A Manual for Cleaning Women, A Year in Books, Alberto Moravia, Backlands, Before Marilyn, Bobbie Gentry, C. Joseph Greaves, Caryl Phillips, Cathi Unsworth, Clarice Lispector, David L. Jones, David Wills, Eileen, Elena Ferrante, Encyclopedia Madonnica 20, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fires in the Dark, Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee, Louise Doughty, Lucia Berlin, Madonna, Marilyn in the Flash, Marilyn Monroe, Matthew Rettenmund, Michelle Morgan, Ode to Billie Jo, Otessa Moshfegh, Rebecca Wait, Stewart O'Nan, Tara Murtha, The Followers, The Ipswich Witch, The Lost Child, The Story of the Lost Child, The Time of Indifference, Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo), Victoria Shorr, West of Sunset, Without the Moon, Wuthering Heights
Reading Clarice Lispector for the first time is like falling in love. Each of her stories is a rare jewel. Shocking, funny and wildly imaginative, this collection is a landmark, reclaiming her as one of the underrated voices of the twentieth century.
The final volume in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series rages like a cyclone. No happy endings here, only the transcendence of real art.
Lucia Berlin was a wonderful American writer, whose stories are warm, yet unflinching. She led an eventful life, and while there are strong autobiographical elements in her work, she was also richly imaginative.
A hugely entertaining take on the rise and fall of Lucky Luciano. As with Hard Twisted, C. Joseph Greaves explores the criminal underworld of Depression-hit America in the 1930s.
If you enjoyed Bad Penny Blues, you’ll love this. Cathi Unsworth delves into the case of the ‘Blackout Ripper’, evoking wartime London and the underworld with great skill.
With access to files from the Blue Book Modelling Agency, Michelle Morgan revisits a relatively untroubled period in the future Marilyn Monroe’s life. Beautifully written and presented, a must-have for dedicated fans.
A little gem of a book, which adds to the legend of Bobbie Gentry – and her unforgettable Ode to Billie Joe – without displacing the essential mystery.
The genesis of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – and its mysterious anti-hero, Heathcliff – form a background to this modern tale of a mixed-race boy and his mother. Caryl Phillips convincingly depicts the lingering prejudices of a changing Britain in the 1960s and 70s.
Stewart O’Nan reimagines F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final, humiliating years as a scribe for hire in Hollywood. Without denying his self-destructive streak, West of Sunset restores dignity to the fate of a ‘forgotten man.’
Novel based on the true story of a gang of Brazilian bandits in the early 20th century. Victoria Shorr brings both the romantic myth and harsh reality to light, and the ending, though not unexpected, is both thrilling and tragic.
Suspense novel set in 1960s New England, with shades of Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson, and dark humour offsetting the gloom.
Honourable mention goes to Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s rediscovered first manuscript; The Followers, Rebecca Wait’s novel about a religious cult casting a shadow over the Yorkshire moors; and The Ipswich Witch, historian David L. Jones’ study of mass hysteria on the eve of civil war.
Among my rediscoveries this year were Alberto Moravia’s 1929 debut, The Time of Indifference, telling the tale of a dysfunctional family in fascist Italy; and Fires in the Dark (2003), Louise Doughty’s novel of the Roma holocaust.
This Christmas I’ll be reading Matthew Rettenmund’s rebooted fan bible, Encyclopedia Madonnica 20; and Marilyn in the Flash, David Wills’ sequel to MM: Metamorphosis.