My favourite books of 2015

Books-of-the-yearIt’s New Year’s Eve, so  it’s time to carry out my annual tradition of selecting 10 of my reading highlights from the past 12 months.

Over the course of 2015 I read 80 books (nine of which are still to be reviewed — oops) which is about average for me. I could probably read twice that if I spent less time on Twitter and didn’t have to go to work!

My favourite books come from a variety of countries and languages. Some were published this year, most were published prior to 2014. A few could be regarded as modern classics, several may well turn out to be classics of the future. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, some made me feel sick to the stomach. All intrigued and delighted me.

Here they are. Note they have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my full review.

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry (2015)
My favourite read of the year, Kevin Barry’s award-winning novel follows the exploits of a troubled man who simply wants to spend three days alone on the island he bought off the west coast of Ireland years ago but has never visited. The plot, which draws strongly on Samuel Beckett, is full of riotous comedy, quick-fire dialogue and surreal moments of despair and angst. I loved it.

spill-simmer-falter-wither-tramp-press

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (2015)
Sara Baume’s debut novel is an impressive achievement. Written in the second person, present tense, it’s a beautiful and sad tale about the year in the life of one man and his newly bought rescue dog. Yet the story is less about their relationship and more about how a social misfit, a resourceful man who can barely string two words together, seeks solace in a world he doesn’t really understand.

The_lover

The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)
This evocative novel (translated from the French by Barbara Bray) is about forbidden love set in exotic Indochina in 1929. It is narrated by Hélène Lagonelle, a French woman looking back on her life, as she recalls the love affair she conducted, aged 15, with a Chinese man 12 years her senior. It is, by turns, heart-wrenching, sensual and disturbing, deeply melancholy and pulsates with an aching loneliness. It brings to mind the very best writing of Jean Rhys.

Young-god

Young God by Katherine Faw Morris (2014)
This is the kind of book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. The urgency of the writing and the dire predicament of the young narrator — Nikki, a sassy, street-smart 13-year-old forced to live with her drug-addicted father and his underage lover — make it absolutely compelling reading. It’s not a book to be forgotten easily.

The-Good-Doctor

The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut (2003)
This turned out to be my surprise read of the year, for The Good Doctor is written in such a lucid dreamlike style I felt I couldn’t function in the real world until I’d finished it. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, it tells the story of a middle-aged staff doctor, working in a deserted rural hospital, who is forced to share his room with a blow-in: a newly qualified doctor brimming with idealism. Thrust together in this unnatural way, the older doctor who narrates the story must confront dark truths about himself — and his country.

Republic-of-Uzupis

The Republic of Užupis by Haïlji (2012)
Possibly the strangest book I’ve read all year, this post-modern novel (translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton) is set in Lithuania even though it’s by a Korean writer.  Hal, the 40-something protagonist, arrives in Vilnius looking for the Republic of Užupis — his father’s homeland — but no-one seems to know where it is located or even whether it exists. Written in dreamlike, melancholic prose, it explores the idea of nationhood, and plays with the notions of time and memory, so it feels like something Paul Auster might have come up with. It’s weirdly compelling.

This-place-holds-no-fear

This Place Holds No Fear by Monika Held (2015)
I went through a phase of reading books about the Holocaust earlier in the year, and this one left a memorable impression, perhaps because it looked at what happens to someone who manages to survive the Nazi death camps; can they ever hope to find happiness and lead a normal life again? The tale is essentially a love story between Heiner, a Viennese man, who was deported to Auschwitz in 1942 as a Communist, and Lena, a translator from Germany, who is 10 years his junior. This beautifully told tale offers a poignant, often moving but never sentimental, glimpse into a marriage that is governed by trauma. It’s never maudlin, however, but it distills in clear, eloquent prose (beautifully translated from the German by Anne Posten), an unconditional love that knows no bounds. Deeply affecting — and based on a true story.

The-Dig

The Dig by Cynan Jones (2014)
The Dig pits two men against each other — a sheep farmer and a ratting man who keeps dogs for pest control — and then explores the outfall between them. This powerful and violent novella explores rural life, Nature,  crime and grief. It is an intense and immersive reading experience, dark and thrilling, but also heart-wrenching and occasionally stomach-churning. I liked it so much I went out and bought Jones’ entire back catalogue.

Bright-lights-big-city-new

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1985)
What a joy this Bloomsbury classic proved to be. First published in 1985, I’d long written Bright Lights, Big City off as a “drugs novel” — but how wrong could I be? It is essentially a black comedy about a 20-something trying to find his way in the world, not always making the right decisions and paying the price along the way. I especially loved its depiction of life working on a magazine, and the New York setting was a plus too.

The-enchanted-april

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)
Proving that I don’t always read fiction that is dark and miserable, The Enchanted April turned out to be a rather delightful, joyous and, dare I say it, enchanting read (see what I did there?) First published in 1922, it tells the story of four very different English women who go on holiday to Italy together without their male partners and follows the often humorous exploits that follow. A brilliantly evocative comedy of manners and an insightful exploration of the give and take required between friends and married couples, I totally loved this warm and funny book.

Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? Care to share your own favourite reads of 2015?

Note that you can see my favourite books of all the years between 2006 and 2014 by visiting my Books of the Year page.

Finally, many thanks for your support — emails, blog visits, comments, likes, clicks and links — both here and on Reading Matters’ Facebook page over the past 12 months; it is very much appreciated. Here’s wishing you a fabulous book-filled New Year! 

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41 thoughts on “My favourite books of 2015

    • Beatlebone is a wonderful read, especially if you know John Lennon’s back story, and Big City Bright Lights is almost a perfect example of how writing in the second person can really work if you can balance pathos with humour.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. There’s some lovely books here, I remember reading your reviews at the time and being very tempted.
    Thanks for sharing your reading throughout the year, you make a wonderful contribution and will always be one of my favourite bloggers.
    Happy New Year!

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    • Awww, thanks for such a lovely comment, Lisa. The feeling is mutual. I love keeping in touch with ANZ lit from this side of the world thanks to you. I still remember the days pre-blogging when that just wasn’t possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Delighted to see that Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither made the cut! I already have Beatlebone on my list and feel that I should try The Republic of Uzipis having sought Uzipis out when I was in Vilnius earlier this year. I’d been expecting something along the lines of Copenhagen’s Christiania but it wasn’t quite like that!

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  3. That’s a great list, Kim. I’ve only read two of them (The Dig and The Good Doctor) but I’ve been meaning to read The Enchanted April for years (I even have it in the lovely Folio Society edition). I’d not been fancying the Sara Baume until I read your review but now I’m keen to give it a try.

    My top ten favourite reads of 2015 were these:

    1. The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott, 1966
    2. Rhapsody – Dorothy Edwards, 1927
    3. The Ballad of Desmond Kale – Roger McDonald, 2005
    4. Happy All the Time – Laurie Colwin, 1978
    5. Close to Hugh – Marina Endicott, 2015 (my favourite book from the Giller longlist)
    6. In the Country – Mia Alvar, 2015
    7. The Tivington Nott – Alex Miller, 1989
    8. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Richard Yates, 1962
    9. The River is the River – Jonathan Buckley, 2015
    10. Our Souls at Night – Kent Haruf, 2015

    Agh, ten doesn’t seem enough… I can’t not mention Mollie Panter-Downes’s delightful wartime short stories in “Good Evening Mrs. Craven” or Richard Burns’s fabulous 1986 novel about the First World War and its effects, “A Dance for the Moon”.

    All the best for the New Year!

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    • Thanks for sharing your list, David. Nice to see some Australians on it. Does that mean you’ve read all the Millers now? I had hoped to read the Kent Haruf but couldn’t quite bring myself to do so knowing that it’s his very last novel. Oh, and interesting to hear you thought the Endicott was the best novel off the Giller list; I never got to read that one.

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      • I’ve still got “The Ancestor Game” to go, plus “The Simplest Words”, the collection of miscellanea (essays, short stories, pieces about the writing of each of his novels) that came out a month or so ago.
        I know what you mean about the Kent Haruf: a bittersweet reading experience – on the one hand its a perfect little gem of a book, but on the other it means now there will only ever be rereads to look forward to.

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  4. There are many on this list I want to read now, thanks to you! I feel most drawn to Beatlebone, Spill Simmer, The Good Doctor, This Place Holds No Fear, and The Enchanted April. The Enchanted April was just recommended to me by a friend a few days ago, actually, and I had already forgotten about it – so I’m glad it was on your list to remind me.

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    • Pardon me for cutting in but a whole set of Galgut – unread. Unforgivable. 🙂 I’m a biased fan, hope you enjoy and The Good Doctor is a perfect place to start.

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      • Order taken 🙂
        Thank you for recommending The Good Doctor to start. It’s always hard where to begin with a new author as some novels you appreciate more when you’re familiar with their style.

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    • Oh yes, do read The Good Doctor. It’s the only Galgut I’ve read — it had been languishing in my virtual TBR (the one on the Kindle) for years. I’m looking forward to reading more by him in due course.

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  5. I haven’t read a single one of these books, and there were many there that I hadn’t even heard of! Thanks for stretching my boundaries.

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    • You’re very welcome. I do like to read books that are off the radar, so to speak. And looking at this list now I can see some common themes… I like dark fiction, writers that play with form/viewpoints and strong, distinctive voices.

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  6. It looks like you have had a good reading year. I have only read The Good Doctor from your list, which I really enjoyed. I have added every single one of these books to either my library wish list or have ordered them direct from the bookstore. Don’t know if I’ll get to them all but I’ll certainly try. My top 12 for the year (couldn’t narrow it down to ten) are:

    1. The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman
    2. The Golden Age – Joan London
    3. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
    4. The Painted Veil – W Somerset Maugham
    5. The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks
    6. Three Day Road – Joseph Boyden
    7. 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup
    8. Beside the Sea – Veronique Olmi
    9. The Red Chief – Ion Idriess
    10. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
    11. Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver
    12. The Harp in the South trilogy – Ruth Park

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    • I had a surprisingly good reading year, particularly in the latter half. I think it helped that I’ve been poorly (severe lightheadedness) since October (almost back to full health now) which meant that I spent a lot of time at home and the only thing that kept me sane and which helped with the lightheaded feeling was books!

      Thanks for sharing your list. So many on there I want to read (Boyden, Maugham, London, Newman, Adiche). Of the two I have read (Olmi, Park) they are favourites of mine, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Of course I have read the Good Doctor, I’m due for a reread as I am on may way back through his work for the 2nd or 3rd time. Of the others, I have eyeballed The Dig a few times and I really wanted read This Place Holds No Fear but the cost has held me back. It is only available as an e-book here with a cost of $20-25. Too much. I will have to watch for UK prices to drop or try to find second hand. Thanks for the reminder.

    Happy New Year.

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    • Isn’t it wonderful when you have a favourite author whose work you can return to again and again? I can see why Galgut appeals, even if I’ve only read one of his books. I will definitely get to the others in due course.

      I think you’d like The Dig; it’s short and powerful and his prose style is just gorgeous. If I was a fiction writer this is how I would like to write fiction.

      Such a shame This Place Holds No Fear is expensive. It’s by an independent German press based in London, so mine came for review and I have to say the physical book is a thing of beauty: so lovely to hold and with an attractive text font. I can email you my contact here, if you like, because I’m sure they’d send you a review copy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That explains why it’s so expensive in Australia too – I ended up asking my library to buy this one due to the price.

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      • I would be interested in trying to obtain a copy of This Place Holds No Fear. I was hoping that it would become more accessible. You can email me at schreiberjm at shaw dot ca. Thanks so much.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ll second Rough Ghosts re The Good Doctor, that was a very impressive book:)
    And I’m so pleased to see David list The Ballad of Desmond Kale in his best-of list!
    PS Sharon, The Secret Chord is my bedtime book right now!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As I’ve read, and loved (in their various ways), three off this list – The Enchanted April, the Dig and Spill Simmer Falter Wither – I’m going to check out some of the others!

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    • You’re in for a treat, Seamus. I must admit that I never got to the end of City of Bohane when I tried to read it a couple of years ago: I had too much going on in my life so put it aside to read at a later date and I just never went back to it…it’s encouraging to hear that you loved it.

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  10. Happy New Year! I’m determined to read everything Elizabeth von Arnim ever wrote. have you read The Pastor’s Wife or Elizabeth and Her German Garden? They’re my favorites so far.

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    • Happy New Year to you, too, Alex. Sadly, I’ve only read The Enchanted April but I do want to read her other books. Given she was born in Australia I may, in fact, be able to read her this year seeing as I’m devoting 2016 to Australian literature only.

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  11. Pingback: BBAW: The Books I Bought Because of Other Bloggers | Consumed by Ink

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