It’s December, and you know what that means: best-of lists have been published and to-be-read piles have grown. Take your pick: authors’ favourites (here, curated by the Guardian Review; here, by The Observer) or critics’ picks genre by genre. But what about readers, you ask? Here is a selection of the excellent reviews they sent in for their favourite books of 2015.
They include some of the year’s most lauded fiction – like Marlon James’s powerful Man Booker winner about violence in 70s Jamaica –, some of the most anticipated, like Elena Ferrante’s conclusion to her Neapolitan series or Franzen’s return, and some of the most discussed, like Hanya Yanagihara’s mammoth A Little Life, a novel about friendship and the effects of child abuse, which has ignited heated debates among readers and critics. But our readers also vouch for extraordinary works of fantasy fiction, nature memoir and travel writing. Here are the notable books you most voted for, and why they’re worth reading – in your own words.
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Yanagihara’s Man Booker-nominated novel follows the friendship of four men in New York City over the course of their lives, and deals with the effects of child abuse – plus, it has certainly generated a polarised debate. It was the most-voted-for by our readers.
“The most captivating story of human suffering I have read in a very long time. This is a fictionalized document of the horrors of abuse at an early age and how its aftermath robs the main character of the ability to ever find peace or what we generally describe as a ‘normal life’. Riveting.” Joe Fantetti
“This had me weeping, shivering, smiling and utterly captivated throughout its length.” Sid
“Astonishing – gruelling but full of love.” Lisa Butcher
“Quite simply, no book has ever sunk so none-deep into me. The main character, Jude, lived so vividly in my mind that I woke up one night crying about something I dreamt had happened to him. It’s flawed in places but so vividly written, so heartfelt, it deserves every praise.” Joanne Finney
2. The Story of a Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The eagerly-awaited conclusion of Ferrante’s 4-part Neapolitan novels, which follows the lives and friendship between two women, has been beloved by critics and readers alike.
“Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series harks back to a time in which fiction was not trying to shock, preach or impress. It’s storytelling at its purest and most compelling, it’s as if Austen, Verga, Dostoyevsky and Stendhal had sat down together and decided to write a history of post-war Naples, telling us all we need to know about friendship, intellectual ambition, the struggle for true feminism and the Italian mind. And everything else, as well. Ferrante is certainly one of the most, if not the singular most, interesting figures in contemporary world literature.” Davide Ferrauto (New York)
“The last one of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels features Lila and Elena as adults growing elderly. Her prose continues to mine deep and hidden veins of consciousness, competition and complex friendships. It is flat-out the finest exploration of women’s lives, challenges and relationships I have ever read.” Diane E. Hamlin
“A wondrous conclusion to the Neapolitan novels. Deep in psychology, erudite in detail and compulsively readable.” Patrick Dyer
Atkinson’s follow-up to her best-selling Life After Life follows the life of Teddy Todd, a second-world-war RAF bomber pilot.
“Humane, witty and erudite while playing some interesting games with the form. Utterly beguiling.” Alun Lewis
“Just beautiful, building on the great foundation of Life After Life. I cried, and laughed (in that order I think). I want so much more … more Issy, more of everyone … please! Every character deserves their own volume.” Robert Thursfield
“It was the best-written book I read this year (and I’ve read 202 books so far this year (although not all from 2015). A novel can be about anything as long as it is well-written. All is in the telling.” Tom Rosenthal
4. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
This year’s Man Booker winner tells the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley – and of Jamaica in the 70s and 80s, when the guns flooded in and CIA agents took up residence.
“It’s hideously violent at times, and the sex scenes are a little strong for my taste, but dammit, Marlon James knows how to make these characters come alive – they’re flawed and selfish and entrenched in a world that I’ll never know, or want to know personally, but when Marlon James writes about it, I have no hesitation in visiting it for a few hours. Brilliantly written and considering what it was up against, a wonderful winner of the Booker. And for teaching me the word bombocloth, Marlon James has my eternal thanks!” Graham Vingoe
“Far-reaching, epic, complex, heart-breaking, scary, filled with breathtaking cursing and violence, yet still poetic.” Esme
“Brilliant use of perspective and voice. It also shines a light on a time and a place in history (Jamaican gunlaw and politics in the 1970s) that has previously hardly been noted in literature (in music yes, in literature not). Also, it brilliantly shows how blowback is not a concept limited to the Middle East; CIA interference in Jamaica directly leads to the Yardie drug possession in major American cities a decade later. It’s brilliantly researched, most of the main threads of the story are true or believed to be true. As Marlon James himself says, ‘if it no go so, it go nearly so’.” Guy Hearn
5. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Tyler’s 20th novel, a portrait of American domestic life landed her on the Baileys and Man Booker shortlists.
“The characters were so fully formed I felt I was reading a family album. There is poetry in the way the author has written about mundane family life. When the book ended, I felt alone.” Kimberly Shields
“I liked the mixture of endearing and exasperating characteristics of family members, the swirl of changing priorities and affinities that they display in Anne Tyler’s excruciatingly telling portrayal of family life and its formative history.” Pamela Aveyard
“A pitch perfect and tender novel of family dynamics and secrets.” Jane Kirby
Franzen’s new novel was arguably the most hyped of the year and, despite the author’s controversial figure, it didn’t disappoint (many) readers.
“Franzen’s last work is extremely readable and engaging. Although Purity might not be as good as Freedom or The Corrections, it is a gripping novel, which touches upon the ubiquity of social media and the way they shape human communication, mutual perceptions, and even one’s sense of self, as well as privacy and transparency in the internet. Franzen’s extravagant parallel between East German totalitarianism and the dictatorship of the World Wide Web might be a bit over the top, but it certainly makes you think.” Martyna
“Dickensian in scope and characterisation (as well as in its reliance on incredible coincidences) this was the most engrossing, thought provoking and, at times, infuriating read of 2015. Franzen at his best.” Jason Bright
“Every page contains the perfect words to describe the most confused feelings and experiences and beliefs.” Lil
Ten years after his previous novel, the adored Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro made a comeback with a turn into a Tolkienesque realm – and most readers loved him for it.
“The way that Ishiguro creates this epic tale of adventure with a lingering sense always of what is lost and absent is beautifully captivating. The novel is exciting and yet tragic in the way it masterfully deals with the power of memories and the hole their loss leaves as well as asking what love is really based on? Memories or feelings right now?” Marcus Bateson
“Whilst I have read pleasanter books, books that made me laugh out loud, books whose prose did not suggest a descent into depths of subconscious psychology, I can think of no other book read this year that quite simply buried itself into my psyche in quite the manner of The Buried Giant. I still find myself – months later – dwelling on its themes of memory, death and forgiveness, and attempting to answer a question, so heavy in our age of eternal digital memory: is it possible to truly forgive when we cannot forget?” Yvonne Bouma O’Brien
Shortly after Terry Pratchett passed away this year, it emerged that he was still working on several novels for his Discworld series. This, published posthumously in August, was the last one he completed.
“Moving finale to Discworld saga, beautifully written as always, full of humour and written with heart.” Snoj0815
“It was stunning, glorious and heartbreaking. A grand finale and a fitting swan song from one of the greatest writers of this – and the last – century. This books allows to mourn Sir Terry, Granny Weatherwax and Discworld together, and for that I am very grateful – and in awe of how, even in his last months of severe bad health, he was able to produce a book as witty and insightful as those that came before.” J.P. Bebbington
In a year in which the genre of nature writing has exploded, following the huge mainstream success of H is for Hawk, this memoir about columnist Rob Cowen’s move to Yorkshire captured our readers’ imagination.
“Nature writing for a generation that feels disconnected from the land. This book teaches us how to connect.” Joe Johnson
“Lyrical, honest and deeply moving exploration of the spaces where humans and nature meet.” Rosie Hoole
“Beautiful, fierce, radical loving memoir mapping a patch of ground and a personal transformation.” Nancy Kerr
10. Last Man Off by Matt Lewis
As true-life tales of endurance and survival go, Matt Lewis’s is one of the most dramatic in recent memory. His recounting of his experiences in 1998 on the doomed vessel Sudur Havid should take its place alongside The Perfect Storm, said reviewer Alexander Larman.
“Fascinating autobiographical tale of Matt Lewis surviving treacherous conditions to eventual catastrophe out at sea. His description of his crew mates is so detailed that you feel you knew them too.” Mary Ogilvie
“A frank and emotionally challenging account of a truly horrific accident on the high seas. The author writes in such a way that, although you know the outcome, it still has you on the edge of your seat.” Chris Lewis
“When faced with a situation beyond ones darkest fears, this is the true story of one mans courage, morality and heroism which will stay with you forever. If ever unfortunate enough to be faced with this situation, I hope this man is by my side.” Joanna Bennett
Is your favourite missing? Please add it in the comments below, and let us know why you loved it.
Source: The Guardian