Sunday, 20 December 2009

Top 5 in 2009

The Books, Time, and Silence Ten Days of Christmas – Day 4.

Without further ado, in reverse order, here are my five favourite books of 2009.

5 - The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days you can hear their chorus rushing past:

A beautiful, funny, nostalgia drenched novel full of mystery and uncertainty. Fittingly for such a grandiose title it is about nothing less than the entire history of love and life and emotional communication between people. It is an emotionally rewarding, structurally precocious, and intellectually thought provoking novel, with a vibrancy of prose which also makes it an enjoyable reading experience.

4 - Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

“No one in the whole world would know how she had loved it all; how, every instant…”

Mrs Dalloway may not have been the easiest read of the year, but what it lacked in readability it more than made up for in beautiful prose and pin-point description. It is one thing to recreate sadness, desperation, paranoia; hundreds of books have done so. But to capture fleeting moments of happiness is a rare and wonderful gift to literature. Hard work, but worth the effort.

3 - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

There is nothing I like more than a good story. A good story which surrounds me so completely that the action becomes more vivid than the physical world I'm living in. I like to be inundated by the words in such an immediate sense that I feel their breeze against my skin and believe that I am an unseen ghostly presence hovering somewhere between the full stop and the start of the next sentence.

Emily Bronte doesn't care whether the reader likes her characters or not, makes no effort to justify or smooth the actions of her deeply flawed heroes. It is a masterpiece of controlled atmospheric storytelling and caustic characterisation. A wonderful read.

2 - The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Just pipped to the top spot is The Hours a book I read almost in one day. It was a Sunday, and I was in the bath...

If Mrs Dalloway were a diamond it would be almost as big as the Ritz, priceless, and kept under lock and key in a national museum. Visitors would gape at it, experts celebrate it, soothsayers develop legends around it. It would inspire awe in those who looked upon it, for no one could quite conceive of the gargantuan forces needed to bring about its creation. And yet, for all this immense beauty it would remain shut up in its case, impractical, and with grains of carbon imperfection at its core.

What Michael Cunningham does in The Hours is akin to the master jeweller who takes this unwieldy diamond and from it creates a series of smaller, perfectly crafted gems which sparkle in the light and can be placed within rings and pendants and worn in public for all to enjoy. His skill is in knowing exactly where to cut and where to shave so that none of the original beauty is lost. The result is a precious reworking of a great novel, simplified, purified, and with an engaging plot which augments, comments upon, and replies to the themes of Woolf’s original text.
It is a fantastic read: beautiful, alluring, and finely crafted. Even using a jewellers eyepiece I doubt it would be possible to discern any flaws in this sumptuous novel.

1 - The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Finally we come to number one and a book that deserves every accolade lauded upon it. There are some books you know you will be recommending to friends and family for years to come. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one such book. Frantic, hair-raising, terrifying, complex, heartbreaking, exhilarating, it has it all. And most importantly of all, Patrick Ness is a novelist who has no qualms about testing his readers. At any moment he may kill off your favourite character, or place them in a situation in which they do something horrible. There is no good and evil in this trilogy, no black and white, just a whole lot of moral ambiguity. That uncertainty makes for an unpredictable read in which nothing ever turns out quite as you expect it to. A fantastic read, one which gripped my attention with the first words and refused to let up until the very final page. And when I finished, at about 3am one night, I barely paused to breathe before starting the sequel.

The Ask and the Answer was a great read too, very different but ultimately as rewarding its predecessor. The final volume in this trilogy, Monsters of Men, is published in May next year and f the first two are anything to go by, I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't turn out to be my book of the year in 2010.

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