Books of the Year (part 1)

It’s not been a particularly active year for the blog but, for what it’s worth, I thought I would collate some of my favourite cultural moments of 2014. Let’s start with those books published this year which gave me most pleasure to read.

1. ‘Lila’ – Marilynne Robinson

If you’ve never read a novel by Robinson before, your life is about to be enriched. ‘Gilead’, her first novel for 24 years, reflected on the life of  an elderly preacher John Ames through the prism of the parable of the prodigal son; four years later, ‘Home’ told the same story through the voice of the daughter of Ames’s closest friend, Boughton; now, Robinson returns with the narrative of Ames’s much younger wife, Lila. Robinson’s novels are meditative, focused on character much more than action, and they are novels to return to again and again. There is such beauty in the prose, in the care she places on her characters and the world in which they live, that in their seeming insignificance they become treasured possessions. ‘Lila’ is a novel to spend time reading. And that time this year made me see the world in all its varied beauty.

2. ‘The Zone of Interest’ – Martin Amis

I’m not an Amis fan. Or, at least, I wasn’t until I read this. I’d enjoyed ‘Experience’, his autobiography, but since the earlier novels, couldn’t really get along with him. However, ‘The Zone of Interest’ is an astonishing piece of work. Using three different narrators to recount the horrors of the holocaust, Amis injects it with fierce humour and great pathos. The absurdity of the comedy highlights the seriousness of the events while also suggesting something about existing in a godless universe. The last third tended to go over the same ground as Amis tried to pull the different strands together and, as a result, failed to sustain the impact of the rest of the novel. Yet, it had the power to make me laugh loudly as well as  the power to make me feel the heat of tears. And that’s a feat in itself.

3. ‘Updike’ – Adam Begley

There are few writers I admire more than Updike. His work was so prolific and of such quality, it’s hard to compare him to anyone. What Begley’s biography does is link the writer’s work to his life. Indeed, the best moments are when Begley spends time on what Updike wrote, especially the discussion of the short stories. It may be rather reverential, but the book does display Updike as a flawed man, one who deeply regretted some of his decisions. It shed light not only on the man but on his work and after reading it, I returned to the Olinger short stories and saw them in a new light. Begley has written a readable, fascinating biography.

It would be great if you could tell me in the comment thread which books you enjoyed reading most this year. Hopefully, the next part will cover books I’ve enjoyed this year that weren’t published in 2014 while I’m also hoping to cover my favourite albums.

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2 Responses to Books of the Year (part 1)

  1. I’ve written about some of my favourites here: My favourite novels this year were definitely “Lila” and “Crossing to Safety” – a new one and an old one. “The Spinning Heart” by Donal Ryan was also wonderful – a powerful depiction of small-town Ireland after the economic crash.

    I’ve also never warmed to Amis but maybe I’ll give this one a go. And where would you recommend starting for someone who has never read any Updike?

    • The short stories are wonderful but perhaps the best place to start is with the Rabbit books. The last one is ‘Rabbit at Rest’ and it’s where I started. You might find that ‘In the Beauty of the Lilies’ interesting as well in terms of character, despite not being his best work.

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