2016 is the year I took stock of where my reading had slipped to; a serious upgrade was in order. The report card as the end of the year approaches? Much improved. New authors have been tried – and liked. New styles of writing have been tried – and have been appreciated, if not always loved. Here are the highlights.
1 The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante – I posted in the summer about discovering this set of four novels and they are – by a whisker – my pick of the year. Immersive (which is my default preference), they explore friendship and how it evolves over time, the ties of family, traditions and cultural norms and how we never really break free of our families, our early friends and our pasts.
2 Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – this runs the Neapolitan novels a very close second. Full of twists and turns, but also immense insight and fiercely contemporary. That age-old adage of never knowing what goes on in another couple’s marriage given a new lease of life.
3 Hemingway – I’ve only read two of his books (and both in the last few months) and neither would make the list, but I’m curious to read more by this writer. I find his style irritating plain – almost Janet-and-John at times – but by the end of the book I feel that I’ve been told a story from the heart. Thank you for the suggestion that I try A Farewell to Arms. Any more suggestions please?
4 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – another US writer, he produced this gem of a book with parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy with a flair for science who become teenagers during the Second World War. Both stories are utterly convincing and I’m in awe of the patient research across a range of topics that was needed to write this. The penultimate section of the book jarred with me, although other people I’ve spoken to found it essential to the story as a whole. (Sorry to sound cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it.)
5 Any Human Heart by William Boyd – a journal that’s so real you need to pinch yourself, even when you know it’s written by a fictional character. Logan Mountstuart has an astonishing knack of encountering writers, artists and public figures in the course of his daily life. But they’re peripheral to his personal life that’s full of incident but also profoundly empty at times. I spent a lot of the book puzzling what was fact and what was fiction and decided that it didn’t matter because it was such a good read.
Thank you to everyone who recommended books and I’m on the look-out for more to explore in 2017 – all suggestions very gratefully received.
A Merry Christmas to you and best wishes for 2017