Having just started a new year, I thought I would write a post about my absolute favourite books that I read in 2017. This list is of exclusively books I read for the first time in 2017 – otherwise Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird etc would come up year after year! – and are the ones that both really stood out to me while reading them but have also stuck with me as time has passed since. Needless to say, I can not recommend at of these books more highly; they are all so brilliant in various different ways, and I think I may have even found some favourites for life.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
This is a short literary fiction novel that tells the story of two men, Ellis and Michael, who have been best friends ever since they met when they were 12 years old. When they grow older and Ellis meets his lovely bride-to-be Annie the two become and three, and throughout this novel – through different perspectives and the narrative jumping to different timelines – we discover what has happened to these characters up until present day. This novel has a quiet premise but nevertheless is massively impactful; this is one of the best portrayals of love, friendship and understanding I have ever read. Furthermore, the characters in this novel are some of the strongest characters I have ever read about – including the side characters – everyone being so well drawn, with no one seeming underdeveloped or unnecessary to the story. This is such a beautiful, well-crafted, simple novel that manages to encompass so many of the complexities of life, and I would urge anyone to try reading it.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is Paul Kalanithi’s memoir that tells the story of him as a 36 year old man who, on the verge of completing a decade of intensive neurosurgeon training, is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Through this book we see Paul transition from being the doctor to the patient himself and in the face of all this he questions some really big things, such as what the meaning of his life is at that time. I really loved the philosophical aspects of this novel, and seeing the way Paul pieced together many things he had learned throughout this life regarding biology, literature and morality in order to give himself an answer to this question was fascinating. This book is so raw and touching; Paul Kalanithi does not shy away from the difficult truths of his situation which I really appreciated, and his reflection and positivity is so inspiring. I think anyone can learn something from this book.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
This is a historical literary fiction novel set in 1940s Switzerland, that tells the story of protagonist Gustav Pearle who lives quite a lonely childhood – due to his unrequited devotion to his widowed mother – until he meets a young Jewish boy his age, Anton Zweibel, and the two boys quickly become best friends. In this novel we get to see Gustav over a few decades and witness the way his friendship with Anton develops, and this was particularly interesting due to the many difficult circumstances their friendship is faced with. The main strength of this novel is the way that Rose Tremain explores a vast tangle of human relationships between all of her characters, and the ways they can be so complex and weave in and out of each other. I absolutely loved this novel for is subtly and awareness and also just its simply beautiful writing, and I will definitely be reading more Rose Tremain in the coming year!
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This literary fiction novel is at once epic and intimate, telling the story of two North London families from the 1930s to the 1960s, the heads of the families being the unremarkable and stereo-typically English Archie and his best friend Samad, a Bengali Muslim. Throughout this novel we learn about so many different people within and connected to these families, and it is so rich in detail. The novel is similarly paced all the way trough, allowing us to merely witness all the characters’ lives, and Zadie Smith does not skip over the mundane tasks and conversations of every day life. I found this novel fascinating; it allowed me to witness the lives of so many people unlike myself, in terms of race, religion, class and the years in which they were born. This novel was incredibly insightful, intelligent and humorous and through it I have definitely discovered an author whom I love.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a historical novel that begins in 18th century Ghana and follows the family trees of two sisters who follow very different paths: one is sold into slavery and is consequently shipped off to America and the other marries a rich, slave-owning Englishman. The chapters in this novel alternate between the two sisters’ family trees and each chapter goes down a generation, so we get to meet so many characters who are born into very different circumstances right up until present day. This novel is massive in scope and I really loved this aspect of it; it was fascinating to see the way that the characters’ lives were shaped due to their family histories, and to witness the huge impact that the slave trade had through so many generations. This novel took me on such a wonderful journey and it gave me a great insight into different times and cultures, and overall I found it to be really hard-hitting in the stories that it tells.
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
This historical literary fiction novel is set in 1937 and follows protagonist Franz who at 17 years old moves from his home in the Austria Lake District to the bustling city of Vienna. While he is here he works as an apprentice under his mother’s friend Otto who owns a tobacconist shop, and during his time here he gets to meet all of Otto’s regular customers, the most loyal of which being Professor Sigmund Freud. This is a wonderful coming of age story following a young many trying to navigate his way around his new life and also new relationships that he forms, both romantically and platonically with people of all ages – the relationship Franz forms with Freud being particularly sweet and humorous as the Professor gives Franz general life and love advice. As well as being highly relatable and touching in this sense, this novel is also a powerful depiction of the way ordinary lives were suddenly and profoundly affected by Nazi Germany. This novel is truly beautiful, and really well-executed on so many different levels.