Books I liked in 2015

Here are some books I've enjoyed in the first half of 2015

Family Life, Akhil Sharma

Sharma's condensed writing, very precise and controlled, counterbalances the unbridled sense of loss in this story of a terrible accident at the heart of the family: the loss of a brother, as well as the losses which came with a move to America. An enormous achievement but primarily a compelling read.

The Children Act, Ian McEwan

I confess to being a McEwan addict. This one is one of his best, combining his meticulous research and intellectual curiousity with his usual readability. Also wonderfully humane and darkly, humorously sad.

The Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante

Everyone is reading Ferrante, it seems, or yawning on about reading Ferrante. I struggled with My Brilliant Friend, but this novel – a stand alone account of the deranging madness of being left by a lover – is astonishing, the kind of book that could only be written under a pseudonym. Ferrante charts the descent – dirty, selfish, inexorable - without vanity or self-regard. Her efforts to get to a core truth are remarkable. 

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews

I enjoyed the writing – sharp, dark, funny – of this novel about the narrator’s efforts to keep her suicidal sister alive. However, by the time I was over half-way, I became enervated by being in the constant company of suicidal depression and, well, I didn’t want to be any more. So I stopped.

How to Write Killer Fiction, Carolyn Wheat

Most ‘How to Write’ books are awful – I should know, I buy piles of them. I hate their tedious exercises and the rules they lay down, which are generally non-sensical. This one, however, is good. It analyses the distinctions between mystery and suspense and tackles the technical difficulties of pace and structure. Worth the not-insubstantial cover price.

Nelly Dean, Alison Case

This novel, a companion to Wuthering Heights told from the point of view of the housekeeper, is being published by my publisher (Borough Press, Aug 13) so I received a free proof copy. It blew me away. This novel reads as if it comes directly from the period. I became so completely lost in it that when I finished, I re-read Wuthering Heights and then a biography of the Brontes. About as enjoyable as fiction can be.

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, Elizabeth Smart

I bought this because of The Days of Abandonment. Ferrante’s novel has a central honesty which fascinates and moves. This novel, also about the pain of unrequited love – this time of an affair with a married man – is the opposite. About as boring and narcissistic as self-absorption can be. I hated it.

Marking Time, Elizabeth Jane Howard

The further I read through the Cazalet Chronicles (this is book 2), the more awe-struck I am by Howard’s achievement. This family saga is such a complete world, each character so psychologically three-dimensional, and the writing flowing like a deep river (apparently, she hardly revised her manuscripts, which makes the achievement even more astonishing).

Plotting and Writing Suspense, Patricia Highsmith

This contains so much wisdom, so many insightful ideas and a kind of surprised interrogation of the writer’s own method, as if she’s never really considered it before. Because of this, there is no finger wagging at the writers following in her wake. Just a lovely, amused curiosity about the craft.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

Like everyone else in the country, in fact the world, I couldn’t put it down.