A Commonplace Killing, A Hoxton Childhood, A Year in Books, A.S. Jasper, Amy Greene, Betty May, Branwell Bronte, Brewster, Carl Rollyson, Colm Toibin, Elena Ferrante, Fallout, James Scott, Lila, Long Man, Marilyn Monroe, Marilynne Robinson, Mark Slouka, Nora Webster, Robert Edric, Sadie Jones, Sanctuary, Sian Busby, The Kept, Those Who Leave And Those Who Stay, Tiger Woman
This year has been all about Elena Ferrante and her Neapolitan novels for me. Autumn reaped a rich harvest in fiction, and there have also been some fine reissues.
1. Elena Ferrante: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
It’s thrilling to discover a great writer, knowing there are many pleasures to come. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is the third instalment in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series (preceded by My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name, with another due in 2015.) Set in a violent, impoverished district of Naples, it could be a classic Neo-Realist movie. Ferrante depicts the intense, sometimes difficult friendship between two women, both struggling to escape the confines of a narrow, almost feudal world.
2. Marilynne Robinson: Lila
Lila returns to the world of John Ames, but through the perspective of his hitherto mysterious wife. As with Home‘s Jack Boughton, Lila has had a troubled life which challenges her preacher husband’s beliefs. While not quite the brooding masterpiece that was Home, Lila comes a close second.
3. Colm Toibin: Nora Webster
This novel depicts three years in the life of Nora Webster, a recently widowed mother of four living in Wexford during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Toibin reveals the tight-knit community which both protects and entraps Nora, who veers between detachment and detachment. His writing has a quiet beauty and is deceptively simple.
4. Sadie Jones: Fallout
A real page-turner – Fallout brings London’s theatre scene of the 1970s vibrantly to life, and is also a compelling character study, focusing on the shifting loyalties between a group of talented young people.
5. Mark Slouka: Brewster
Three lonely teenagers find, and then lose each other again, in an evocative small-town tragedy set in late 1960s America.
6. Carl Rollyson: Marilyn Monroe – A Life of the Actress (Revised and Updated)
Carl Rollyson’s classic biography – the first to focus on Monroe primarily as an actress – is enhanced with new analysis of her personal archives, and forty photos placed throughout the text.
7. Betty May: Tiger Woman – My Story
First published in 1929, this extraordinary memoir – told by the woman who rose from Cockney urchin to artist’s muse, joined a Parisian street gang, and crossed swords with Aleister Crowley – is finally back in print.
8. James Scott: The Kept
This powerful debut novel follows a mother and son’s quest for revenge during a harsh winter in Upstate New York at the dawn of the twentieth century.
9. Amy Greene: Long Man
Set in the Tennessee Valley of the 1930s, where federal dam-building was breaking up old communities – with many towns literally vanishing. Whereas Greene’s bewitching debut, Bloodshoot, evoked memories of Faulkner, Long Man conjures the voice of a female Steinbeck.
10. Robert Edric: Sanctuary
Some may not sympathise with Branwell Bronte, but after reading this fictional account of his final months, I did. By the rigid code of 19th century England, the only son was expected to achieve greatness – but, unlike his sisters, Branwell just couldn’t do it.
11. Sian Busby: A Commonplace Killing
This isn’t a run-of-the-mill murder mystery with a period setting, but something more authentic, and satisfying. In her final novel, Sian Busby captures the desolation – and desperation – of post-war London.
12. A.S. Jasper: A Hoxton Childhood
First published in 1969, this is a little gem of a book. In just over 80 pages, A.S. Jasper brings to life his impoverished childhood in London’s East End during the early twentieth century. Without self-pity or sermonizing – but with great flair – Jasper depicts events and characters as he knew them.
You can read a full list of the books I’ve read in 2014 here.