Friday, January 01, 2016

2015 Reading: Fiction

For most of 2015, I kept a list of books that I had read and found that the total was quite considerable. This hasn't always been the case. In some years, I've marvelled over blogs that post their "ten top books" from the previous year, given that if I posted my ten top books, it would be likely to nearly all the books that I'd read.

I'm not going to select my top ten, but I did find that there were almost twenty books on my fiction list for the year, so I am listing some of those that I particularly enjoyed or found notable for various reasons:

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

I've been a fan of David Mitchell since reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a historical novel set in Japan, specifically, on the island of Dejima. I also enjoyed the opportunity to hear him speak when he visited Christchurch. (David Mitchell, that is, not Jacob de Zoet). I love the many layered quality of his work, and the fact that each one is a surprise, and very different from the one before. The Bone Clocks is a sort of supernatural/dystopian/futuristic/realistic novel which spans a period from around the 1980s to several decades in the future. I both started and ended the year with David Mitchell as for Christmas I received a copy of his latest book Slade House. I found it a bit disappointing (even though I enjoyed it very much). I had the feeling that it was written because his publisher was pushing for another book, so that he recycled some of the ideas in The Bone Clocks and used them again, in what is much more a "one idea" book, something that I have not found with Mitchell's books up until now. It's the interweaving of ideas in his work that I find the most rewarding aspect - and the way that minor characters from previous books pop up in new roles in subsequent work is a small treat.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

An old man and his wife set off on a journey in post-Arthurian Britain. There is something important that they can't quite remember... There is a dreamlike quality to this novel, which is less a reworking of Arthurian legend (despite the setting), than a meditation on the nature of memory, and of how society deals with the aftermath of war, and heals old wounds.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
This novel imagines a substantial back story for the life of Camille Pizzaro, known as the "father of impressionism". It focuses on his mother, Rachel Monsanto Petit Pizarro, a Jew of French and Portuguese ancestry born on the Caribbean island of St Thomas, at that time a Danish territory. The lush and exotic setting, and the story of a remarkable and unsual woman, made it a rewarding read.

The Chimes by Anna Smaill
Set in a futuristic London, where music is used to communicate in place of words, and memories reside only in physical objects. "The dystopian novel" can easily become cliched, but I found this stunningly original. The slow reveal of how things got to be the way they now are is fascinating. The fact that Smaill is musically trained herself shines through the book (and sent me in search of her 2005 collection of poetry, The Violinist in Spring - poetry, too, shines through the pages of The Chimes).

More in the next post.