Top Ten Significant Books of 2015

Now’s about the time you need to stock up on summer reading materials for the long January beach days and afternoons under a tree. In a year of busy literariness, with Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Tom McCarthy and Salman Rushdie all releasing new books, you’d be forgiven for not keeping on top of the truly noteworthy developments that have slid past us in the year that was. Here are ten works significant to 2015 in one way or another that are sure to entertain, or at least keep you in good stead for dinner party conversations.

 

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
Having won an impressive amount of awards, not least of all the Man Booker Prize, if you haven’t heard about this book it’s time to come out from under your rock. A fictional musing on the fallout of the 1976 Bob Marley assassination attempt, the novels spans decades and continents to form a dramatic and exuberant picture of Jamaica’s coming-of-age.

 

Garth-Risk-Hallberg-BOOKCity on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
A two-million-dollar bidding war is nothing to sneeze at, neither is a 900+ page debut novel. A multi-perspective, intricately woven story of New York City leading up to the famous 1977 summer blackout, examining the city’s richest and poorest and everything in between.

 

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Find me one person in the Western hemisphere who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented Atticus Finch as one of the all-time greatest characters in literature. For a long time this was to be the only book Harper Lee, now 89, was to ever publish. So in terms of making history the release of her second, and probably final, novel this year is kind of a big deal.

 

HawkH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
In order to make sense of the devastating grief of losing her father, Macdonald embarks on a journey to train her own goshawk, the wildest and most brutal of raptors. Part memoir, part nature manual, part literary history, this enchanting book has generated a surprising amount of popular and critical acclaim.

 

inherent viceInherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
A 60s noir escapade story from one of the most influential contemporary novelists (but if you haven’t yet read Pynchon, start with dystopian The Crying of Lot 49). Inherent Vice is several years old now but this year became the first Pynchon novel to be adapted for the screen. Don’t see the movie, but do read the book.

 

jon ronsonSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
A man who’s made a career out of researching the bizarrities of modern social cultures, Ronson is the British answer to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest release Ronson examines the strange obsession we seem to have with mass shamings, and the role social media has played in the expansion of this global pastime.

 

south-of-darknessSouth of Darkness, John Marsden
Marsden is a national treasure displaying an impressive range of narrative tone throughout his long career, from the psychological dramas of his earlier works to the addictive war action of his highly acclaimed Tomorrow series. After a writing hiatus he has returned with this colonial high-seas narrative of a young convict boy destined for Botany Bay.

 

buried giantThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so this was one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2015. In post-Arthurian England a couple set off across the misted landscape to find their son of whom they have almost no memory. A novel of slow-reveal like his other works The Buried Giant was met with the same bemused reception. Reviewers seem unsure as to whether it is exceedingly ordinary or another triumph of symbolic and revelatory genius.

 

martianThe Martian, Andy Weir
A few years old this novel makes the 2015 list because it was also adapted for the screen this year, and unlike Inherent Vice it is a movie worth seeing. Not the most literary of options, it has nevertheless been met with positive reviews all round, named a ‘Robinson Crusoe for the modern age’. Entertaining and readable, it’s a perfect summer novel.

 

waiting_for_the_past_print_0Waiting for the Past, Les Murray
Named as one of Australia’s Living Treasures Les Murray has an OA to his name and is widely considered one of the best living English-language poets worldwide. His new collection has already won a slew of awards and you’d be crazy to miss it.

 

Elise Janes

 

Five Fathers: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of fictional dads that doesn’t lead with Atticus Finch, so here he gets a category all of his own. This guy had it all. A lawyer raising two kids, teaching them to be real humans (the audacious character of Scout alone is testament to his fathering abilities) and defending the indefensible from the vilest aspects of human nature, all the while dispensing ageless advice to his children on the front porch of their Alabama home.

In tribute to Father’s Day (and the reality that some will find it a mixed affair), here are a few of the best, the worst and the strangest dads in literature.

 

The Good

  1. Jean Valjean

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

“Because things are not agreeable,” said Jean Valjean, “that is no reason for being unjust towards God.”

At the bequest of a dying Fantine he rescued Cosette from the despicable Thernadiers and despite being a fugitive, remained a steadfast adoptive father and all-round good guy until his death, never once losing faith despite all he endured. That takes some guts.

 

  1. Mr Bennet

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

“Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters.”

Some deride him for his sarcasm and his ambivalence toward his wife, but considering what he had to work with these are shown to be quite endearing qualities. It is his relationship with Elizabeth, the knowing-ness that passes between them, which makes him one of the best fathers in literature.

road-cormac-FS-aug-03

  1. The Man/The Father

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

“He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

Leads his son through a wilderness of post-apocalyptic destruction and teaches him indispensable survival skills, navigating the ambiguous morality that arises from such desperation. His tenacity alone is enough to garner him father-of-the-year.

 

  1. Arthur Weasley

The Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling

“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. “Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?”

His light-hearted perspective on life and unflinching defense of his children and the marginalised Muggles makes him almost a lovably clownish Atticus Finch. And without exception his seven children are among the greatest humans (?) on the planet.

 

  1. Thomas Schell

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

“Honey! I got to go! Other people need to use the phone! I’m gonna be fine, you’re gonna be fine! You listen to me! You made my life better and I want you to know that absolutely love you. I’m going to call you back in a few minutes.”

Proof that even in absence a father can be fundamentally influential in his child’s life. Oskar goes in search of a perceived secret message from his father who was killed in 9/11, and finds himself again.

 

The Bad

  1. Pap Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“I’ll take you down a peg before I get done with you. You’re educated, too, they say—can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t?”

Drunk, abusive and sadistic, he is everything a father shouldn’t be. The only thing we are grateful for is that he produced such a son as Huck and spawned one of the most famously epic tales of childhood adventure known to literature. We are not sorry to learn of his death at the end of the book.

Lolita with Jeremy Irons

  1. Humbert Humbert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine.”

Marries Charlotte Haze to get close to her daughter, Lolita, which makes him her stepfather and legal guardian when Charlotte dies, leaving her at his mercy. Enough said.

 

  1. Michael Henchard

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

“MICHAEL HENCHARD’S WILL
That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.”

An alcoholic who auctions off his wife and child, never bothering to find them until they return eighteen years later while he is in the middle of courting another woman whom he has already disgraced. Lovely.

 

  1. Mr Wormwood

Matilda, Roald Dahl

“A book?! What d’you wanna flaming book for? …we’ve got a lovely telly with a 12-inch screen and now ya wanna book!”

This quote alone places Mr Wormwood into the lowest percentile of humans. A used-car salesman who deceives his customers, alienates his genius daughter and terrorizes her lovely teacher Miss Honey, he is the definition of terrible-dadness.

 

  1. Archibald Craven

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

“My mother died when I was born and it makes him wretched to look at me. He thinks I don’t know, but I’ve heard people talking. He almost hates me.”

Yes, we feel sorry for him because his wife died but, no, that does not give him any right to abandon his sick son in a dingy room, especially when all his son needs is a bit of love and natural beauty in order to make a miraculous recovery.

 

The Ugly

  1. King Lear

King Lear, Shakespeare

“…he that makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved, as thou my sometime daughter.”

Definitely not the only terrible father in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, but certainly one of the most memorable. He makes the ugly list because he tests his three daughters to see who loves him most in order to decide who should inherit his estate, all the while completely blind to their true natures. He deserves to succumb to madness, and does so with spectacular pomp.

 

  1. Don Vito Corleone

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

You could argue that as a father figure, the Don is actually a great family man. Everything he did was for his ‘family’ after all, including making people offers they couldn’t refuse. Yet his actions lead to the death of two of his sons and the corruption of another. So, yeah, ugly.

 

  1. Jack Torrance

The Shining, Stephen King

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Another alcoholic dad, Jack adds to the mix by trying to kill his family with an axe. You could argue it’s not all his fault. But that doesn’t make him a better dad.

heatch1_2941308k

  1. Heathcliff

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“Linton can play the little tyrant well. He’ll undertake to torture any number of cats, if their teeth be drawn and their claws pared.”

Thus is Heathcliff’s view of his son, another sickly boy confined to a dingy house and his father’s intense disregard. Though it’s hard to really stay angry at Heathcliff because he is so damn brooding and so passionately in love with dead Cathy.

 

  1. Nick Dunne

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”

Though he stays with the crazy wife because of his unborn child, we can all see the direction Nick Dunne is taking by the close of this book, foreshadowed by the misogynistic outbursts of his aging father. You could say it’s all her fault, but then again, is it?

 

Elise Janes