Another year has closed its doors behind us and we have another approximately 350 days ahead of us to make the most of this year. If you, dear reader, share my New Year’s resolution to read more books in 2017, here are some suggestions for you. I read all of these books in the past 12 months (one I started last year but only finished last night) and they weren’t all published in 2016 but nevertheless they tell wonderful stories worth your time and attention.
#5 Alison Case – Nelly Dean
In an age when adaptations and rewritings of classic English Literature bring forth bestsellers such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or its, unfortunately, equally successful Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters (let us pray that this one won’t be adapted as a movie though), Alison Case decided to follow into Joe Baker’s footsteps who rewrote Austen’s Pride & Prejudice from the housemaids’ perspectives (Longbourne) and tells the story of forbidden love between Heathcliff and Catherine from Nelly Dean’s point of view, a housemaid. What strikes me is the new story, hidden in the original one but intertwined with all the major events we know already from Wuthering Heights. And we know how this story will end – we know what will happen to Heathcliff and Catherine but we keep reading because there is something new going on, new secrets of a beloved story are revealed, even though they don’t stem from her majesty Emily Bronte but Alison Case who excels at extending Bronte’s story world. We think we know how this book will end – and yet there’s Nelly who unlike her dependent in Wuthering Heights gets a real ending.
#4 Elena Ferrante – Neapolitan Novels
I didn’t just stumble across Ferrante like I did with Nelly Dean, instead one of our very own Sprachpraxis lecturers recommended us to read this brilliant series about friendship, loyalty, and love in Naples in the second half of the last century. It is not only highly emotional but also highly political and Ferrante manages to create two characters, two young girls, so different from each other but depending on the other in their differences, one craves to know what will happen next, who these young girls will become. The story starts in 2011 with one of the two (now elderly) women running away from home, her family lost in their search for her and calling her best friend, the narrator of the story, who then starts reminiscing their life-long friendship. I’ve only finished the first of the four books in this series but I’m already looking forward to read on.
#3 Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See
I read this book in less than six hours on a hot day in July, constantly switching between my chair in the burning sun on my balcony and my chair in my cold room. This book will tear you apart – it is heartbreaking, it feels like a whirlwind in your head and once you’ve finished it, the world just seems to have turned without you noticing it because you were so deep into the pages you didn’t notice the sun closed its blinds. Following the story of a blind, young girl in France who’s keeping a magical stone that turns out to be the stone Hitler is after and a young soldier in Germany during the second World War who doesn’t really want to fight in the war, this book sets out to explore themes of identity, independence, friendship and hope. Hope that it will end, this nightmare, the two protagonists seem to never be able to escape. (I couldn’t quite relate to the magic bit but apparently Adolf Hitler believed in magic so I guess that’s where this part of the story line is rooted.) Doerr’s Young Adult novel took my heart by storm and like a storm everything seemed calm once I finished this book.
#2 George Moore – Esther Waters
Originally published in 1894, this story of a young woman that fights for her and her child on her own turned out to be a real page turner. I read it since I’ll be writing my M.A. next semester and Esther was just the woman that I was looking for. In the 1890s a story of a single mother from the working class who is raising her child on her own was a huge development towards female independence (something I want to explore more deeply soon) and thus Moore created a character so full of love for her child but also for herself that she has no other choice than to work to create and save her life and her child’s. Being written in the Victorian era the language is kept rather simple for its period, perhaps to create a story that is set in a working class environment.
#1 Nathan Hill – The Nix
Nathan Hill’s The Nix is the book to read at the moment. There’s so much buzz around this book and when I was strolling around the bookshop looking for another book for the Christmas break I spotted this caliber (roughly 600 pages). But once you start reading Hill’s first ever novel, you forget about the weight in your hands or your lap, since all you can think of now is: “Why did I not clear my schedule to read this book in one go?” Hill got me hooked after just the first few pages and only occasionally did I put down the book to get another cup of coffee. The Nix is about politics – again – love, trust, female independence, identity, mother-son-relationships, father-son-relationships, mother-father-relationships, video games, the crooked book industry, the US in the 1960s. So basically this book has all sorts of themes to offer. At its core the book is about a young English Literature professor who finds out that his long vanished mother allegedly attacked a possible Republican presidential candidate and he is supposed to write her tell-it-all biography whilst his mother thinks he is writing a letter to clear her from all charges. The two have not spoken in twenty years or so and so both tasks prove almost impossible to manage. The detailed descriptions of scenes on the backdrop of the aforementioned themes introduces Hill as a true storyteller, someone who takes you on a journey and you feel that you couldn’t possibly get any closer to the events (and sometimes so close it made me feel slightly uncomfortable). The Nix is brilliant in its clarity and offers an escape from reality to another dimension of reality, the one of a broken English Literature professor, a naive student, a video game addict, a vulnerable woman.
So there you go! Five books for you to explore this year!
Maria was listening to the sweet sound of silence while writing this article.