Some people make year-end lists, but I prefer to pack a box of books as each year draws to a close.
I have loved lists – writing them, reading them, studying and analysing them – since I was a child. And yet I find it difficult to sum up a year of reading in a list or two.
So I’m going to do what I’ve done for the last few years. I’m going to assemble a virtual box of books to capture all of the things that I’ve loved about the books I’ve discovered this year.
This year there have been a lot of classics, a sprinkling of new books, and shamefully few works of non fiction.
It might sound like a list, and maybe it is, but to me feels like I’ve pulled some great books from the shelves because those are the books I want to pull from the shelves right now. It’s not quite so definitive somehow.
And here it is – in the order that I read them:
The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull
“An operation she restore Adeliza’s sight – she had cataracts – allowed her to learn and discover even for. Her joy in seeing the world that she had previously only known by touch was palpable, and so very, very moving. Adeliza was still constrained by her lack of hearing, but she was freed by an upbringing that had been free of so many of the restrictions that would have been placed on other children of her age.”
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
“I loved the tone, the wit, the style, the echoes of great novelists; and I was dazzled by the depth of knowledge, by the love of the creator for her creation that shone from the pages, and by the work that she had so clearly done to allow this world so rich in detail, so real and so magical, to live and breathe.”
How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
“I met a woman and, though we didn’t have too much on common, we bonded over books. We agreed about many – though not all – of them, she made me see a few books and a few of their heroines in a different light, and I wondered if I might have done the same if I could have only spoken back to this book. Oh the dialogue we might have had!”
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
“There were so many scenes, so many moments, that took my breath away. It broke my heart that whatever The Count of Monte Christo did, there was no vengeance that could bring back those long years that had been lost in prison, or bring back happy future that had once been before the young Edmond Dantès. He knew that. He was a fascinating character,and I could never let go of his story.”
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
“This is a story of the darkest days of World War II, when only England stood against the Nazi forces advancing across Europe, and when the fear of invasion was very, very real. Elizabeth Goudge lived on the south coast of England then, close to the eye of the storm, it was during the war that she wrote this book, and it was clear as I read that she knew and she that understood.”
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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
“This is a book full of utterly believable characters and relationships. the depth and the detail of the characterisation.
That’s what I’ll take away with me. That and a head full of images …. Anna encountering Vronsky at the station …. Levin seeing Kitty on the ice ….. Karenin ill at ease as he visits a lawyer …. Kitty at her brother-in law’s death-bed …. and most of all the final scenes of Anna’s story, which was one of the most compelling and moving pieces of writing that I have ever read”
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
“I loved the storytelling: the voices were distinctive, the period touches were lovely, and the story was captivating. There’s a lot more than history and mystery, but this is too good a book for me to spoil for anyone else. It’s a lovely, it’s distinctive, it’s full of interest, and it’s told with just the right amount of verve. The author’s love of her story and everything in it shone from the pages.”
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
“The story was perfectly judged; mystery, suspense, romance, and just a dash of the gothic, woven together by a craftswoman at the height of her powers. And there was a nice balance of elements that were recognisably ‘Mary Stewart’ and elements that made this story distinctive. It was full of wonderful details; and I particularly liked the way that the small debt to Jane Eyre was acknowledged.”
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
“There’s wit, there’s colour and there’s love threaded through what might otherwise have been a very dark story. And at the centre of it all are those fascinating, infuriating sisters; they quarrel bitterly, they feud, they take sides against each other, but they also cling together and keep each others secrets. Such a wonderful portrayal of sisterhood! I loved watching them all interact, and their conversations were a joy.”
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray
“‘Sugar Hall’ illuminates the time when the war was over but the consequences were still being felt, and the post-war world hadn’t quite begun. It explores the consequences of old sins and the reverberations they send into the future. It considers the importance of the home, the consequences of leaving, the importance of having a place in the world. And it does that with the lightest of touches, so that the stories of lives and the story of the ghost can live and breathe.”
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Can you Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
“I am so pleased to say that I have finally discovered why so many readers love Anthony Trollope. In fact, if it isn’t wrong to say so after reading just the one book, I am now one of them. I’d picked up one or two books over the years and they hadn’t quite worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them but I didn’t love them, they weren’t the right books; I had to find the right place to start, the right book at the right time at the right time, and this book was that book.”
Tryst by Elswyth Thane
“There were some lovely moments, some amusing, some heart-warming, some sad, as Hilary made his way home and as Sabrina curled up in an armchair to read from his bookshelves. And though the arc of the story had a feeling of inevitability it never felt predictable, and I was always held in the moment. I was involved. I cared. The characters are simply drawn, the logic probably wouldn’t stand up to close inspection, and I can’t deny that the story is sentimental. But it works beautifully, if you take it for what it is: a simple, ghostly, old-fashioned romance.”
Four Gardens by Margery Sharp
“I have to believe that Margery Sharp loved people; that sometimes they saddened her, sometimes they amused her; that maybe, like me, that there were so many people in the world and that they all had their own life stories that might be told. She clearly loved Caroline; she blessed her with a lovely inner voice and she gave her story exactly the right tone. There’s gentle wit, wry humour and acute observation in this story of a life well lived.”
Valentine by George Sand
“George Sand constructed and managed her plot beautifully, attending to every single detail; she brought the countryside to life with wonderfully rich descriptions; and she made her characters’ feelings palpable. She gave me a wonderful story, full of wonderful drama, and so many real emotions. And it was a story with much to say, about the separation of social classes, about the lack of education and opportunity for women of any class.”
The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes
“This story is clearly underpinned by detailed research. The practical arrangements in the high-security hospital seemed credible; the different approaches of the staff to their work, the ways they lived and the ways that they coped rang true. That was fascinating. And I loved learning about The Foundlings Hospital. Kate Rhodes teaches me something new about London with every book, and it is clear that she loves that city that she brings to life on the page.”
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The Good Companion by Una L Silberrad
“Julia was the star of the show. She was bright, she was capable, and she had such empathy and understanding. She could accept that others had weaknesses, had different values, wanted different things in life. Julia was prepared to work hard, and to learn from her mistakes, as she tried to live set her life on the right course. She was confident that she would, that she could, do that, because she loved people and she loved the world she lived in.”
The Wild Swan by Margaret Kennedy
“Back in the 1920s Margaret Kennedy’s second novel, ‘The Constant Nymph’, was a huge, huge success. It was one of the bestselling novels of the decade, it became a successful stage play and then Margaret Kennedy was called upon to write a screenplay. That led her to more work in Britain’s film industry, and that experience underpins this very fine novel.”
Privileged Children by Frances Vernon
“Frances Vernon would have sat very well in the Virago Modern Classics list, and I suspect that she might have read a few of those green books when she was very young and they were very new. She was born just three months before me, we would have been in the same school year, and I am quite sure that we would have read and many of the same books.”
Cometh Up as a Flower by Rhoda Broughton
“The story is simple, but it is made special by the way it is told. Nell’s voice was underpinned by excellent writing, and Rhoda Broughton’s understanding of character and her command of the story stopped this from becoming a sensation novel. It’s a very human story of love, passion, betrayal, loss … In its day it was deemed shocking – because Nell spoke of meeting her lover covertly, of enjoying his attention, of her reluctance to be intimate with the man she might have to marry – but there’s nothing at all that would shock a reader now.”
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
“It is said sometimes that Dickens’ characters can be flat. I can understand that because I know that there were sides to these people that I didn’t see, but in ‘Bleak House’ that didn’t matter. I was shown the aspects of their characters and their behaviour that I needed to be shown as the stories unfolded, and I found it easy to believe in these people and their lives.”
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I’m pleased with what I’ve read, but next year I’d like to read a few more contemporary novels and much more non fiction.
Now tell me, what would you put in your box for 2014?
And what do you plan to read in 2015?