If you asked me at the beginning of the year what my 10 favourite books are, I could only rank 3 in definite order (for the record they are: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Brighton Rock, and Submarine). Any book after third place was just randomly placed on the list with little thought put into why it was in said place. This year I have read several books that have really struck a chord with me and now hold firm positions in my top 10 list. In this post I have selected five highlights of 2016.
1. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov.
This is my book of the year and has knocked Brighton Rock from second place (sorry, Graham Greene). It would probably make more sense to put this at the bottom of the list and build up anticipation but I didn’t do that because I did not plan this at all.
The Master and Margarita is set in Soviet Moscow, where God is not present but the Devil very much walks the streets. Without saying too much, Ivan Ponyryov (Bezdomny) is an aspiring poet and witnesses a horrific event which leads him to meet the Master. Bezdomny hears the Master’s story of his interactions with the devil and his relationship with Margarita.
The novel is full of magic and is completely surreal. At times I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was actually happening to the characters or an illusion. As there are a couple of different story lines happening at once, it does take a couple of chapters to get used to the changing scenes and characters but it makes perfect sense when you can see the connections between plots. It is a piece of magic realism, to an extent, and that made it memorable. The witches, the religious imagery, the intertwining of narratives – I was immersed in this world. I think this is a book everyone should read.
2. Perfume – Patrick Süskind.
After finishing this novel I had to put it down and contemplate what on earth I had just read. This book is so ridiculously twisted and messed up and weird. The last chapter is so strange but amazing.
Set in eighteenth-century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with the exceptional sense of smell. He becomes a perfumer and is on the search for the perfect scent. On his quest for the ultimate perfume, Grenouille goes on a murder spree. The narrative is poetic and absolutely beautiful.
I would recommend not eating when reading this, because it did make me feel slightly sick, but it is brilliant.
3. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy.
Okay, so when I was 17 I remember saying I would never read War & Peace. After watching the most recent BBC series of War & Peace I was disappointed that I had not read it sooner. I’ve always known a very basic outline of the plot, but I didn’t realise how interesting it was. After watching the series I instantly bought the book.
I think I have read it at the right time with the series still fresh in my memory because it has made it easier for me to visualise characters. I love Pierre with all my heart and the characters are so complex and gripping. They take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions as you follow their stories through the years. Watching Natasha grow from a 13 year old girl to a young woman makes you feel like a proud mother.
What put me off this book before (besides the size of it) was the great sections of war narrative but I actually quite enjoyed those parts.
The ending was a little bit off. I have heard how people have said ignore the epilogue. I liked part one of the epilogue because it rounded everything off but part two took a philosophical turn as Tolstoy writes critically about history and historical events. Although I understand why he wrote it, I think it would’ve been better as a sort of afterword or appendix separate to the epilogue.
Anyway, I’m glad I read it. Everyone should read it. If you enjoyed an adaptation, read it! You will love the book!
4. A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James.
I did not want this book to end. In my head this was like a multi-million dollar, decade long, award winning HBO show which would bring every one together to discuss. It is amazing.
Taking place over several decades, James takes us from the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 to New York in the 1980s to Jamaica in the 1990s. Before the novel begins, like War and Peace, there is a character list and throughout the novel different narrative voices interweave with each other to create a bigger picture. The narrative was haunting and I came away from this novel learning something new. I did not know much about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley or the politics of Jamaica but I couldn’t help but research alongside reading the book and wanting to know more.
Marlon James definitely deserved the Man Booker Prize for this because this novel is a masterpiece. I know this is quite a big statement to make, but I do think this is one of the greatest novels of the twenty-first century so far.
5. Moby Dick – Herman Melville.
Who knew whales could be so interesting? Like War and Peace, I thought I would never read Moby Dick. My friend Rachel read this book and absolutely loved it so I thought I would give it a try and it was a roller coaster ride. Ishmael’s narrative voice is really engaging and I now want to live a life at sea.
Melville’s writing is an absolute work of art. The plot is incredible and I loved the chapters on whales in art and literature. I was originally cautious of reading Moby Dick because I thought it would be boring but nope I’m invested. It’s a book I want to read again and again.
Other books I loved this year were: Just Kids by Patti Smith, The Outsider by Albert Camus, Stoner by John Williams, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, to name a few more. I hope I find even more amazing books to read in 2017!
In 2017 I want to read all my unread books on my bookshelf. Excluding the books for my university modules, I have 23 books to read which I think I can do. I’ve owned I, Claudius and Howards End for too long and not read them it’s embarrassing.