When 2015 rolled around, I made a commitment to read at least 30 books over the course of the year. Looking back on the year’s read list, it was a surprisingly good reading year for me. I’ve loved so many books that have come my way, especially some that were published in 2015 itself.
Here are three of my favourites published in 2015.
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
In this 700-page novel, Yanagihara illuminates abuse and physical suffering pushed to their limits, drawn in vivid detail.
The novel opens with the introduction of four university friends who move to New York City together, all pursuing different careers: Malcolm is an architect who still lives with his parents at 27, Willem an actor who also waits tables, JB a struggling painter and Jude a junior state prosecutor.
The narrative quickly focuses on Jude, an orphan with a mysterious past. He walks with a limp and always keeps his body covered, but his friends have no idea why. Tantalising hints about Jude’s condition and history are initially tormentingly withheld, making the novel’s first 300 pages a grim but fun guessing game.
It is later revealed (spoiler alert!) that Jude has a tendency for self-harm, and the novel slowly unfolds as Yanagihara doles out the specifics and extent of Jude’s suffering in a series of flashbacks, each graphic depiction more gruesome than the last.
In this novel, Yanagihara chronicles self-hatred in such striking detail. Her attention to the texture of abuse and its aftermath will consume you and leave you flinching with each flip of a page. However, as dark and disturbing as the novel is, it is an equally beautiful work of fiction.
2. Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
For those of you who have read the darkly amusing Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, you’ll love this novel. It steams ahead at a faster pace, and is honestly just plain dark.
Hawkins uses three female narrators to tell her story — Rachel, Megan and Anna — all of whom carry around a lot of emotional baggage and whose points of view are intriguingly unreliable.
Rachel, the story’s central figure, is in her thirties, divorced and a raging alcoholic, one who takes the train into Central London every day to avoid confessing to her roommate that she was fired months ago. During her commutes, she creates a fantasy world for a young and seemingly perfect couple she sees through the train’s window. They live a few houses away from her ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna, who slips into the narrative unobtrusively.
Enter Megan, the female half of Rachel’s fantasy couple, who turns out to be far from what Rachel had imagined, nursing a terrible dark secret of her own. When Megan goes missing, Rachel’s already messy world shifts completely off-centre as she finds herself unable to stay away, winding up right in the middle of the investigation and the lives of those involved.
Hawkins juggles timescales and perspectives with great skill, seamlessly switching between character’s voices at the perfect time, keeping readers guessing for as long as possible. Rachel’s unreliable accounts heighten the suspense further as she struggles with her growing alcoholism and memory lapses. The subtle revelations of each character are drip-fed with precision, taunting you even as they make for a gripping novel.
3. All the Light We Cannot See by Another Doerr
In Doerr’s captivating bestseller, darkness finds light in the midst of war. This haunting story of “boy meets girl” is told so full of emotion that some passages will bring tears to your eyes.
Marie-Laure lives with her father, a talented locksmith, in Paris near the Museum of Natural History where he works. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind. Her loving father goes to extraordinary lengths to help her compensate for her loss of eyesight, building an intricate miniature of their neighbourhood so she can memorise it by touch and navigate her way. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, forcing them both to flee to Saint-Malo, carrying with them the museum’s most prized and dangerous jewel.
While Marie-Laure grows up fortunate, Werner’s life is much bleaker. The German orphan grows up with his younger sister in an orphanage, where he becomes an expert at fixing and building electrical circuits, eventually gaining a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth. The war takes him to Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
Doerr is an extroardinary stylist. His sentences are exquisite while his passages cut back and forth in time, creating unbearable suspense (which resulted in yours truly racing through the book). This atmospheric, engrossing novel will allow you to soak up all the emotion and get lost in a different world.