9 books that are literary treasures of 2015
Just like any other year in recent memory, this year, too, saw the publication of several overrated, overhyped, droningly disastrous and infuriating books. However, when the Swedish academy decided to award this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature to a non-fiction writer, the Belarusian journalist, Svetlana Alexievich, it was clear that 2015 will be remembered as an eccentric and exciting year for booklovers. Yet, that was not the only reason that set 2015 apart; this year was also rife with several hotly anticipated books by literary masters and a plethora of enthralling and breathtakingly promising books by debut writers.
Unsurprisingly, one of the standouts this year was a non-fiction book, Voices from Chernobyl, by this year’s Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich. Published several years ago but brought back into print and press attention in the light of the author’s Nobel win, this book is worth buying this year.
Reading this book has been one of the most affecting and harrowing experiences I have had as a reader. This polyphonic book is a collection of oral histories from the survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The book is kaleidoscopic and it nimbly zooms in and out of the lives of its myriad characters and their war-torn world. With its sheer audacity and panache, it is a book that impacts and moves like no other.
Coming to the second most important literary event of this year, the Man Booker Prize, we find an eclectic and exotic mix of books and writers that were shortlisted. This year’s prize was bagged by the Jamaican novelist, Marlon James, for his novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings.
With its fiercely populated cast of characters and electrifying and chilling voice, this book is a fictional account of the assassination of Bob Marley and for all its wit and originality it was the well-deserved winner of the prize.
Two other shortlisted books that I read were A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler and The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma.
A Spool of Blue Thread is Tyler’s 20th novel and it is every bit as good as anything else she has ever written. Tyler is a high priestess of family life and in novel after novel, just as in this one, she has limned the inner frailties and turmoil that make ordinary families extraordinary.
The Nigerian writer, Obioma, made a robust and impactful debut with his novel, The Fisherman. It is a novel deeply imbedded in the African storytelling traditions, following in the footsteps of the father of modern African fiction, Chinua Achebe.
However, Obioma’s book is not only more contemporary than its predecessor’s but it’s also more fresh and lively and tells an anguishing tale of four brothers, ensconced between violent politics and folklore, with an impressive verve and voice that is worth watching out for in the future.
Next up is the American writer, Hanya Yanagihara, who did not merely write a book this year, but, with her 800 plus page novel, A Little Life, dropped a gargantuan literary bombshell on the face of the book world. And this is one of the reasons I wanted to talk about this book separately despite the fact that it was also shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize.
This was a book that greatly divided the critics. While some lauded the books emotional range and scope of ambition, the others thought that it could have benefitted from a dexterous editor. For some readers it was a gruelling and often life-changing experience. For others, despite its repulsive depiction of abuse and self-destruction, it still struck a chord and hence was a bestseller throughout the year.
I was also delighted by Outline, an extremely enjoyable and experimental novel by Rachel Cusk.
Cusk’s narrative reads effortlessly likes beads on a string. And her story, about a divorced woman travelling to Greece to teach a creative writing course is just as engrossing and frolicking.
I also admired Adam Johnson’s dazzlingly original and bold short story collection, Fortune Smiles, which, earlier this year, won the prestigious National Book Award for fiction.
In this collection Johnson visits several themes and leitmotifs of his Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son. But his new book is just as inventive in its ingenuity as it is daring in its examination of far-reaching themes, plots and characters.
Two Indian writers came to the forefront with impressive novels. British-Indian Sunjeev Sahota’s novel, Year of the Runaways, was a gorgeous and stealthily shattering account of the claustrophobic lives of illegal immigrants in UK.
While Anuradha Roy’s tender, poetic and mesmerising novel, Sleeping on Jupiter, was an exploration about religion, love and violence in the modern world.
Several literary heavyweights also published books this year. From the critically acclaimed Jonathan Franzen to the renowned feminist, Margaret Atwood and from the best-selling Kazuo Ishiguro to the Turkish Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. While each of them published books this year, which, in the light of their remarkable and extraordinary body of work, seemed mediocre achievements because of which they were only mildly received by critics and readers alike. However, this year, as literary titans made way for newcomers and second-timers, we were able to unravel some new and fresh voices that are worth following.
So as the year draws to an end and the holiday season is creeping up the corner, my suggestion is that you begin the holiday reading with Yanagihara’s beautifully wrought book, A Little Life, which tenderly delineates human-suffering, love, friendship, hope and redemption. I do suggest, though, that you read this book with a box of tissues at hand for it’s a book that devastates more than it delights.