‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ 2015: an Overview.
Before writing this post I had the idea of choosing my top and bottom three reads of the year. When it came down to it, I only managed two duds, but struggled to narrow down my favourites to less than five, so I’m going with that, because, hey, I can!
Starting with the positives, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’ by Alain-Fournier was one of the stand out novels of the year for me, because of its melancholic evocation of the transition from youth to adulthood. Stunning. I read my first Dostoyevsky novel this year. I found’Crime and Punishment’ to be deeply thought-provoking, grappling as it does with questions of morality and how we should live. I must make sure to put more Dostoyevsky in my 2016 TBR pile.
Another hefty tome that made it onto my ‘best of’ list was Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’. I read it whilst on holiday in the spring, which allowed me the time to really immerse myself in it, and it really was a life-changing read. To create a novel of such vast scope seems incomprehensible to me. It is a masterpiece. The numerous characters all live and breathe, and the way individual lives are woven into the fabric of the greater political backdrop is both breathtaking and moving. By the end, Hugo has conjured a grand vista of Paris, allowing you to see both the macro and the micro. It is a magnificent novel, very possibly my all-time joint favourite along with Proust.
Later in the year I discovered the wonderful writing of Elizabeth Taylor. ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont’ was a fantastic discovery, and moved me with its wry, yet tender portrayal of the loneliness of old age. I have since made it my mission to find and read more of Taylor’s novels, so watch this space!
Another lucky find from the Guardian’s 100 greatest novels list was Angela Carter’s ‘Wise Children’. Carter’s hilarious portrayal of illegitimate twins looking back on a life in show business had me frequently snorting with laughter and wearing red lipstick in homage. On the strength of ‘Wise Children’, I’ve also bought a number of other novels by Angela Carter, which I’m looking forward to reading during 2016.
I’d also give special mention to another writer who I discovered this year. Josephine Tey’s ‘The Singing Sands’ and ‘the Daughter of Time’ helped rekindle my love of the detective novel, ensuring that my reading list for 2016 will be peppered with some great crime fiction.
Now for the duds. Anyone regular readers of the blog may have picked up on my long-running battle with Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’. There’s no doubt that it is an important epistolary novel, but it made for an excruciatingly tedious read, and I’m so glad I’ll never have to read it again.
Lastly, George Orwell’s ‘1984’, was a ‘must read’ book that I’d somehow managed to miss until this year. Despite finally learning the original significance of the numerous cultural phenomenon that have been pilfered from Orwell’s dystopian classic, I found his writing turgid and, dare I say it, boring.
That list only really scratches the surface of my reading this year. I’ve missed so many great novels out, but I’m already looking forward to all the wonderful books that I’ll discover in 2016!