In no particular order, here are some of my favourite books from those I’ve read in 2015:
Favourite fiction published in 2015
I loved Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith which is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series and I was lucky enough to attend a special launch event in October in which my team came first in a live escape game. Winning a signed copy was a particular highlight.
The relaunch of the Sunday Times / PFD Young Writer of the Year Award introduced me to some fantastic new authors including The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota which is my personal favourite from a very strong shortlist.
I really enjoyed seeing Hanya Yanagihara talk about her second novel A Little Life at Foyles last summer. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, it’s been one of the most talked-about and controversial books of the year and, in my view, one of the most astonishingly original.
Favourite debut novel published in 2015
I absolutely loved the character of Yasmin in Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanagh which is my favourite debut published this year. I think it would be a really interesting novel to discuss in a book group as Yasmin is a brilliantly ambiguous character and I imagine readers would react to her in very different ways. I probably wouldn’t have come across ‘Things We Have in Common’ if it hadn’t been for the Not the Booker prize on the Guardian Books website so I will definitely be keeping a closer eye on future shortlists.
Favourite non-fiction published in 2015
I read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shortly after seeing him speak at the Hay Festival in May. It is simultaneously highly entertaining but also deeply terrifying and anyone who uses social media should read this book. Special mentions must also go to Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker and Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly.
Favourite translated fiction published in 2015
One of the most enjoyable works of translated fiction I’ve come across this year is The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre translated from the French by Frank Wynne. Set in France in the aftermath of the First World War, it tells the story of two veterans who embark on an elaborate money-making scheme. I’m hoping this will be recognised by the revamped Man Booker International Prize when the longlist is announced in March 2016. I also enjoyed The Man in a Hurry by Paul Morand although sadly it won’t be eligible as the author and translator both need to be alive at the time of publication in order to be considered.
This year I devoured the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein including My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. The fourth and final volume of the series, The Story of the Lost Child, was published earlier this year (review coming soon). The series follows the lives of childhood friends and rivals Elena and Lila and all of the books are destined to become classics.
Favourite books published before 2015
I made a slow but steady amount of progress this year in terms of tackling my TBR list including some books which had been on there for a few years such as The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I particularly enjoyed Stoner by John Williams, a quietly brilliant novel which has been rediscovered in the last few years some five decades after it was first published.
I read Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer way back in January but it remains one of the most enjoyable and original thrillers I’ve read this year with a very memorable main character in the form of medical student Patrick Fort and a cleverly constructed plot. I’m glad I have discovered Sarah Moss who is an underrated writer and deserves more recognition for her second novel Night Waking and her entertaining and insightful account of living in Iceland for a year Names for the Sea.
I also read two psychological thrillers by Barbara Vine, a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell who passed away earlier this year, and I really enjoyed both A Dark-Adapted Eye and King Solomon’s Carpet. They are both excellent if you are looking for something more modern than Agatha Christie but very different from the type of crime fiction with the word “Girl” in the title. I was also pleased to see The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck win this year’s (and last) Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
In terms of non-fiction, I enjoyed This Boy by Alan Johnson which was a very moving portrait of the former Labour minister’s mother and sister and his childhood growing up in poverty in West London in the 1950s and 1960s. I still haven’t read his second memoir ‘Please Mister Postman’ about his early career before he moved into politics but I hope to read it at some point soon. I also loved Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid which is a fascinating book about historical and modern techniques in forensic science.
I really enjoyed the discussion inspired by my blog post about one-star book reviews and hatchet jobs on book blogs which was one of my favourite posts this year. Thank you to everyone who left their comments which were both amusing and thought-provoking. It’s certainly made me think about what constitutes fair and constructive criticism when writing my own reviews as well as reading those written by other bloggers and journalists.
I went to the Hay Festival for the first time in May and saw Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Jo Caulfield, Jessie Burton and Jon Ronson, Alexander McCall Smith and Jenny Erpenbeck, and Helen Macdonald and Tracey Thorn. It will come as no surprise that I spent a lot of time browsing several bookshops in Hay-on-Wye and I hope to visit again in the future.
I also really enjoyed being part of the shadow panel of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize between March and May this year and I’m looking forward to discovering more translated fiction when the Man Booker International Prize is revealed in March 2016.
Overall, 2015 has been a brilliant year for books. As always, there are many books – new and old – that I had planned to read and haven’t got round to yet and I expect 2016 will be no different.
What are your favourite books of 2015?