Best of 2015

December again, and it’s time to compile my best of 2015 reading list.

Best Classic Russian:

Notes From a Dead House: Dostoevsky

Want to know what life was like in a Siberian prison camp? … read this. Human nature at its best and its worst. Sentencing to a Siberian prison camp must have come as a terrible blow to Dostoevsky, but this book–a gift to the world–is the result.

Best Non Fiction:

This House of Grief: Helen Garner. This emotionally wrenching non-fiction book gives the reader an insider look at the Farquharson case in which a divorced man was accused of murdering his three sons. While this is the story of the trial, Helen Garner gives us so much more than this–an eyewitness account but also the torturous cost of the trial on those involved. Again–the best and worst of human nature. I want to read Joe Cinque’s Consolation, but after reading This House of Grief, I think it’s best to put some distance between the two books.

Best New American Crime Fiction:

Canary: Duane Swierczynski

I enjoyed Swierczynski’s fantastic Charlie Hardie trilogy, so I was eager to see what he’d achieved with Canary the story of how a college student gets in over her head when she’s roped in by the police as a ‘confidential informer.’ This is a topical subject and with his usual wizardry Swierczynski creates a formidable, unforgettable heroine in a tale which has many surprises.

Best Classic American Crime Fiction:

The Big Heat: by William McGivern

This moody, hard-hitting tale of corruption involves a lone cop who goes rogue while following a violent path for revenge. Read the book. See the film. Gloria Grahame…. enough said.

The big heat

Best New American Fiction:

Eileen : Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen was one of the most interesting fiction books I read this year. Not sure what I expected with this one, but someone did a great job with the cover design which drew me to the book in the first place. This is the story of a strange, disconnected young woman who works at a local prison as an office worker. With a horrible home life and no social life whatsoever, something has to give for Eileen, and just what sets her free is the substance of this marvelous, dark tale.


Best Australian Fiction:

Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop: Amy Witting. A sequel to I for Isobel, Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop is set in a TB sanitorium, and Isobel, ill, stuck in bed, is forced to interact with people she likes as well as those she dislikes. This is a heroine we cheer for as she finds a place for herself in an institution, and receives more kindness from strangers than she ever received from her family. People who’ve never been given love, aren’t sure how to receive it, and Witting knows just how to create this on paper. Read both novels.

Best New British Fiction:

A Pleasure and a Calling: Phil Hogan. Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for unreliable narrators. Phil Hogan’s novel is told by a middle-aged, successful estate agent– trustworthy, respectable, reliable…  but is he?… cross this man and your life will suddenly take a turn for the worse. Wickedly funny and dark, this book is nothing less than creepily delightful.

a pleasure and a callling

Best Reprinted British Fiction:

A View of the Harbour: Elizabeth Taylor

I read two Elizabeth Taylor novels this year, both from NYRBs–A Game of Hide and Seek and A View of the Harbour. A View of the Harbour, IMO, was the better novel. Perhaps the seaside setting helped, but overall, I found the characters in A View of the Harbour much more interesting.

Best new Crime Series: Glasgow Underworld Trilogy by Malcolm Mackay

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

How a Gunman Says Goodbye

The Sudden Arrival of Violence

A punchy trilogy… but wait… Now there’s Every Night I dream of Hell which includes some of the same characters. Will we see this series extended?

Best Irish Crime Fiction:

Gun Street Girl: Adrian McKinty. Sean Duffy struggles with an open-and-shut case which reeks of a staged crime.

Best Scottish Fiction:

For the Love of Willie: Agnes Owens

I’m a long-term fan of the criminally under-appreciated Scottish author Agnes Owens; she hasn’t written a great deal but if you pick a book by Owen, you can’t go wrong.   For the Love of Willie is narrated by a woman who lives in a mental hospital, and regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for this type of setting. Draw your own conclusions.

for the love of willie

Bext French Crime Fiction:

Vertigo: Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narejac. This two writers, working as a collaborative team, wrote crime with the idea that the ‘nightmare would never end’ for the protagonist. Most of us have seen the Hitchcok film made from the book, but there are many differences, so crime fans shouldn’t miss this. This is one of the titles in the very impressive, new Pushkin Press Vertigo line.

Funniest Book:

Crane Mansions: Gert Loveday

I don’t normally go for books featuring children, but I’ll read anything Gert Loveday writes. This mischievous tale involves a child who ends up at Crane Mansions, Regulatory School for the Indigent. If you think this sounds like a horrible place, you’d be right, but this very funny tale subverts all reader expectations.

crane mansions

Best reread:

Birds of the Air: Alice Thomas Ellis. I never tire of this book. A wonderful story of grief, secrets and family relationships.

A novel I meant to read for a long time:

Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand: Franz Werfel. The story of a successful bureaucrat who is forced to revisit the sins of his past.

Pale Blue Ink

Best Short Story Collection:

Marseille Noir . Crime stories which give the flavor of this city. I moved from watching the French-Belgian film The Connection to reading about crime in Marseille. Review to follow.

marseille noir




Filed under Dostoevsky, Fiction, Garner Helen, Hogan Phil, Loveday Gert, Mackay Malcolm, McGivern William P, McKinty Adrian, Moshfegh Eileen, Owens Agnes, Swierczynski Duane, Taylor, Elizabeth, Werfel Franz, Witting Amy

22 responses to “Best of 2015

  1. I haven’t read any of those, I keep the list. (Still two books of the Charlie trilogy to read and definitely reading Gert Loveday next year)

    Merry Christmas

  2. Some wonderful titles some of which I need to investigate. A huge thank you for your review of This House of Grief which is definitely a contender for my non-fiction read of the year too!

  3. Thanks for choosing Crane Mansions. (Trish would have been after you if you hadn’t). I’m with you on Witting (Harrower pipped at the post?), Taylor, Thomas Ellis and Phil Hogan. Not a Garner fan though I recognise her journalistic skills.
    My recommendation for you this year is Diego de Silva’s I Hadn’t Understood. It has your name written all over it.

  4. Well, I got out of this lightly but only because I’d already bought some of these best-of books earlier in the year when you reviewed them.
    PS GertLoveday, LOL what’s with this enigmatic recommendation for I Hadn’t Understood? Does it have my name on it too?

  5. A great round-up, Guy. The Big Heat is a must-read for me. I just love Gloria Grahame – she one of my fave actresses from the 1940s/’50s.

    It’s great to see Elizabeth Taylor on your list. Her Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont will make my end-of-year highlights, so it’ll be interesting to see how I take to her other novels.

    I really enjoyed Boileau-Narcejac’s Vertigo, too. How did ‘She Who Was No More’ compare? Clouzet’s film — Les Diaboliques — is one of my favourites (in fact I prefer it to Hitchcock’s adaptation of Vertigo), so I’ll probably read the novel next year.

  6. Great list. I like your categories. I’m glad that you liked The View From the Harbour so much because I haven’t read it yet and liked Hide and Seek a lot.
    I’m really keen on reading Eileen and finally hope to read a Alice Thomas Ellis soon and I bought a collection of Agnes Owen’s novellas after reading your review.

  7. Quite a lot of cities have these “noir” collections; I’ve been eyeing some up. I’m a big Malcolm MacKay fan too. And Gun Street Girl, the first Sean Duffy I’ve read, has seen me become a keen convert. There’s a lot of good Irish crime fiction out there the now.

  8. Looks to have been a great reading year, Guy. I’m determined to get to more Elizabeth Taylor this year. That Marseille Noir collection is also something into which I want to poke my nose. I’ve already marked down some of your other titles from when you posted about them. Have a great year of reading/blogging in 2016!

  9. I had already noted the Mosfegh book, and Phil Hogan catches my eye as well. Bit of cognitive dissonance on the latter, as I’m used to him as a slightly smart-aleck columnist writing about TV etc.

    I’ll get to those Talyors eventually – Blaming is next on the TBR for me. By the way, one of my minor highlights of the year was Jane Gardam’s Old Filth. I hadn’t realised it was the start of a trilogy, and I went out and got the second book immediately.

    Anyway, happy new reading year Guy and as always thanks for the wonders and oddities you unearth for us.

    • I’ll have to see if I can find any of the Hogan columns. I’ve been thinking I need to read him again soon– I really miss the psycho character from his book.
      Yes Old Filth is excellent. Gardam is wonderful. I read God on the Rocks (a bit reluctantly because of the title) but it was marvelous.
      Thanks for reading.

  10. Great list as ever Guy. Vertigo didn’t make my list, whereas Master of the Day of Judgement did, but there’s always personal responses and Vertigo is very, very good so it certainly doesn’t stand out as an odd inclusion.

    The Big Heat is a must read, followed by a must view. Odd I haven’t seen it already frankly. It’s oddly hard to get in the UK, seems to be out of print.

    Nice point in your Canary review on Swierczynski’s characters not actually being ordinary. Unfortunately Canary seems to be insanely expensive in the UK. I imagine a kindle version will hit at some point though since it seems a good non-comics entry point for him.

    I’ve bought Palfrey as my Taylore, in part due to your high praise for it. If I take to that, as no doubt I shall, I’ll try others.

    I still have your Ellis review bookmarked as I hadn’t got to it yet. I almost deleted it recently figuring I was short on time and it didn’t look like my sort of book, but when I skimmed the review and saw your praise I realised it was better saved until I had time to consider it properly. That’s reinforced by seeing it appear again here.

    Finally, I’d forgotten your Pale Blue review. I’ll correct that by looking for a copy now. It really does sound good. Also out of print in the UK, but available at a rather more reasonable price than the other unavailable ones.

    • I am a die hard Gloria Grahame fan, and you’ll probably see why when you see her in The Big Heat. It’s a terrific book.
      Wonder why Canary is so expensive there?
      I will be reviewing another Ellis soon.

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