Books of the Year 2014: Part 1

It’s that time of the year again – best of this and that all over the place. When I did this last year I’d only been blogging for a few months and, foolishly, thought I’d restrict myself to a top six. It didn’t work and the so-called six spilled over into just under twenty so this year I’m spreading things out a bit starting at the beginning of my reading year which got off to a stonking start.

Paperback cover image By January 8th I’d already got one very fine read notched up: Michèle Forbes’ exquisitely written debut, Ghost Moth. Set in Northern Ireland, it opens in 1969 and is the story of a marriage told in alternating narratives, twenty years apart. The following week it was Fiona Macfarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest, which opens dramatically with a tiger stalking the Australian beachside house where Ruth lives. Ruth as we soon realise, is demented – a theme which seemed hard to avoid in 2014’s fiction but with its subtle incremental use of suspense McFarlane’s novel stands out for me as one of the better ways of exploring it, and clearly the Guardian First Book Award judges agreed. Unsurprisingly given its centenary year, the First World War provided the backdrop for a plethora of novels from which Helen Dunmore’s The Lie stood out for me. Dunmore, as regular readers may have noticed given that I regularly bang on about her, is one of my favourite writers, sadly underrated. Still in January, Katherine Grant’s Sedition was a treat: a bawdy, rollicking tale, set in 1794 about the subversion of male authority. It’s a hugely enjoyable novel, liberally laced with a ribald, salacious wit underpinned with sufficient sobriety to save it from caricature.

Four picks already, and I’ve only just reached February – a short month and not usually a Cover image very exciting one in the publishing schedules or the UK winter, come to that. Louise Levine’s The Following Girls cheered me up with its pitch-perfect satire on adolescent schoolgirl life in the 1970s, replete with period detail and smartarse one-liners but with a nicely honed dark edge. Hélène Gestern’s beautifully constructed The People in the Photo also took me back to the ‘70s with its newspaper cutting from which two people try to trace their history. In this detective story without a detective, Gestern painstakingly leads her readers down a few blind alleys pulling at our heartstrings until Pierre and Nataliya’s stories are pieced together. Finally, at least for this post, but still in February the wonderfully imaginative Helen Oyeyemi gave us Boy, Snow, Bird, a fabulous tale of race and identity with a twist towards the end which will knock your socks off.

That’s my first seven picks of 2014. I’ve come up with twenty-one in all so two more posts in the offing, although it’s only early December: still time for additions.

25 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2014: Part 1”

  1. Ooo interesting ….only read one of these so far …..The Lie which I liked but it won’t make my top books of 2014 . Boy Snow Bird has been in my sights for a while . I have a feeling my TBR is going to grow a lot !

    1. Boy Snow Bird is such an original book. She never fails to come up with something interesting. Two more posts to come later in the week…

    1. I so enjoyed The People in the Photo, so cleverly put together. I hope you liked it as much as I did, Fleur.

  2. Have only read The People in the Photo but loved your review of The Night Guest. enjoying seeing all the lists coming out, will will be waiting until the very end for mine! Too many good reads still to come 🙂

    1. I think The Night Guest is the best of the many novels on the dementia theme published this year. I’ll look forward to your list, Claire.

    1. I think you’d like it, Jacqui. I hope you have a list on the go yourself although as your reviews prompted over half of my Waterstones order yesterday it may be better for me if you haven’t!

  3. Interesting list…and I’ve not read any of them. I usually do a top ten after Christmas, because I learnt the hard way that if I do it any earlier I miss out on the books I read in late December, which, for whatever reason, turn out to be among the best of the year.

    1. It seems I’m incapable of restricting myself to ten – I’ll look forward to seeing which ones you pick.

  4. I can’t believe I’ve not read any of these, after the year I’ve had of reading newly published books! Ah well, all the more paperbacks to look out for in the New Year. I do own Sedition, however, and am looking forward to that one already. I am making notes here!

    1. It’s all those years looking ahead as a bookseller and an editor – one of these days I’ll get around to some rereading. I hope you enjoy Sedition as much as I did. Very much looking forward to what Katherine Grant does next.

  5. Pingback: Books of the Year 2015: Part 1 | A Life In Books

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