Books of the Year 2015: Part 2

Cover imageThis second batch of 2015 goodies covers April and May, and is made up entirely of women writers. No plan there – just the way this particular cookie crumbled. I’ll begin with The Shore, Sara Taylor’s beautifully packaged debut which appeared on both the Baileys longlist and the newly resurrected Sunday Times/ Peters Fraser Dunlop award shortlist. Taylor’s novel is made up of a set of interconnecting stories spanning a century and a half in the lives of the inhabitants of three small islands off the coast of Virginia. The Shore is the name given to the islands, all within a stone’s throw of each other, and the novel focuses on the two families who dominate them – one impoverished the other prosperous – both intertwined through marriage. Taylor’s writing is striking, her characters believable and her storytelling entrancing. Can’t say better than that.

My second April book is Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, commissioned as part of an exhibition by the Mexican juice factory that appears in the novel. Inspired by the nineteenth-century Cuban practice of employing a ‘tobacco reader’ who read to the workers to relieve their boredom, Luiselli arranged for her fiction to be read to the juice factory workers in instalments, incorporating their suggestions into the next episode just as Dickens did with his serialised novels. Ostensibly the somewhat outlandish story of Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, aka Highway, who has one aim in life – the perfect set of gnashers – the novel’s really about the art of storytelling. Often witty and fantastical, it’s a brilliantly original piece of work and translator Christina MacSweeney’s Chronologic is a wonderful finishing touch, putting Highway’s life into context and illuminating his many allusions.

Christine Dwyer Hickey is the kind of author about whom there’s not a great deal of brouhaha – no fanfare of Twitter trumpets heralding her next novel or drip feed of showy publicity – which in some ways is a relief and in others a shame. I’m not sure she has the readership she deserves. Written in precise, quiet and unshowy prose The Lives of Women, follows Elaine, back from the States on her first visit home in many years, as she remembers the summer back in the ‘70s which has shaped her adult life. The story’s an old one – and sad – but told with great skill and the hope of redemption. If you’veCover image not yet come across Hickey, I hope you’ll try one of her books. I rate her enough to have included her on my Man Booker wish list but, as with the Baileys, the judges failed to agree with me.

A God in Ruins has recently made its way on to the Costa shortlist, although for the life of me I fail to understand why it wasn’t on the Man Booker longlist at the very least. It was the one title I’d have bet my shirt on. Beginning in 1925, it’s the story of Teddy, brother of Ursula Todd whose many lives were lived in Life After Life. In her author’s note Atkinson says she likes ‘to think of it as a “companion” piece rather than a sequel’ and indeed that’s how it reads. Atkinson flashes forward and back seamlessly, deftly tossing observations from the future, literary allusions, thoughts on nature, riffs on trivia such as the unthinking cruelty of parents when naming their children, into her narrative and stitching it all together beautifully. It’s a wonder from beginning to its intensely moving end.

I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here – or perhaps proving my incompetence as a literary prize judge, not that I’m likely to become one – but here’s yet another novel that appeared on my Man Booker wish list but not on theirs. The Mountain Can Wait is sad story of Tom Berry and his son who has knocked down a young woman in the early hours after a party then fled. Sarah Leipciger’s writing is remarkable: she’s nailed that stripped-down, spare simplicity which conveys so much in a single phrase, and she’s a mistress of ‘show not tell’. The sense of place is strikingly vivid: in just a few words she made me feel that I was striding around the Canadian bush. It’s a beautifully expressed novel, one of the finest debuts I’ve read this year.

Cover imageRounding off this second selection is Jane Smiley’s Early Warning, the second instalment of her The Last Hundred Years Trilogy which reflects the twists and turns in America’s fortunes from 1920 until an imagined 2020 through an Iowan farming family. The first part, Some Luck, made it on to last year’s books of the year posts for me – and many others – so I was looking forward to seeing what happens to the Langdons next. It opens in 1953 with a funeral neatly passing the baton on to the next generation and finishes in 1986 with a revelation which offers another pleasing twist in the lives of the family. Published here in the UK in October, Golden Age completed the trilogy, and suffice to say it’s the equal of the other two.

That’s it for the second selection. A click on a title will take you to my review and if you’d like to catch up with the first post, it’s here. More to follow shortly when yet another Man Booker unfulfilled wish will be aired.

14 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2015: Part 2”

  1. Another great list, many which I’ve read about, none of which I’ve actually read. I’m looking forward to reading about Teddy eventually in A God in Ruins and I like the sound of The Mountain Can Wait. Almost sounds like a reference to all the many books we wish to indulge!

    1. Thanks, Claire.. It does indeed, although would have to be perfectly sculpted to match Leipciger’s writing!

    1. Thank you! It’s such an ambitious debut, isn’t it, but Taylor pulls it of beautifully. Looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

  2. This looks like a great list. I’ve been meaning to read A God in Ruins for ages but it had slipped my mind, so thank you for reminding me of it! It sounds wonderful.

  3. I am really looking forward to reading The Shore! I was lucky enough to have won the give-away for it on Naomi’s blog, The Writes of Women.
    I also hope to get to A God in Ruins one of these days, and there a couple on here I haven’t heard of. I’m off to read your reviews of them…

    1. A treat in store for you, Naomi. I hope you’ve got the beautifully packaged hardback edition. The paperback is also nicely jacketed but I love those shells!

  4. A great list. I still have The Shore in my sights, and I have to agree with you about The Mountain Can Wait – terrific writing and story. I’m looking forward to doing an event with her in January.

    1. Thank you. That’s a clever combination of writers. I’m sure it will work well. Inevitably I’m waiting for another one from both of you – no pressure!

  5. I’m hoping very much to read The Shore in the next few weeks, and I’m really glad you mentioned Christine Dwyer Hickey again because I knew there was an author you’d reviewed whose name had gone into the swamp of my memory which was annoying as I’d wanted to look her up. I have to say, of the three Smiley novels, I loved the last one the most. I thought it really pulled the others together and gave form and significance to all that had happened in them. They were all fab, though!

    1. I think you’d like the Hickey, Victoria. I’d love to see her profile lifted. If I hadn’t already read the Smileys I think they’d be my ideal Christmas present – a good, long engrossing read to make you forget all about winter!

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