The Guardian

Best books of 2015 – part two

From provocative novels, giants real and imagined, and new novels from past masters … authors and critics select their favourite reads of 2015

Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante; Debt by David Graeber

The most engrossing book I read this year was The Givenness of Things (Virago), Marilynne Robinson’s celebration of the irreducible complexity of human beings. I was addicted to Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (Europa Editions). The wonder of great writing is that it uncovers our common humanity. So this northern middle-aged male found himself identifying with two teenage Neapolitan girls. I’m hoping that someone will give me the sequels for Christmas. Everyone needs to read David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House) because it’s all true.

Elizabeth Day
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante; Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon; Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn

So many of my female friends were raving about Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions) that I read all four of her Neapolitan novels in a month. I was swallowed up whole by Ferrante’s writing: the intensity of it, the unapologetic focus on every rendered nuance of a lifelong female friendship. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It is so, so good on women: the ones trapped by men and violence and the ones who break free, with all the associated costs. Hot Feminist by Polly Vernon (Hodder & Stoughton) is bold, brilliant, sharp and funny, tackling big issues (rape, abortion, equal pay) in fizzing prose. Part memoir, part polemic, it urges women to be less judgmental – of each other and of themselves. It’s an idea that shouldn’t be revolutionary but is. I loved Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn (Vintage). Ostensibly a murder mystery set in 1930s London, it is also a multiple character study of wonderful depth and wit. I cannot wait for the sequel, Freya, out in March 2016. The book I’d most like to be given for Christmas is David Lodge’s memoir, Quite a Good Time to Be Born (Harvill Secker). I’m a big fan of Lodge’s work and think he’s criminally underrated as a writer. And it’s an exceptionally good title for a memoir. Or quite a good one at least.