Friday Faves: Best Books of 2014

SA Jones: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

My favourite book of 2014 was Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I admit I picked this up without much enthusiasm. I’d read Fowler before and found her a serviceable, competent writer. But she didn’t knock my socks off. Until now. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a story about family dysfunction with a twist. A big, hairy twist. It did what good fiction should do: it made me think differently about my own choices while entertaining, absorbing and surprising me.

SA Jones is a novelist, essayist, and reviewer. She is the author of Red Dress Walking and Isabelle of the Moon and Stars. She holds a PhD in History and has been named as one of the Australian Financial Review‘s 100 Women of Influence.

Martin Shaw: Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke

There’s that oft-quoted line from Kafka about what literature should be: “the axe that breaks the frozen sea within us”. When I had an early proof of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil in my hands at the beginning of this year I knew I was in the presence of that sort of experience. The book also had the effect of bringing forth one of the best book reviews I read all year – in the Saturday Paper. “AF”, whoever you are, wrote this: “It is this creative ruthlessness, this willingness to invert the usual liberal pieties, that saves Clarke’s stories from being politically impeccable agitprop, and it is the anger and despair stalking her characters, possessing them in an almost demonic fashion, that stays with the reader even after the words with which they were summoned fade away” and it absolutely nails this remarkable debut.

Martin Shaw is the books division manager at Readings and was named Australian Bookseller of the Year in 2013.

Allison Tait: The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

This was certainly the book that garnered the biggest response and most discussion in the Pink Fibro Bookclub, my online bookclub of more than 400 members. It was a novel that most readers were glad they persisted with, even though the themes and story were very uncomfortable most of the time. When I interviewed the author for So You Want To Be A Writer, (my podcast with Valerie Khoo), she said: ‘I love to read books that are interested in ideas and interested in language, that aren’t necessarily entirely for entertainment, that like to be sort of sneaky about expanding world views and things like that at the same time.’ The Night Guest is certainly that kind of book.

Allison Tait is a multi-genre writer who has just released her first novel for children, The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race To The End Of The World, under the name AL Tait.

William Yeoman: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

I couldn’t possibly name a single favourite book for 2014 so I’ve gone for the one I had the most fun with. The Silkworm is the second in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series of thrillers, and finds the private detective and his trusty sidekick Robin Ellacott immersed in the deadly (!) world of publishing after a missing novelist is found murdered. Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) has wicked fun sending up the pettiness and vanity of those involved in the London publishing scene while evoking the city’s rich history and built environment in passages of well-wrought, musical prose. Can’t wait for the next one!

William Yeoman is Literary Editor and West Weekend Staff Writer at The West Australian.

Dawn Barker: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road To The Deep North

There are other books that I loved too, but this is the one that I keep returning to, that I rave about when people mention it, and that has scenes in it that I’ll never forget. I listened to The Narrow Road To The Deep North as an audiobook, narrated by Flanagan himself, and his deadpan Australian accent juxtaposed perfectly with some of the most harrowing scenes about prisoners of war that I’ve read. I loved the book’s ambition and scope, the beauty of Flanagan’s writing, and the way it made me think differently about the moral complexity of the relationships between guards and prisoners, those with power and those with none. I was lucky enough to hear Flanagan talk when he accepted his awards at the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards. He was a great speaker, and a humble and gracious winner, and I think this book is worthy of all its accolades.

Dawn Baker is an author and psychiatrist. Her first novel, Fractured, was shortlisted for the Western Australia Premier’s Book Awards. Her latest book is Let Her Go.

Sam van Zweden: Salad Days by Ronnie Scott

Having spent the year working intensively on an Honours project about food and memory, I was unable to read much of anything outside of my research. Luckily, Salad Days was both a great read and counted as research. Salad Days thinks through Scott’s moral and ethical discomfort after spending an inordinate amount of money on a meal at Danish gastronomical destination, Noma. The lyrically-written Salad Days speaks of food in a way that too much food writing neglects – it strikes a balance between issues of consumption and privilege, and the social and emotional importance of food. It’s both dispassionate and deeply personal, which is how great food writing should be.

Sam van Zweden blogs at littlegirlwithabigpen.com, and is online editor at Writers Bloc

Elizabeth Lhuede: What Came Before by Anna George

A debut psychological suspense novel which I read as part of the Australian Women Writers reading and reviewing challengeWhat Came Before deals with an issue I find fascinating: why do women – smart, attractive women, in many cases – stay with men who are narcissistic, controlling and abusive? It’s the opposite of love, but it may have something to do with that ‘falling in love’ feeling called limerance. As a mystery, the novel intrigues; as a psychological portrait of a victim, it’s convincing. Structurally, it’s clever and it’s well-written; it deserves to become a best seller in its genre.

Elizabeth Lhuede is the founder of the Australian Women Writers challenge. She has a PhD in Australian poetry and her debut novel, Snowy River Man will be released in February 2015 under her pen-name, Lizzy Chandler.

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6 thoughts on “Friday Faves: Best Books of 2014

  1. I enjoy these Friday Faves, Annabel. The three that interest me the most are: SA Jones because I had the same feelings about Fowler, but have heard many things about this latest one; Dawn Barker because I loved that book too; and Alison Tait as The night guest is a definite goer for me next year. Can’t wait to read it.

  2. Interesting mix of books!

    I agree with SA Jones, my pick of 2014 is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – although that said, I’m in the middle of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and I’m just loving it – could challenge WAACBO for the top spot.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Dawn about The Narrow Road, and about Richard Flanagan’s broad accent. Having grown up in Tassie, whenever I hear him speak, I’m reminded of the voices that I grew up hearing! I think I’m going to buy that audiobook just to relive those memories!

    I haven’t read We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and I’m very much looking forward to that. I really enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club, and this sounds as if it has much more depth than that. And I really want to read The Night Guest, too, having watched dementia eat away at the brains of a couple of family members.

    Thanks for this post—but you didn’t include your own favourite!

    1. The thought of having to relive The Narrow Road as an audiobook fills me with dread! I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I liked it, but didn’t get out of it what so many others seem to have. I didn;t read the Jane Austen book club but very much enjoyed the film – I have a bit of a crush on Hugh Dancy.

      My 2014 favourites were Richard Powers’ Orfeo, Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, Emily Bitto’s The Strays, and Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern reach trilogy. What were yours? (apart from Narrow Road)

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