It’s that time of year! I can’t believe it’s November already and I’m casting my eye back over the last twelve months to share my favourite reads. The books I’ve chosen are books I’ve read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year.
The Best of the Best – Circe by Madeleine Miller
It’s impossible for me to go past Circe by Madeline Miller for my top pick. Essentially, it’s a retelling of the Greek myth of the nymph Circe, who is outcast by her God-family and exiled to an island, where she encounters, amongst others, the infamous Odysseus. But to simplify it to a retelling of an ancient story is not doing it justice at all.
I fell in love with Miller’s prose, and with Circe. Complex, difficult, powerful and powerless, she and her story broke my heart. It’s a timeless tale, and one that resonates just as strongly now as perhaps it did centuries ago, although her story has always been in the shadow of others who were deemed more important. Not any more. If you put one book on your Christmas list, make it this one.
Honourable Mention – The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
Until I read Circe, my favourite book of the year was The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose. It’s about performance artist Marina Abramovic’s show at the Met in New York, where she sat silently for weeks, and invited whomever was interested to sit across from her and look into her eyes. The act of doing so, or simply of watching these voiceless exchanges, brought many to tears, as it did me, in reading this fictional account of the show and of the people who might have visited Maria.
There was nothing I could fault in this book; the writing is beautiful and I wanted to crawl inside the stories and the experiences of each person in the book. You should add this one to your Christmas list too!
The Rest of the Best
In no particular order, here are the other five books I read this year that have stayed with me.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
While reading this book, I spent much of my time in awe of Morton’s skill. It is a hugely complex narrative structure, and she pulls it off effortlessly. Essentially, it’s the story of different people over time who have a connection to a house in the English countryside, and an archivist who pieces together the terrible story of what really happened in the house one night, long ago.
There are a lot of characters and time periods but I never once found this disconcerting or difficult. I enjoyed meeting them all, in fact, and I seeing how each of their stories touched the others’ stories. I put this right up there with my other Kate Morton favourite, The Shifting Fog.
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
I’ve long been a Maggie O’Farrell fan. This collection of personal essays has cemented my admiration of her forever. O’Farrell is a great novelist but, I discovered here, she’s also a brilliant essayist. From the chilling turn of the first piece, right through to the drama of the last, I was captivated by the way she turned her experiences into the universal experience.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I loved Eleanor and her story. It struck the perfect balance of funny and sad and, for once, it lived up to all the hype. It’s a book I would happily recommend to all kinds of people as I think it truly has that rarest of all things, broad appeal.
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Why did I leave this sitting on my shelf for so long? I think it was because I enjoyed Burton’s first book, The Miniaturist, but I didn’t love it the way so many others did and I was worried I might also be a little disappointed by this one. I needn’t have been. I adored this book. It’s a dual narrative, set in Spain and England, and the history, the art, and the characters all captivated me.
When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
This is an odd little book, and that’s part of its charm. It’s really a collection of vignettes, about the life of a family, a brother and sister in particular. The writing is stunning and slowly but surely the vignettes gently accrete into a devastatingly beautiful tale.
What have you read this year that you would put on your Best Books of 2018 list? I’d love some more recommendations!