The Best Fiction Books of 2014
Here are our top ten fiction books of the year, voted for by Readings staff. Displayed in no particular order.
Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light is an exceptional debut. This work of fiction could be called a short-story collection, or a novel in three parts – categorising these powerful portraits of Aboriginal women is irrelevant. With spare, controlled language, emotional intelligence and wit, van Neerven effectively captures the strength of these women, and their relationships with family and landscape. A breathtaking read.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
For those who love the exquisite reading experience of immersion in a good book, Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster will fulfil that need. With masterful skill, Tóibín has created a work of beautiful prose, depth of character and intuitive intelligence. The book’s power comes from the deeply intimate portrayal of Nora and of her grief following the death of her husband. But this work is more than just a story about grief, it is about self-discovery, hope and new possibility.
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
Revisiting the setting and themes of her 2003 masterpiece What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt’s sixth novel takes the form of an anthology of writings about Harriet Burden – artist, widow, mother, patron and self-styled ‘Virago mastermind’ intent on unmasking the inherent misogyny of the New York art scene. Loaded with references to psychiatry, philosophy and art criticism, The Blazing World is a powerful work about love, familial ties, self-obsession, the nature of art and the phenomenon of the artist as hero.
Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett
The ‘Golden Boys’ are the impossibly handsome Jenson family who move into Freya Kiley’s workingclass neighbourhood. For Freya and the other local kids, the Jensons’ house is overflowing with every toy a boy could desire, unlike their own homes with too many children and too little money. And, also unlike their homes with their angry, drinking fathers, the Jenson boys’ patriarch is insidiously friendly. The Kiley and the Jenson kids have to find a way to survive the pitfalls of both.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters takes on the English domestic novel of the interwar period and mines its preoccupations with order, gentility, femininity and transgression to craft a masterful thriller. Waters is never anachronistic, yet she always takes her period novels into territory that would never have been contemplated at the time. As the genteel and recently impoverished Wrays are forced to open their house to paying guests of the ‘clerk’ class, Waters builds a delicate claustrophobic tension that erupts into an unexpected and wonderfully wrought melodrama.
Demons by Wayne Macauley
Demons was proof – if any more was needed – that Wayne Macauley is the real deal in terms of modern Oz fiction: I was completely seduced by this book and its construct. This tale of a group of friends who go on a weekend retreat to slow down, eat and drink, and entertain themselves not with TV or other devices but good old-fashioned yarn-telling was utterly immersive, as entertaining as it was instructive about our contemporary cultural malaise.
The Strays by Emily Bitto
I absolutely loved this book. Beautifully written with strong characters that really inhabit your imagination, it focuses on an artistic family who gather a group of young artists around them while benignly neglecting their daughters. Written from the perspective of a close friend of the children, The Strays brings the art world alive while never idolising it or the sacrifices that can be made in the name of art. Emily Bitto is a local writer who deserves a wide audience.
Life Drawing by Robin Black
Though this is Robin Black’s first novel, a follow-up to a short story collection, it’s a fantastically assured work. It follows an older couple, writer Gus and her husband Owen, after they move to the countryside from Philadelphia, and the impact that their new neighbour has on their lives. What unfolds is both inevitable and surprising, and comes together as an incredibly moving work.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This Booker-shortlisted title deserves all the accolades it’s been given in 2014. It has a feisty college student narrator and a secret that is revealed a quarter of the way into the novel. This is a novel that is tender, funny and intellectual all at once. Rosemary delves back into her childhood and is forced to seek answers about her unusual upbringing and her missing siblings. Topical and heartbreaking.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Set in Amsterdam in 1686, this is a compelling, atmospheric and mysterious novel about an arranged marriage between a 17-year-old girl and a much older rich merchant trader. As a wedding gift she receives a miniature replica of her new home and commissions a craftsperson to help furnish it. What she receives is not always what she asks for and mirrors real life in prescient and unsettling ways. There are many twists and turns, which keep the narrative racing along. I absolutely loved it.