My Top 10 Fiction Books of 2014
I’ve read so many fantastic books this year but here’s a quick summary of my top 10.
Dick’s hilarious but harrowing tale of drug abuse and paranoia comes in at no. 10. Filled with trippy imagery and philosophical questioning on the nature of the self and it’s role in society, A Scanner Darkly is easily up there with the best of Dick’s oeuvre.
Full review here.
At no. 9 we have E. M. Forster’s prophetic tale of the looming dangers of technology. Published in 1909 The Machine Stops has seemingly been a precursor to many of the great dystopian novels of the 20th century, with parallels Orwell, Huxley and Vonnegut among many others. This tiny collection also contains the beautifully short The Celestial Omnibus which explores the metaphorical nature of literature and poetry through a child’s adventure to heaven-like realm of imagination.
Full review here.
I was stuck at what to put at number 8. I wanted to include one of the Gaiman books I’d read this year but I couldn’t decide on which I enjoyed more, the short fable-like Ocean at the end of the Lane or the sprawling epic American Gods. In the end I went with Ocean because of Gaiman’s wonderful ability conjure up images of childhood: feelings of fear and wonderment that are very difficult to recreate in adult life.
Full review here.
No.7 – Flowers for Algernon. Keyes’s heartbreaking story of Charlie Gordon and his path from blissful ignorance to an artificially induced intelligence (and back again) perhaps had the biggest emotional effect of anything I read this year. Keyes’s ability to make you empathise with the character he creates is truly one of a kind – the book will take you on a roller coaster ride of emotions, but it’s definitely worth the ride. Although this is generally categorised as a SF book I really feel like it should be a must-read for even the biggest sci-fi critics.
Now I confess I haven’t actually got round to reading The Return of the King yet (although I have flicked through the appendix’s and histories at the end!) so this rating only really takes into account the first two books but I thought I would include the trilogy as a whole seeing how much I love Tolkien and the whole LOTR universe. Not much more needs to be said about The Lord of the Rings that hasn’t been said before but what I can verify is that Tolkien is truly the master of fantasy storytelling. The world he creates has so much depth and so much history that it’s almost impossible not to be sucked into it. My favourite moment – Tolkien’s description of the golden wood of Lothlórien; an ephemeral realm that exists outside of the normal flow of time. Something about this particular scene just emphasised to me the brilliance of Tolkien’s descriptive powers. LOTR comes in at no. 6.
Of the 5 Borges collections I’ve read this year The Aleph comes in second, and fifth in my overall top 10. Borges’s writing has a unique ability to combine complex metaphysical paradoxes with elegantly worded prose; he explores ideas that few other writers can get to grips within the space of a lengthy novel in, oftentimes, under ten pages. Borges’s stories are some of the best examples of meta-fiction in modern literature, and some are even said to have been the literary precursor to internet hypertext. He has truly changed the way I look at literature. Although I didn’t enjoy The Aleph quite as much as Labyrinths or The Book of Sand, it is still up there with some of my favourite books of all time.
Murakami really has a way of drawing you into his books and keeping you engulfed by them until you turn over the last page. As with Kafka on the Shore book I breezed through this 600+ page book in the space of a week or so, it was just impossible to put down. Murakami’s simplistic prose seems to transform your consciousness as you read, there is nothing special about the way he writes yet after sitting and reading for a while you feel as if you’ve entered into some kind of illusory dream world. Illusion and reality are turned upside down and it’s impossible to know which way is up (especially when you’re sitting at the bottom of a well!). The epic Wind-Up Bird is my no.4.
I still stick by the fact that the last few pages of this book are some of the most beautiful pieces of prose I’ve ever read. Marquez’s classic of South American magical realism comes in at no.6. The story follows the fictional town of Macondo, and it’s fouders the Buendias, throughout their hundred year history. It serves as metaphorical tale of the creation of a South American nation and brilliantly combines the fictional realism of the European tradition with the magical mythology of South American culture into a book that will leave you slightly baffled but captivated at every turn.
Kafka has an interesting ability to change the way you perceive the importance of his books after you read them. Many people I’ve spoken to who have read The Trial were initially not huge fans, yet in the weeks after they finish the book his genius becomes increasingly evident (a phenomenon I’m still noticing reading his short stories). The Trial, for a short book, is not an easy read, it will disturb you, it will fascinate you, it will make you laugh, it may even bore you at points, but I have no doubt that after reading it you will see Kafka’s influence everywhere. The Trial has got to be the second best book I’ve read this year. See review below.
Full review here.
I’ve been surprised to read that many people consider this as the ‘lesser Borges’. In fact I’m surprised to see so many reviews from Borges fans rating this as anything other than five stars. I’ve only read Andrew Hurley’s translation but I think what separates The Book of Sand (and Shakespeare’s Memory) from other Borges books is the intimate and personal aspect of the stories. The focus on the weary wisdom brought about by old age is what makes many of these tales so special. Almost all the stories were fascinating in their own way but in particular the ‘The Other’ and ‘August 25, 1983′ really resonated with me.
Maybe it’s because the idea of a young man being confronted with an older apparition of himself (or vice versa) puts our own trivialities into question in a way that only Borges is capable of. Maybe it’s because the subjectivity of age really raises queries about our own selves. Or maybe it’s merely because i’m fascinated by dreams…
I’ve loved all the Borges books I’ve read and The Book of Sand definitely stands apart from the others; it is definitely not the ‘lesser Borges’. It comes it as the no.1 book I read in 2014.
All I know is I’m looking forward to re-reading this book again 50 years time…
‘When you next dream it, you shall be who I am, and you shall be my dream.’
Copied from full review here