, for funsies. Also fun is that half of them were read for Shiny New Books (in those cases, the title links straight to SNB; the others link to SIAB reviews).
I think my main surprise is how few of them come from the first half of the 20th century… two are even from 2014; imagine!
Do let me know your end of year lists in the comments, please!
10. The Listener (1971) by Tove Jansson
Her first collection of short stories shows how great she would become – and she was great straight from the off. Some very deft and poignant tales here.
9. Marrying Out (2001) by Harold Carlton
Another wonderful memoir from Slightly Foxed, this one is about a young boy’s Jewish family disintegrating when one of his uncles wants to marry a girl who isn’t Jewish.
8. Mr Fox (1987) by Barbara Comyns
One of my favourite authors doesn’t disappoint with this quirky novel about a naive woman and the spiv whose life she is tangled up in.
7. The Optimist’s Daughter (1972) by Eudora Welty
A really stunning novella about how a daughter copes with her stepmother and neighbours after her father’s death.
6. Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984) by Penelope Fitzgerald
I loved Fitzgerald as a novelist; I vaguely knew of Mew – I couldn’t have known how gripping and involving this exceptional biography would be.
5. My Salinger Year (2014) by Joanna Rakoff
A wonderful memoir of working at the literary agency that represented J.D. Salinger – utterly involving.
4. Home (2008) by Marilynne Robinson
I read Home and Lila this year, but it was the former that won out for my end-of-year-list. The middle book of a truly exceptional, beautiful trilogy by (for my money) the world’s greatest living writer.
3. Boy, Snow, Bird (2014) by Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi goes from strength to strength (as well as being sickeningly young) and her fifth novel is a sophisticated exploration of the relationship between three related women.
2. Patricia Brent, Spinster (1918) by Herbert Jenkins
Entirely improbable and silly, but an unadulterated delight – Patricia persuades a young man to pretend to be her fiancée. Guess what happens next?
1. The Sundial (1958) by Shirley Jackson
An extremely funny and surreal novel about an extended family who will survive the apocalypse by staying in the family home together. Brilliantly, they are all rather unconcerned about the impending fire-and-brimstone, and Jackson gives us their squabbles and passive aggression instead. A superlatively inventive, amusing, and bizarre book.