STEPHANIE BISHOP, author
I read the first instalment of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, My Brilliant Friend, in 2013. I fell hard and fast, and this year devoured the remaining three novels, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of a New Name and The Story of the Lost Child. I’ve now started on her early works and have been compelled to revive my adolescent vice of defacing the books by marking up passages. As a corrective measure I’ve spent a lot of time gardening and cooking and have fairly ruined my local library’s copy of Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1. I had a friend who swore that cookbooks were the best bedtime reading but I completely dismissed this until I discovered Slater’s writing — there’s something calming and restorative in his appraisal of what it means to grow and make things, something pleasing about the fine description of a mundane item often overlooked: a lettuce or a parsnip, say. Several other gems have stayed with me long after the reading was done: Rachel Cusk’s disquieting novel Outline, the weird and wonderful Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection The Faraway Nearby, Miles Allinson’s magical debut The Fever of Animals and Drusilla Modjeska’s fabulous memoir Second Half First.
EMILY BITTO, author
Early this year I read an interview in The New Yorker with English writer Edward St Aubyn, and was immediately compelled to read his novels. St Aubyn grew up among very wealthy, very bored and very destructive members of the English aristocracy. His father was a sadist and St Aubyn spent most of his 20s cultivating a se- Welcome to our annual Books of the Year wrap-up, where writers and critics nominate the books that stood out for them over the past 12 months. As always, the only rule was that the book had to be one that was read this year, not necessarily published this year.
I like to peruse such lists to see which books receive multiple mentions, and to learn of rious drug habit and blowing an enormous inheritance. His suite of semi-autobiographical novels, collectively known as the Patrick Melrose series, has been the highlight of my reading year. They are an indictment of upper-class English society, but also much more than that. St Aubyn’s gift is his ability to shift between multiple perspectives. Each character he inhabits, whether for a sentence or a whole novel, has their own unique voice and exists as a whole, complex person; even the sadist father is inhabited in this manner, as is, in Mother’s Milk, a prelinguistic newborn. Other highlights of this year have included Young Skins, the wonderful, dark but ebullient debut collection of short stories by Irish writer Colin Barrett, and in Australia Miles Allinson’s Fever of Animals and Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses, both intelligent, perceptive and beautifully written novels.
JAMES BRADLEY, author and critic
At first blush my two favourite books of the past year might seem to have almost nothing to do with each other. Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border is an intense, viscerally poetic depiction of a scientist working on a quixotic earl’s project to reintroduce wolves to the north of England, while Kim Stanley Robinson’s dazzling Aurora is an intellectually omnivorous future history set half a millennium from now and focused on a failed books that I’d missed. It’s also just fun to see who is reading whom.
I’m pleased to see Gerald Murnane’s memoir receive so many mentions here and elsewhere — it is the only Australian work to get a guernsey in
Books of the Year. It is my nonfiction book of the year, while my novel of the year is Charlotte Wood’s
As for the one I’d not heard of, the book that keeps popping up in the British lists is Ruth Scurr’s a biography of the 17th-century antiquarian in his own words. Random House is due to publish it here in March, so it may be one to keep in mind.
And now here is what everyone else thinks. mission to colonise a nearby solar system. Yet dig a little deeper and these two very different books reveal more than a few affinities. Both are deeply and often profoundly concerned with attempting to map the ethical and imaginative dimensions of a world in which the planet’s systems are being irrevocably altered by human activity. Both are underpinned by an understanding of the way our technocratic fantasies contribute to our predicament. And both seek to reclaim the idea of the future as something we can affect in meaningful ways, challenging us to look beyond extant political and economic structures and imagine new possibilities, a quality that makes both seem not just important but necessary in the present climate.
MIRIAM COSIC, author and critic
My favourite nonfiction book was Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt’s New World, which recounts vividly the life and scientific times of a hugely influential explorer-naturalist who is inexplicably little known in the anglophone world. Klaus Neu-