Something You Said’s Books of 2014
When considering somethingyousaid.com’s Top Ten Books of 2014, we felt privileged to have in our ranks a genuine expert. As well as writing for this very site, Joe Haddow is also the producer of the BBC Radio Two Book Club. Here’s his top ten, along with some picks from other members of our team. Stay tuned for our favourite songs, films, TV shows and gigs, coming soon, and revisit our Top 20 albums of the year if you missed them yesterday:
1. SOMETHING YOU SAID’S BOOK OF 2014 IS: EMMA HEALEY – ELIZABETH IS MISSING
Emma Healey’s (pictured, above) debut novel is a triumph! A clever and well-written book, which is both sad and humorous. I was enraptured by this book and the lead character Maud and I was crying by the second chapter.
2. Simon Wroe – “Chop Chop”
A sublime novel. Darkly funny, slightly twisted and completely absorbing! Simon was a former chef and writes so well from the perspective of kitchen staff, you could almost be chopping the onions alongside him! This is a triumph of a first novel which will keep you laughing all the way through.
3. David Mitchell – “The Bone Clocks”
David Mitchell has surpassed expectations with this novel. It’s a chunky, weighty tome (over 600 pages) but it doesn’t feel like it. With an incredible cast of characters, Mitchell manages to weave in and out of time and decades with ease, whilst keeping the book interesting, funny and shocking. Mitchell is back on top.
4. Ian McEwan – “The Children Act”
Almost a novella – and can be read in one sitting. It is a beautifully crafted novel, challenging in places and sad in others. Not everyone will agree with the subject matter or indeed relate to it, but with such a strong lead character and such wonderful language, you can’t help but engage with this book and keep thinking about it, long after reading it.
5. John Boyne – “A History Of Loneliness”
It has taken John Boyne fifteen years to write about his home of Ireland and it has been worth the wait. “A History Of Loneliness”, which is perhaps the best thing he has ever written, centres around a Catholic priest and the struggles and challenges he faces throughout his life. A beautifully written, incredibly poignant book, which will make you think and cry.
6. David Nicholls – “Us”
The pressure of following a book like “One Day” must be excruciating, but David Nicholls has excelled with “Us”. If “One Day” was a story about two people who should be together, this is the story of a couple who should not. It’s funny, thought provoking and sad – and a very swift read you won’t want to put down. I thought each of the characters were incredibly well written, but not necessarily likeable, which makes the book all the more interesting.
7. Helen MacDonald – “H Is For Hawk”
Helen MacDonald is an interesting character and this book is a reflection of that. After losing her father, she deals with her grief by buying a hawk and training it. The hawk becomes her life, her best friend and her comfort. This is the non-fiction book of the year for me – touching, incredibly well documented and one of the most unique books you will read.
8. Ali Smith – “How To Be Both”
Ali Smith should have won The Booker – there you go, I said it! This is a fabulous novel. She follows in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf – this book is about art and the experiences of those who make it and what the point of it is. It’s also about grief, mourning and loss – and it delivers on every level.
9. Jessie Burton – “The Miniaturist”
The Miniaturist is one of the fastest selling debuts since 50 Shades of Grey. A novel from a former actress – it tells the story of a young woman in Amsterdam in the 17th century, and how her life changes when a dolls house is brought into her home. The characters are very alive in this novel, as are the descriptions of the food and there are many secrets revealed along the way. A very strong debut!
10. Carys Bray – “A Song For Issy Bradley”
Carys Bray has written one of the most interesting and touching novels this year. Her book looks at the Mormon religion (Carys was a Mormon for a while) and how a family’s faith is tested, when the unthinkable happens to the youngest member. This is a wonderful book, with writing which will melt your heart.
ALSO, HIGHLY COMMENDED
On top of Joe’s selections, here are a handful of other books that our contributors think are worth your attention…
Amy Poehler – “Yes Please”
If you can get the Amy Poehler audio book, do it. So. Fucking. Funny. Jack Colwell
Lee Markham – “The Knife”
It’s a gritty, ferocious and angry indictment of social inequality and institutional neglect in 21st Century Britain. It also happens to be the best vampire story since ‘Let The Right One In’ and a bleak and bloody antidote to the romanticised prettification of the vampire myth popularised by ‘Twilight’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and other toothless, teen oriented nonsense. ‘The Knife’ is clearly inspired by real life events with obvious nods to the Baby P case, the Damilola Taylor murder and the London riots of 2011 and in the wrong hands it could have been crass and exploitative. Markham does an excellent job of using these real life tragedies to drive a story fuelled by outrage at the original events. ‘The Knife’ is definitely one for your must-read list and is part of an exciting new approach to storytelling and publishing. Neil Martin
Tara Moss -“ The Fictional Woman”
I have only managed to read one new release this year due to my intense final year of studies, but after my usual Monday night religious activity of watching Q&A, I was introduced to the eloquent, intelligent and obviously beautiful Tara Moss. Her book ‘The Fictional Woman’ (which I went out to buy not long after watching her appearance on the programme) is an intense biography/social exploration of how discrimination and stereotypes have been placed on her as a model turned crime fiction writer. She also looks at statistics, backs up all of her statements in the most modest of manners. She is not out to attack the patriarchy with aggression, she is out to educate and bring everyone to that level of understanding. Quite like a ‘try walking in her shoes’ mentality. Tara has stayed strong as a woman through all the years of ghost writing accusations and the typical commentary/reviews like ‘wow, a model can actually have brains’. Melissa Barrass
JB Morrison – “The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81”
Morrison’s tale is one of loneliness and friendship. Of age and youth. Of weakness and strength. Frank is funny but sad, kind but cantankerous, strong but scared, furiously independent but desperately lonely. The tone of the story is typical of Morrison’s wry but sympathetic take on the world and his observational humour is beautifully gentle, as you would perhaps expect from a story about an 81-year-old man with a broken toe. Clever repeated gags and subtle pay-offs punctuate what is, essentially, an everyday tale of growing old. The narrative brilliantly depicts the frustration of trying to fill endless, humdrum days with an active mind but a body that refuses to work anymore. There’s a lot of Frank Derrick within our parents and grandparents and, some day, there will be within ourselves. This sweet, sad, truthful, very funny, life-affirming and uplifting story serves as a reminder that, ultimately, life is for the living, whether you are 18 or 81. Bobby Townsend
Christos Tsiolkas – “Merciless Gods”
While sex, profanity and drug use pepper the pages without restraint, there’s also love, beauty and compassion reflected in the lives of the couples and families in these stories. One of the strengths of this collection is that Tsiolkas manages to dilute highly political, racial and gendered perspectives through the subjective and contrasting view of his characters. If you’re after a powerful Australian voice that reflects the realities of an alternate Australia not often depicted in our mainstream channels – one that pushes back on the hetero white male-dominated world view, one that admits to the racism and prejudice still rife – then Merciless Gods will deliver. Catherine Mah
Top Ten by Joe Haddow. Additional material by Jack Colwell, Melissa Barrass, Catherine Mah, Neil Martin and Bobby Townsend.