Cosy Reads: the Best Books 2015 for Autumn and Winter
Catch up on your reading this autumn: we pick the best books of 2015 to curl up with or give as gifts
The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante
Who is Elena Ferrante?
This is the question on everyone lips, as this extraordinary enigma of an author releases the fourth and final volume of her Neapolitan series, The Story of a Lost Child, this September.
Her books tell of in the underbelly of Naples, from the fifties to the present day.Touching, indeed almost too painful to read at times, the gripping saga of human relationships, tells of two girls, Lila and Elena, who make their way through life from their impoverished beginnings in a divided post war Italy.
Elena is the narrator (we assume the novels are autobiographical in origin), driven to set down the history of their friendship following Lila's disappearance in 2006.
In our time of Instagram,Twitter and Talk Shows, the media-ready author has become a staple of the publishing industry. Yet, Elena Ferrante has written her works, My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and now The Story of The Lost Child, under a pseudonym and with complete anonymity. All that we know is that she is a woman, in her sixties, who lives in Naples. Ferrante has said that "books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t"
This fourth and final instalment brings this brimming, deeply psychological chronicle to a close. We will miss her writing; descriptions of Naples so vivid you feel as though you're walking its streets. And that friendship; symbiotic yet destructive, and coloured by unfathomable yearning.
Hanya Yanigihara, A Little Life
With her second novel, A Little Life, Hanya Yanighara has created an astonishing Twenty First Century epic which has met with ecstatic reviews all round. The 700 page work, which has been long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, is about a group of four friends at a Massachussets University. We follow them from New England to New York and into adulthood, as each sets out on a different path.
What follows is a deeply moving story of brotherhood, success, hubris and trauma, long buried yet close at hand. As we read, the story sharpens its focus on one of the quartet; the wondrous, devastating Jude St. Francis. Nothing we say here could prepare you for what follows.
Yanagihara's prose is so rich, the detail so lifelike and her characters so whole that the book will consume you. Nothing short of a masterpiece; we urge you to read it.
William Boyd, Sweet Caress
When a male novelist invents a 'Beautiful and Interesting Woman' and makes her his heroine, you can't help but brace yourself. The writer is often in love with her, and paints a totally unrealistic psychological portrait. Often her actions are dictated by feminine wiles, and her character is inseparable from gender stereotypes.
Luckily, and despite the title, William Boyd's latest navigates this boggy terrain with aplomb. In his latest novel Sweet Caress, the author of Restless and Any Human Heart paints the full and detailed life of Amory Clay, a photographer growing up between the wars.
Crucial moments of European history are reframed through Amory's life and her camera lens, and we follow her from '20s Berlin to '30s New York and '40s France; through love, war, bohemia and motherhood. Clever, metatextual and psychological, this is a wonderfully observed, fully rounded read about a woman's adventures through Twentieth Century Europe.
Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Days
Salman Rushdie's maximalist, dizzying prose is some of the most powerful in recent decades. The Anglo-Indian writer won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 for Midnight's Children, which is now widely considered one of the best novels ever written. His Satanic Verses earned him a fatwa.
This September marks the release of Rushdie's latest novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. Three years in the writing, the book is a loose riff on the Arabian Nights, which is set in the near future in New York City. An odd assembly of characters are bound together by ancient mysteries and hidden worlds.
In his usual byzantine fashion, Rushdie blends Homeric epic with sci-fi, pop-culture, history and myth. Delightful.
Jonathan Franzen, Purity
Jonathan Franzen writes 'Great American Novels', the kind that are going to be studied in schools. His 2001 bestseller The Corrections sold millions and was nominated for every award going. 2010's Freedom was described by The New York Times as a ‘masterpiece’ and taken on holiday by President Obama.
His writing plumbs the broken American psyche; a product, you can't help but feel, of self-examination. The resulting works are sprawling studies of American life, scattered with leitmotifs and acutely observed details.
Franzen’s new book is a decade and continent-spanning epic that follows a young woman, Purity Tyler, looking for her father across America (Northern and Southern) and Eastern Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As she is drawn into her family’s secrets she crosses paths with an out-law - and hero - an internet hacker.
Purity is said to be a ‘stylistic departure’ for Franzen. Speaking to the New York Times, he said: ‘There’s a kind of fabulist quality to it. It’s not strict realism. There's a kind of mythic undertone to the story.’
Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing/ Pinball
The Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami inspires devotion. His novels are read across the world, from hip cafes in New York's East Village, to Lisbon metro carriages and Australian beaches. The arrival of a new Murakami novel is now a blockbusting event, complete with overnight queues, endless reprints and translation into 50 languages
The books, such as Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, are jewels of postmodernism. As Western as they are Eastern, they brim with melancholy and Kafka-esque isolation, flecked quirks and with moments of surrealism.
This year, Murakami's first two novels Hear the Wind Sing (1979) and Pinball (1980) will be published in English for the first time. These works are a fascinating insight into the writer's development; we see his burgeoning fascination in themes that will come to define his mature work, loneliness, adolescence, doomed love.
These novellas, as well as satisfying the craving of Murakami-addicts, would make a perfect introduction to one of the best contemporary novelists in the world.
Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last
Margaret Atwood lives approximately nine lives, all at once. She has been nominated for the Man Booker Prize nine times, and won once. She is a critic, poet, journalist, activist and inventor (check out her LongPen robot). She is also prolific on Twitter, having conquered the art of 140-character masterpieces.
Her first novel, The Edible Woman, was published in 1969. Since then she has maintained a prodigious output, publishing more than forty works of fiction including The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize, The Handmaid's The Year of the Flood, The Robber's Bride, the Oryx and Crake Trilogy. Novels aside, Atwood has non-fiction, children’s stories and poetry as well as trying her hand at writing television scripts and librettos.
Published in September, The Heart Goes Last will be Atwood's first standalone novel since her Booker-winning The Blind Assassin. Set in a dystopic near-future, the novel combines the speculative brilliance of Handmaid's Tale with the wit and playfulness we've come to expect from Atwood.
A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler has a legion of fans, including John Updike, Andrew Davies, Sebastian Faulks, Nick Hornby. She has won a Pulitzer and a place in this year’s Man Booker longlist, And yet, Tyler faces a share of bitter criticism; there’s something a little too sweet about her depictions of domestic life say a few (male) critics.
The thread of intimate, intricate family drama that weaves through all her novels is especially knotty in her 20th and, Tyler says, final book, A Spool of Blue Thread. The narrative unravels the myths and trauma of the the Whitshank family with all the sympathy and detail Tyler fans expect, with an acidic edge silence the naysayers.
The Green Road, Anne Enright
Anne Enright is often prefixed by the term 'Irish Writer', but this epithet is reductive. Her majestic books, bound as they are to her homeland, are about people: families, grief, memory, religion, sexuality - the whole tapestry.
The characters in her Booker-nominated novel The Green Road are so well-realised it feels as though they're your own relatives. The plot centres on a single family, like her Booker-prize wining 2007 novel, The Gathering. Rosaleen Madigan, a wonderful, troublesome matriarch, summons her children from the four corners of the world back to the West Coast of Ireland. The family are to have one last Christmas together in their childhood home before it is sold.
What follows, in precise, lyrical prose, is a family drama, which hops about in time but paints an astonishingly lifelike portrait of the damaged Madigan clan. There is little in the way of narrative arc, though there is a resolution of sorts at the novel's close: the novel reads more like a series of short stories. Honest and beautifully written: this is a book to treasure.
David Mitchell, Slade House
David Mitchell was born in Merseyside and raised in Worcestershire – rather a mundane beginning for a writer whose books span continents, centuries and parallel universes.
The author of Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks is one of Britain's leading writers. His books achieve that rare feat of crafting a huge world that is entirely believable. The 'Mitchellverse', as his fans know it, is a fictional universe that – draws on dozens of literary predecessors, but remains unique. His readers trust him to take them places that many authors would not dare attempt.
This October, a mere year after the novelist gave us The Bone Clocks, Mitchell will publish a short novel, Slade House. The book began life as a 280 tweet story The Right Sort, but it sprouted and grew and acquired a life of its own. Despite its comparatively diminutive size, the book, according to Mitchell's publisher, is “every bit as enthralling and inventive: a taut, spine-chilling, intricately woven, reality-warping tale that begins in 1979 and comes to its electrifying conclusion on October 31st, 2015”. Very exciting.
Non-fiction and Poetry
Michael Peppiat, Francis Bacon
Art critic and curator Michael Peppiatt was a student when he met Francis Bacon in 1963. The enigmatic painter and bon vivant was in his sixties. Over Chablis they struck up a friendship that was to last thirty years.
Peppiatt became intimately close with Bacon; over time the genius revealed to him the knotted intricacies of his private life, with its colourful cast of characters, addictions, boyfriends and enemies.
The personality that revealed itself to Peppiatt was full of contradictions: sweet yet thunderous, cruel yet caring, monstrous, tender. On day-long drinking binges the pair cavorted across London, through hotels and casinos, meeting with rent-boys and world-famous artists.
Francis Bacon in Your Blood is Peppiatt’s memoir of these years. Unlike Peppiatt’s biography: Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, this book courts scandal and is –in Peppiatt’s words – ‘deliberately indiscreet’.
Dismantling the mythology surrounding one of twentieth century’s foremost creative geniuses, this is a scintillating read.
Paul Theroux, Deep South
American travel writer Paul Theroux has written books on some of the furthest-flung places on the planet. From deep jungles in Africa to China’s mountains, Eastern Europe, Siberia, Patagonia, East Asia. In his latest book, though, the New-England native turns his gaze on a land a little closer to home.
Theroux explores the Deep South the only way it can really be explored; with a road trip, through Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama and Arkansas. He travelled down rural aways, through tobacco fields and cotton fields, across deserts mountains and the mighty Mississippi river.
Theoroux eschewed tourist traps and discovered the Deep South through its seedy motels and gun shows, its diners and its churches. He found a population scarred by the slavery and segregation of its past, and bruised the racism and poverty of its present. In the manner of his son, Louis, Paul Theroux has attested that The South has "a great overwhelming sadness that I couldn't fathom."
Yet, the spirit of the region; the richness of its culture and warmness of its welcome, Theroux found intact and quite marvellous.
A sympathetic and wonderfully evocative read.
Poems of the Decade, Forward
It can be hard to keep abreast of the contemporary poetry scene; for every talent you've heard of or debut collection you own, there are five more which have escaped you. Luckily, the annual the Forward Prize gathers together the most powerful voices in contemporary poetry, be they new or established.
This year, Forward's founder William Sieghart has selected his favourite poems in the prize's history. The result is a wonderfully survey of the poetical landscape of the first decade of the Twenty-first Century.
This landmark collection contains familiar names, such as Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy and John Burnside, along with lesser-known, world-class poets. An essential.
Roberto Saviano, ZeroZeroZero
Writer Roberto Saviano has sacrificed a normal existence in the name of journalism. He cannot leave the house without his seven body guards. He lives in a police barracks. He can't have a relationship. He hasn't been for a beer in seven years. "This life is sh*t" Saviano has said, "I can't describe how bad it is."
Saviano traded in his former life in 2006, with the publication of his best-seller 'Gomorrah'. The book was an expose of the Camorra; a Neopolitan crime syndicate, presided over by "godfather" Mafiosos. Since then, sixteen mafia ringleaders have been sentenced to life in prison. The barrage of death threats he and his family have received has made life impossible.
His latest journalistic assault on organised crime, ZeroZeroZero. This new work excavates the underworld of the global cocaine trade, with some stomach-churning findings.
Red Notice: How I Became Putin's No 1 Enemy, Bill Bowder
On a sub-zero Russian night in 2009 a man is handcuffed to a bed frame beaten to death by eight men in his prison cell. The victim was Sergei Magnitsky a 37 year old lawyer, who had been tortured and in solitary confinement for a year.
Magnitsky was killed because he gave evidence against the Russian Interior Ministry officials involved in a conspiracy to steal hundreds of millions of taxes.
After his death, Russian prosecutors farcically put him on trial, causing global outrage. His murder has gone unpunished.
Enter Bill Browder, the hedge-fund manager who hired Magintsky. His book Red Notice is part memoir, part exposé of the Kremlin's dirty secrets. Avenging his lawyer, Browder has levelled the loudest J'accuse at Putin so far. He takes us through his heady Wall Street years to his time heading up the biggest hedge-fund in Russia. We have shadowy dealings with oligarchs, greased palms and - following Browder's campaign to purify Russian capitalism - his eventual exile and the death of his lawyer.
Red Notice is a riveting, real-life political thriller; a drama played out at summit of Western political power. Thrilling.