Books of the Year 2014 (Part 1)

I’m being cheeky this year and splitting my books of the year into two posts. Tomorrow will be books published in 2014; today’s it’s books I’ve read this year and loved but that were published prior to 2014. I’ve decided to do it this way because (at the time of writing) I’ve read 131 books so far this year and there are 24 that I think deserve highlighting. That needs splitting into two, so this seemed like the fairest/easiest/most sensible way to do it. So, the books I loved this year that were published before 2014 were (click on the titles to see the original reviews):

 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

It’s not often as an adult that you read a book which changes your world view. Adichie uses her main characters Ifemelu and Obinze to explore race in America and the UK and love in Nigeria. It’s thought-provoking and compelling. A potential future classic.

 

 

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

A book that I nearly gave up on and ended up so pleased I didn’t. It begins as the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, growing up in Calcutta, one involved in political protests, the other studious and well-behaved, but it becomes the story of Gauri, transported to America after Udayan’s death. Sparse prose and a woman in a situation she doesn’t know how to deal with. Superb.

 

 

All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Jake’s a sheep farmer on a remote island. She chooses to cut herself off from the locals but something’s killing her sheep. As her present day story is told, alternate chapters reveal why she left Australia – in reverse chronology. Inventive, tense and told in sharp prose. Deserves every award it won.

 

 

The Awakening – Kate Chopin 

A feminist classic, republished this year by Canongate. Edna Pontellier, treated as an object by her husband, begins to reject motherhood and decides to break from society’s expectations of her. Powerful and still relevant.

 

 

The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)

2014 was the year of #FerranteFever. Fuelled seemingly equally by the compelling story of Elena and Lena in The Neapolitan Novels and her desire to protect her anonymity. The Story of a New Name is my favourite book of the series so far. Ferrante is superb at depicting the type of love/jealousy filled friendship that only women seem to have. The novels are brutal, both in terms of the relationship between the two women but also because of the backdrop of Naples and poverty. I intend to spend some of 2015 reading the rest of her back catalogue.

 

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

Nora Eldridge is angry. She’s spent years as the woman upstairs, the one who’s well-behaved, who no one pays any attention to because she’s single without any children. She meets the Shahid family and life changes for a time but is Nora really being seen? I loved this book and if you don’t agree, well ‘fuck you all’!

 

 

Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy

Another feminist classic. Connie Ramos is committed to a psychiatric unit by her niece Dolly’s pimp after she attacks him in self-defence and he – and Dolly – tell the medics that she’s violent. But Connie discovers she can visit the future, a future where there’s no gendered pronouns, babies are all bred mixed heritage/race and have three parents, and people contribute equally to society. Inspiring and depressing in equal measure – how far have we come in 38 years?

 

The Notebook – Agota Kristof (translated by Alan Sheridan)

Twin brothers who are taken to live with a cruel grandmother, surrounded by other cruel people. A dark, twisted alternative take on fairytales and the nature vs nurture question. Brutal, stark and compelling. I’ll be reading the rest of the trilogy in 2015.

 

 

Thanks to Fourth Estate, Evie Wyld, Canongate and Europa Editions for review copies.

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24 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2014 (Part 1)

  1. Great idea for splitting your list up like this and totally warranted considering how much you’ve read. I’ve read the first 4 on your list. Interesting how you almost gave up on and got back into The Lowland. I’ve not even heard of Woman on the Edge of Time. Sounds fascinting – and would make an interesting pairing with Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue, another book that uses time-travelling to consider feminism in a serious way.
    I’m looking forward to reading your other selections tomorrow!

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  2. Just read Americanah (my review coming up shortly) and totally agree with you. Also so many other favourites on this list: The Woman Upstairs, The Lowland, The Awakening – and the rest I want to read.

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  3. Great idea to split your list. I always leave my list making to the last minute then tear my hair out over it. I will choose a top twelve like I did last year. I have only read two of the books on your list, but The Awakening is certainly one I want to read next year. I may get to 131 books currently reading number nine 127, less than last year but still so hard to pick a best of list. You’ve inspired me to get working on it.

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    • Yes, I thought it would be slow reading and then I charged through it in two days. Funnily enough, three of the books on tomorrow’s list were holiday reads for me – all read in the same week! Either I saved the best for that week or there was something in the air!

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  4. Jeezo! I feel like a lightweight reader compared to your impressive total! I’ve only read 2 from your list – Americanah and All the Birds, Singing which I enjoyed too. The one I’m definitely now adding to my tbr pile for 2015 is The Woman Upstairs – it sounds intriguing.

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  5. Great choices, Naomi. I loved The Lowland, and Americanah is so thought-provoking and beautifully written with it. I think Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels will be in my end-of-year list too, although I might be out on a limb in preferring My Brilliant Friend over New Name (both are excellent). I’d like to read The Awakening, and it’s in my TBR.

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    • Thanks, Jacqui. I saw you preferred MBF. I haven’t managed to get to part three yet and am slightly worried having seen people’s comments. We’ll see after Christmas! I think you’ll like The Awakening, I look forward to your review of it.

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  6. Pingback: Books of the Year 2014 (Part 2) | The Writes of Woman

  7. More great choices, Americanah was a fabulous read, after hearing Chimamanda speak about Purple Hibiscus many years ago when she was starting out, I’ve read everything since and Americanah displays a new confidence in her writing.

    Putting my list up on New Year’s Eve, I only manage a book a week, so not so many to whittle down, but so many great recommendations, I wish I could through twice as many! Looking forward to 2015 reading already, forever catching up. 🙂

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