In the lead up to last Christmas, I posted my favourite twelve books read during 2015 and I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to look back and see which books really stuck with me over the year and I had some great feedback from people who loved my recommendations (and some who really didn’t – I appreciated that too). But it was quite a lot of work at a time when I should probably have been doing something more useful: Christmas shopping, redecorating my living room, socialising with friends and family…
Little and often seems a better approach so, this year, I’m going to share the books I’ve most enjoyed each quarter. An added bonus is that I don’t spam your Facebook/Twitter feeds for twelve days in a row. Just once every three months.
Here are my favourite books from January to March!
The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler
I’m cheating a bit with this one because: a) I actually finished it in December (but too late to make it in to my 2015 list) and b) it isn’t published until May. But it is so good, I had to share it. Kohler describes an extended family torn apart by the Vietnam war through the story of siblings, Jeannie and Kip, who we meet as teenagers, shortly after the death of their mother. Their bereavement sets them both on paths which lead them to terrible and irreversible acts. I was struck by the strength of the two protagonists’ voices in this novel: Kip fighting the war in Vietnam and witnessing the most unimaginable horrors, Jeannie at home in California, unanchored by the loss of her mother and rattling dangerously between her husband, a young woman involved in the anti-war movement and a seriously injured veteran. The quality of Kohler’s writing means the novel is extraordinarily powerful, the behaviour of its protagonists complex, flawed and… human. Set yourself a reminder to buy it in May.
spill simmer falter wither by Sara Baume
A novel written in the second person, addressed to a one-eyed dog, may not sound like your cup of tea – it certainly didn’t sound like mine. In fact, when it was recommended to me at my Mr B’s Book Spa, I left it behind. But I was drawn back by consistently good reviews and am so glad I was. spill simmer falter wither – set over the course of a year, each chapter covering a season – follows Ray, a misfit living alone in his late father’s damp and cluttered house on the coast as he adopts and settles in to life with a scrappy terrier called One-Eye. They suit one another: both have been cast aside, both are unloved, both have been damaged by their lives. After One-Eye violently attacks another dog, Ray gathers a few belongings into his car and flees with his pet, driving cross-country, away from repercussions. But Ray has a terrible secret (the reader’s realisation of this secret is creeping and, truly, awful) and he knows he must eventually return to face it. Baume’s writing, particularly her sensitivity to the natural world and the passing of the seasons, is beautiful. But it’s her stark portrayal of social isolation, its all-encompassing loneliness, that really lingers.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Atkinson’s first novel about the Todd family – Life After Life – was a huge hit and, although I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite make any of my previous lists. I think its companion novel, A God in Ruins is even better. This time, Ursula Todd’s brother, Teddy, takes centre stage, the novel following him from his early years to his death in the 21st century, through his time as a WWII bomber pilot, a husband, father and grandfather. As in her first novel, Atkinson plays with chronology but does this more subtly here, the small slips and repetitions in the narrative suggesting more about Teddy’s age, the events that play on his mind in his later years, than a literary device. This subtlety makes the ending – which I won’t give away – at once audacious and satisfying (although I think some will absolutely hate it). What I found slightly less subtle was the character of Viola, Teddy’s daughter, who I found to be cliched and, frankly, hateful. But the overwhelming sadness of this novel, its poignancy, hasn’t left me since I put it down.
This quarter I also read:
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
- A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray
- Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
- Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare
You wouldn’t go far wrong with any of them, either…