Stylist has enlisted author, self-confessed bookworm and contributing editor at The Bookseller Cathy Rentzenbrink to whittle down a year of great book releases to her 10 favourite titles of 2015.
Clearly the very best thing about Christmas is the opportunity to give books as presents and to carve out some time on the sofa with a fat novel and a box of cherry liquor chocolates. Here, then, for your reading pleasure and to give to your nearest and dearest are my 10 best books of 2015.
There’s lots of life on offer: Lives lived during the Second World war in A God in Ruins and A Notable Woman, a lifelong friendship in The Story of the Lost Child and lives continuing after loss in Grief is a Thing with Feathers. We see two Irish families in The Green Road and Asking for It and friendship is the dominant force for good in A Little Life.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed puts modern life under the microscope and Reasons to Stay Alive is, rather miraculously, a hopeful book about depression. Although it was first published in 1945, I’ve included the stunning reissue of The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. It’s a thing of beauty inside and out and therefore the perfect present. Happy Christmas.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This tale of a pilot with Bomber Command living through the Second World War and beyond is a portrait of the second half of the 20th century, a masterpiece of storytelling and a master class in how fiction works. It’s also incredibly, surprisingly funny. It’s my current death row book: If I was only allowed one last read, this would be it.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
The final of the four book sequence that started with My Brilliant Friend continues the story of Lenu and Lila. The fire that ignites, warms and often threatens their friendship continues to burn as they grow into middle age and face new tragedies. A triumph.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Jude, JB, Willem and Malcolm are making their way in New York City. What starts off feeling like a fairly traditional post college novel takes a darker turn as we gradually discover the secrets in Jude’s past that prevent him from fully living in the present. This is probably the most contentious book of the year and certainly the one that has provoked the strongest reactions. I think it’s a work of genius.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
When a Ted Hughes scholar is widowed, a large crow arrives to keep him and his sons company… I’ve read this tiny piece of literary patchwork about love and grief three times now and I find more to marvel at with each reading. You don’t need to know or like Ted Hughes or his poetry to appreciate this book and it is also very funny.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
The author takes us through his experiences of dealing with depression in a way that is helpful both to a sufferer but also for a partner/parent or friend who finds it tricky to understand what their loved one is going through. There’s not much good writing about depression, possibly because it’s pretty impossible to write when depressed precisely because everything seems so pointless, so this is a beacon of hope and information in a dark landscape.
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Beautiful and popular Emma O’Donovan wakes up the morning after a big party unable to remember what happened the night before. She’s not left in ignorance for long as there are pictures. And lots of people think she was asking for it. A brutal and shocking novel that strikes to the heart of current debates around consent.
The Green Road by Anne Enright
The children of Rosaleen Madigan have left her behind in the family home on the west coat of Ireland to travel the world. Now Rosaleen says she is selling the house and wants them to come home for one last Christmas. A magnificent novel about family and belonging told in stark yet sparkling prose. Enright has an ability with words that is all her own.
A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt ed Simon Garfield
Deliciously detailed diaries that show us one woman’s journey through most of the 20th century. It’s fascinating to read Jean’s account of the build up to war, and of surviving the Blitz, but just as absorbing is her quest to lose her virginity with a succession of differently disappointing men. Utter bliss.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Both a history of public shame and a forensic look at how it functions in the digital age, this is terrifying yet essential reading for anyone who spends anytime online. When I worry about being publicly shamed for comments that are either too feminist or not feminist enough, I console myself with the notion that Ronson might be able to use my destroyed life as a case study…
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
This is a bit of a cheat as it was first published in 1945 but Penguin has reissued all Mitford’s novels with stunning cover art by Lourdes Sanchez and I can’t resist them. The Pursuit of Love is so sharp and funny on growing up and looking – often disastrously – for love. The perfect present.