I’ve read many books this year. I toyed with picking my top five just before the tree went up, and then my pedantic partner pointed out two weeks remained of the year. I could easily read a book or two more. And he was right. I did. One absolutely dire (it’s topping best seller lists even now), the other a zinger and featured below.
As you read this, I’ll be ironing my pyjamas and checking every few minutes we’ve enough milk, given the shops might shut tomorrow. It’s anti-party central at the Fanning home. I might even find my first book for next year.
Six titles really stuck in my mind this year, and I’d like to recommend them if you’re shopping around for something to read while Jools Holland keeps his mates in appearance fees. Keep in mind, I’m (un)fashionably late to any party, so none of these are likely to be found on the hot new title displays in your local bookshop.
Elinor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman
I’d heard so much about Gail’s debut novel. Not only did it win dusty fusty awards, but normal people seemed to like it too – and rarely do the two things happen. It’s while since I found myself gripped from the first chapter. When I found Elinor, I was struggling to finish any book. I’d been through the old cancer thing and convinced myself the drugs pumped into me would lead my mind giving up the ghost. (And yes, I do tend to grandstand the personal anguish). Gail Honeyman wrote a book that kicked my reading head back into shape and for that I can never thank her enough. Elinor is a fascinating woman. I see a lot of workplace me in her. Watching her evolve from someone bewildered by the sudden speed and impersonal conventions of society into someone who finds her way to fit in proved fascinating. I could cringe with recognition one minute, be angry with her (and me) the next and then disarmed by her kindness. This is a rare book. I’d take it to any desert island. And so should you.
Promising young women – Caroline O’Donoghue
The opening chapters suggested this to be a light and frothy slice of women’s commercial fiction. Well-written but not one I’d remember. Because I didn’t bother with Caroline’s supporting interviews or think pieces, I was in no way prepared for the depths the story plumbed as more layers of dignity were ripped from Jane Peters. I don’t want to spoil things for anyone, so I won’t reveal more, but ‘Promising Young Women’ swings from one place to another with no hint of a warning. And my feelings for Jane changed too. This book kept me awake late at night, promising myself one more chapter. I can’t wait for what Caroline does next.
The cactus – Sarah Haywood
I sort of held off on this one, feeling it might be too much like Elinor Oliphant, and in doing so, nearly missed out on adding this to my year-end list. Susan Green isn’t your typical cat hair, furry booted crotchety office knitter. She doesn’t even seem to know who she is or how she fits in. There’s intrigue in knowing who put such an old and careful head on these shoulders. As prickly as you might expect from the title, it’s only when something in her life gradually becomes tangible, that the walls shift. And the ending packs a powerful but satisfying punch.
Friend request – Laura Marshall
This title was already past its hype period when someone told me I had to read it. The period detail was spot on and stirred in me visceral hate for social media as it turned the torch on the damage caused by childhood bullies. Add in a cracking whodunnit story line and you’ve something that’s hard to put down. Despite the raw subject matter, Laura’s writing stayed warm and entirely accessible. The ending felt satisfying – if a teeny tiny bit over-signposted. It’s a quick read, but well worth your while. Laura’s new book actually came out this year and it’s on my ‘to read’ list for 2019.
After you’d gone – Maggie O’Farrell
This is one of the oldest books I picked up this year. I’d heard of Maggie, but never quite found the time or space to read her. Thanks to the literary awards piled on her plate, I suspected I might find her words overwrought. ‘After you’d gone’ is a stark and incredible read. I raced through it unable to stop. I went on and read ‘My lover’s lover’ right after and found it a huge letdown, but it won’t put me off reading more from her. In fact I already dipped my toe in ‘Esme Lennox” (that sounded better in my head than it does now) and it’s the next cab off my reading rank.
The Break – Marian Keyes
There’s something so dependable about any book by Marian Keyes. Before I pick it up, I know I’ll identify with at least one of her characters. I know I’ll smile. I suspect at some point I’ll be thrown by the depths of despair that rises from an otherwise ordinary event. ‘The Break’ didn’t disappoint. If anything, it’s one of her strongest tales. Beautifully written, with characters that used a new economy of words – but don’t worry that doesn’t make it feel any the less Marian. She might not pump the books out so much these days, but every title is worth the wait. Why isn’t she compulsory reading at every school in every land?