2018 in Books
I’ve spent the past twelve months becoming infatuated with imaginary worlds, falling deeply in love with well-developed characters and losing myself in the pages of many incredible stories. I have always loved to read, but the past year in particular has reinforced how much I adore fiction. Since I started keeping note of all the books I read (from May last year), I have completed 37 books. Here are my accounts of those that were the most memorable.
Marianne and Connoll became like two beloved friends, whose relationship I was greatly invested in. I could have read about their on-again-off-again romantic liaisons well into their old age. As it was, when I turned the final page of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, I felt an immediate loss. Yes, I could re-read the book whenever I want (I most certainly will do) but I’ll never know what happened next in their lives. Rooney is remarkably gifted at crafting her main characters, and I really felt like I had been observing two real people. I also read her first book, Conversations with Friends, just a month earlier and fell just as deep into Frances’s story. Yes, her characters are all flawed, but that’s what makes them so real.
In complete contrast to reading realistic books about realistic people, I’ve also enjoyed reacquainting myself with fairy tales the past year. Fusing contemporary characters with all too familiar enchanted worlds, there have been several books this year that harked back to my childhood favourites. I pondered my love for these contemporary fairy tales in an article for The Uncommon Muse, focusing on three of my favourite reads of the year: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, What Should be Wild by Julia Fine and The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw. All three books feature strong female protagonists and a strong magical element, combining reality with fairy-tale lands, enchanting mythology and unusual powers. While The Hazel Wood and The Wicked Deep fit snugly into my love for YA fiction, What Should be Wild is a darker novel, that proves difficult to read at times with its harrowing tale.
I can’t continue without mentioning my absolute favourite book of the year. When I closed the pages of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland I immediately wanted to pick it back up and read it all over again. It’s a book that I will definitely be re-visiting this year, and I’ve been recommending to anyone who will listen. The story covers the life of Alice, from a childhood of abuse, as she grows and moves around Australia, falling in love and making decisions that will shape her life.
Holly Ringland isn’t the only debut author that I’ve fallen for this year. Daisy Johnson’s first novel, Everything Under was one of my favourite reads, updating the Oedipus take for a contemporary audience. I love how Daisy writes, having also read her book of short stories, Fen , earlier in the year. If you like strange tales with plenty of folklore, I’d recommend checking out her books. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh was another debut that I devoured. Her dark & disturbing apocalyptic tale of three sisters stranded on an island with their abusive parents was mesmerising to read.
The Water Cure hints at an apocalyptic future that was the reason for the family retreating to a remote island, but The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a full-on look at the end of the world. In Karen’s book, the apocalypse starts when the world starts to slow down it’s spin. Days gradually lengthen until all hell breaks loose, narrated by 11-year-old Julia sharing her story of how this phenomena affects her world. I found this book impossible to put down, and read it in two days, completely absorbed by its take on how huge impending disaster can affect one small person.
I am a bit of a lover of dystopian futures, and although they don’t focus on the end of days, two other books that I enjoyed in 2018 crept just a little way into the future to show what could happen if the political climate keeps pushing in its current direction. Both Vox by Christina Dalcher and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas depict the near-future where women no longer have choices. In Red Clocks, abortion has been declared illegal in the United States. The story focuses on how this affects four very different women, making a compelling read. Vox is a darker read, that starts off intriguing but unfortunately (for me) turned into a bit of a Hollywood blockbuster in its second half. In this near-future, women have bracelets forcibly attached to their wrists that administer electric shocks when they speak over their allowance of 100 words a day.
Looking for for a lighter read that focuses on more frivolous subjects, like sex and food? Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is a marmite of a book - you’ll either love it or hate it. I personally was absorbed into Tess’s life in New York, sucking up the book as a complete guilty pleasure. While it’s nothing groundbreaking, I did really enjoy how Stephanie writes, and found myself fully absorbed with Tess’s tale of the high-end restaurant industry in New York.
A book that I loved last year that surprised me was The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri. Francesco is a big deal in Italian fantasy fiction, but this was his first English language novel. I usually prefer to read books written about women, with female characters, but I completely fell in love with this story. The blend of fantasy and reality works really well, and although the characters aren’t exactly likeable, I found myself rooting for them.
The final book that I’m going to share is Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. This supernatural tale is technically a YA novel but there’s plenty in there for older generations to enjoy. The story is told from the point of view of three girls living on Sawkill Rock - an island where girls have been vanishing for generations - as well as surprising chapters told from the point of view of the rock itself. Another book that I couldn’t put down.
So there you have it - my 15 favourite reads of 2018. I’d love to hear about the books that you enjoyed last year in the comments below.