I find this time of year both exhilarating, full of anticipation of a chaotic family Christmas, but wistful as I reflect back on the year just gone, the people whom I’ve lost and the people less fortunate than me who are going to be spending Christmas in difficult surroundings. But it is also a time to consider the four most impressive books I’ve read this year, each very different, but each memorable in their particular way.
The first, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, is a stunning novel which records the meaning of friendship and the value of unconditional love. At times cruel and heart-stoppingly brutal, it is a story that will live with me for years to come. I haven’t read anything quite so affecting for years. Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It is another book I won’t forget – powerful and raw it records the long-term effect of a gang rape on a young Irish girl’s family with extraordinary directness. Not for the feint-hearted, and aimed at the YA market, it is a book that took me out of my comfort zone, but it was a journey well worth taking. I’m late to the party as far as Kate Morton is concerned, but I read The Distant Hours and couldn’t put it down. Evocative and atmospheric, it is the beautifully observed story about one girl’s quest to unearth her mother’s past life and it really delivers. The warmth of this author’s storytelling, combined with the love of her characters, is the defining feature of this writer, and in my humble opinion, she deserves all the accolades she has received. And lastly for something very different: the powerful and utterly emotional wreck-inducing Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, the experimental novel that confronts life, love and grief. Very different, highly original and utterly absorbing.
So four books, all different, but all powerful in their own right. What I realise, though, is that the defining feature of them all is the warmth with which their creators deal with their characters. It is that love for the protagonist which makes these novels – and that ultimately defines what I look for in a novel. They have taken me to places I would never normally experience in my day-to-day life, but they have opened my imagination to a place beyond – and that has to be the art of true storytelling.
Happy Christmas… and happy reading.
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