In 2009, Stylist was born – and so to celebrate our 10th birthday, we’ve decided to look back at the books we were utterly obsessed with 10 years ago. How many were on your bookshelf?
It was the year of the MPs’ expenses scandal, huge snowfall in February and an internet campaign to make Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name the Christmas number one against The X Factor winner Joe McElderry’s The Climb.
But 2009 was also the year of great books, from historical novels to a love story that makes people sigh whenever they think about it (despite its not-so-great film adaptation).
Many of the year’s best books still stand tall as great reads, from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Others haven’t aged so well (and were even problematic as soon as they were released), such as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, or have garnered as much criticism as they have love.
But whatever you think of them now, the novels we loved (and then went on to not love so much) in 2009 can still get us talking.
Here are the 11 books from 2009 that will always stay with us.
One Day by David Nicholls
Dexter and Emma’s story begins on 15 July, 1988, as they graduate from the University of Edinburgh. We get a glimpse of the pair’s life, apart and together, on 15 July for the next 20 years. Through friendships, relationships, career moves and addiction, the pair’s connection holds, although various coincidences stop the couple from getting together properly. David Nicholls’ novel had us weeping throughout the summer of 2009, whether we were reading in parks, in bed, or on the bus. And it’s continued to inspire people (including this writer) to climb Arthur’s Seat, a significant meeting place for Dexter and Emma.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel wasn’t doing too badly at the beginning of 2009 — she’d had a successful career, writing a number of critically acclaimed novels. But in spring 2009 she released Wolf Hall, the first in a trilogy of novels charting the rise of Thomas Cromwell through the court of Henry VIII. Mantel went from being a well-known to stratospheric. Wolf Hall won both the Man Booker Prize in the UK and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in the US. The second book in the series, Bring Up the Bodies was published in 2012 and also won the Man Booker Prize. The final novel, The Mirror and the Light, will be released next year, and is certain to be one of the books of 2020.
(4th Estate, £9.99)
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
The Forty Rules of Love is a novel within a novel, telling two parallel stories that mirror each other, despite taking place seven centuries apart and in two different cultures. In one story, the book follows Ella Rubenstein, an unhappy housewife who takes a job as a reader for a literary agency. Her first assignment is to read Sweet Blasphemy, a novel about the 13th century poet Rumi and his beloved Sufi teacher Shams of Tabriz, by unknown Turkish novelist Aziz Zahara. In the novel within the novel, Shams of Tabriz is searching for a spiritual companion he is destined to teach, and finds this in Rumi. Exquisitely told by Elif Shafak, this is a love story that has stayed with us throughout the years.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
You may think Gillian Flynn started her career with Gone Girl, but she’d been written deliciously dark novels for a few years by the time of her blockbuster hit in 2012. In 2009 we were obsessed with Dark Places, about Libby, the survivor of a massacre in Kansas. After witnessing the murders of her two sisters and mother in an apparent Satanic cult ritual, Libby testifies in court against her teenage brother. Twenty-five years later, she meets a group who believe her brother is innocent, and begins to investigate what really happened. Flashing between the past and the present, Dark Places is as addictive as Gone Girl would be three years later.
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £8.99)
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
A ghost story set in a dilapidated mansion in 1940s England, The Little Stranger (which was turned into a film in 2018 starring Ruth Wilson) is about a country doctor who makes friends with an old gentry family who own a crumbling estate. But because this is Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger is so much more than a simple ghost story, combining supernatural elements with an examination of class, ambition and the nature of evil. Spooky and brilliantly written, with an ending that leaves you puzzling over what happened, it’s no wonder that this was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2009.
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Burnt Shadows is an ambitious and sweeping tale that goes from Japan and India to America and Afghanistan. A man waits in a prison cell in the US, waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. Decades before, on 9 August 1945, Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. Moments later, a nuclear bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, obliterating everything Hiroko has known. Two years later, she travels to Delhi to meet Konrad’s half-sister Elizabeth and her husband James Burton, and begins to learn Urdu from their employee Sajjad Ashraf. Over the decades, we follow the entwined worlds of the three families, ending in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Huge in scope, Kamila Shamsie’s book is about the bonds between family and friends, and the things that can break them.
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larrson
It’s likely that you read the first and second books in Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series together. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was released in English in 2008, with its sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire released in English in January 2009. Both books follow protagonists Lisbeth Salander — a hacker and outcast — and investigative journalist Mikael Bomkvist. The crime thrillers were appealing because of their spiky female hero, who didn’t adhere to the conventions of the female sidekick. Larrson wrote three novels before his death, all of which were released posthumously, and another three have been written by Swedish author and journalist David Lagercrantz.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was released in 2008, but even a year was too much to wait for the sequel, Catching Fire. When it did arrive in 2009, it didn’t disappoint. Thrusting readers right back into the world of Panem and Katniss Everdeen, somehow Collins conjured up a Hunger Games even more tense than the one from the first book, and introduced us to some characters who would go on to become fan favourites (Finnick forever). Tense and full of depth, Catching Fire was among the most celebrated YA fiction releases of the time, and continues to set a high bar for dystopian YA novels.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
We all know that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has been eerily accurate when it comes to women’s rights in the last few years, even though it was first published in 1985. But The Handmaid’s Tale is not the only prescient novel that Atwood’s written. In 2009 she released The Year of the Flood, a continuation of her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood follows a religious sect called God’s Gardeners, who are devoted to honouring and preserving plant and animal life and who predict a disaster that will end the human species. That event, depicted in Oryx and Crake, is shown in The Year of the Flood through the eyes of Toby and Ren, via flashbacks. This dystopian novel had some pointed things to say about the environment, climate change and more in 2009, and only seems more relevant now.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Ah, The Help — a white saviour story disguised as allyship. A hit and much-praised when it was first released in 2009, The Help has become the subject of a number of controversies since. Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, it tells the story of Skeeter, the daughter of a white family who own a cotton farm. When Skeeter returns home after graduating from university with ambitions of being a writer, she is curious about the disappearance of her family’s black maid Constantine. Skeeter realises that black maids are mistreated, and decides to write a book with stories from her family and friends’ maids. The Help was a huge commercial success, but the wheels began to come off slightly when Kathryn Stockett was accused by her brother’s housekeeper of stealing her life story for the book, although a judge dismissed the case. The Help was turned into a film starring Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, the latter of whom has said that she regrets making the film because it centred the white characters.
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Ok, this one came out in 2006, but we were all obsessed with it again in 2009, when the film adaptation was released. By 2009, detractors of Stephenie Meyer’s quartet of vampire novels were as vocal as the fans (a favourite internet meme to this day is ‘no one hates Twilight more than the cast of Twilight hates Twilight’). In New Moon, the second novel in the Twilight series, Bella is heartbroken after being left by Edward, who has broken up with her for her own good. She becomes (even more) withdrawn, until Jacob Black helps her fight her pain, and along the way reveals his true nature. Beloved by teenage girls who found Bella’s story romantic before quickly growing up to realise that Edward was an emotionally manipulative boyfriend (Jacob’s not much better), New Moon was huge, and the Twilight series continues to prompt heated debate whenever it’s mentioned.
Images: Joel Muniz / Unsplash/ Supplied by publishers
Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.