After too many years of studying it took some time before I was ready to even look at a book again. Earlier this year I started to pick up the occasional book. However, in 2015, the physical book, while delightful, certainly lacks convenience.
With the help of the Overdrive app and my local library I was able to access significantly more books than I otherwise could have. And by updating my Goodreads account regularly I can sort through the list of books that I have read by date read and also date published.
So my 2015 Book of the Year comes from the information contained in my Goodreads account (this is my disclaimer against inaccuracies). The list of contenders comes from books that were published in 2015, not all of the books that I read in 2015 (with a couple of exceptions that will be noted below).
The thing to do now is to list the contenders along with whatever rating I uploaded to Goodreads when I finished them. I do this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to show what books I have read, and, by extension, all of the books that I haven’t read. If I have skipped over your favourite book for my award then it’s probably because I haven’t read it. Or because your taste is awful. It’s fifty-fifty really. Secondly, a list of books and some stars will allow the reader to gain some insight into the kinds of things I value in literature, so that the reader may correctly weight my opinion in relation to their own.
In general, two or three stars indicate that the book is reasonably readable. Four stars means something quite remarkable, while one star means that I would not recommend the book to anyone under any circumstances.
- The Shameful State by Sony Labou Tansi. ☆ (According to Goodreads, the published date for this book is 3 January 2016, which is patently absurd.)
- Esther by Rebecca Kanner. ☆☆☆
- The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay. ☆☆
- The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson. ☆☆☆☆
- Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit by Jessica Tom. ☆☆
- Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron. ☆☆
- The Busker by Liam Murray Bell. ☆☆☆☆ (Apparently first published in 2014, but the edition I read was published in 2015.)
- A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball. ☆☆
- South on Highland by Liana Maeby. ☆☆☆
- ClownFellas: Tales of the Bozo Family by Carlton Mellick III. ☆☆
- A Better Man by Leah McLaren. ☆☆☆☆
- The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango. ☆☆☆☆ (Was originally published in German in 2014 but the English translation was published in 2015.)
- I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers. ☆☆☆
- The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendetta Vida. ☆☆☆☆
- The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud. ☆☆
- The Corpse in the Cellar: A 1930s Murder Mystery by Kel Richards. ☆☆☆
- An Ordinary Epidemic by Amanda Hickie. ☆☆☆
- The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox. ☆☆☆☆
- Positive by David Wellington. ☆☆☆
- Tim Connor Hits Trouble by Frank Lancaster. ☆☆
Going back through this list as revealed some inadequacies of the rating system and my own inconsistencies. For example, Ophelia’s Muse is significantly better than both The Bronte Plot and Esther, though that is not borne out by the stars awarded. The problem with Ophelia’s Muse is that while it is mostly very good, the bad bits are awful, while both The Bronte Plot and Esther are much more middling overall.
And whatever brief comments I left on Goodreads . . .
The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox. The beginning is a bit purple but the style settles down soon enough. A singular work.
The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango. This starts exquisitely and even though it becomes more pedestrian as it goes on it remains enchanting right to the end. That is to say, it begins like a fairy tale but becomes a murder mystery/thriller too quickly. Still, I couldn’t put it down.
The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson. It’s always difficult in magical stories to give the villains interesting and relatable motivations, and this book, while not perfect, comes as close as I have seen. The differing world views/religions of each of the major characters provides a meaningful basis for their actions. The author got the villains fully to “hatred/vengeance” but this would have been great if only they had pushed through to something more. But still, not a bad effort.This book did a good job of explaining itself as it went. Nearly all of the magical/supernatural elements were given sufficient explanations. As far as I can recall, there wasn’t any plot holes or logical inconsistencies that were waved away with “magic.”Maybe someone with more familiarity with Chinese myths would find this grating and over simplified but for me it was nicely done.
The Busker by Liam Murray Bell. There’s a lot to like about this book. I particularly like the flashback structure being organised geographically. The three subplots are each allowed to end organically and still come together in a cohesive whole. Thematically the book is similar to “Tim Connor Hits Trouble” in that it is concerned with the increasing commerciality of life. TCHT is set in the Higher Education sector and deals with that in more detail, whereas this book deals with a wider range but with its most detailed description of the music industry. The aspect that I particularly like is that economic issues are only considered peripherally by the main character. The flashpoint of each subplot is the protagonist not understanding the aspects of economic reality that the respective antagonists have chosen to focus on. (The protagonist/antagonist description is not that accurate in all cases but you get the point.) A good read.
This is a bit of an unsettling read. It doesn’t really start to come together until the poem in the middle. At first glance the plot seems to be a collection of events—both likely and unlikely—but it’s really quite a literal take on the process of personal reinvention.
And the winner is . . .
The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox!!
From the disconcerting second person narrator in The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty to Liam Murray Bell’s chronological arrangement, all five of the Finalists are extraordinary pieces of literature. However, the final decision came down between the eventual winner and The Truth and Other Lies. Both of them managed to have a fairytale quality to the language, but The Wonder Lover sustained it for longer.
The Wonder Lover succeeds as a piece of literary fiction in ways rarely seen on their own, let alone in the same work. It has a unique narrative voice, has novelty that feels like uniqueness and not a gimmick, and has an ending that arises from the characters so it does not feel contrived.
Overall, it has been a good year for books. I enjoyed almost everything that I read, and was utterly impressed by a good proportion of those. Even The Shameful State, which I did not enjoy, was notable in a number of ways (not the least of which was that it was mercifully short).
Living as remotely as I do, the other exciting thing was the ability to access a pretty good selection of novels on ebook through my local library. The convenience of ebooks meant that I was able to move swiftly from one book to the next. The negatives are that the experience is not as good as a real book and that it is too easy to start reading every time I get my phone out or read in bed. My feeling is that reading on an iPhone or an iPad is a less immersive experience than paper or dedicated ebook reader, but the convenience is unparalleled.