Affinity – Sarah Waters

Affinity - Sarah WatersThis is an early book of Ms. Waters (1999). The setting is England in 1873-74. Margaret Prior, a 29 year-old woman with a troubled past decides to preoccupy herself with good deeds by visiting women prisoners in at Millbank, a notoriously dark and evil prison. There she becomes entranced by a spiritualist, Salina Dawes. The story slowly and inexorably become one of obsession and almost possession, and has a cracking good ending. This book is from a VPL list of “books that broke our hearts”.

An American Wife – Tayari Jones

An American Wife - Tayari JonesMs. Jones has written a superb relationship book. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds but Roy is wrongfully imprisoned and so goes to jail for 5 years. In Roy’s absence, Celestial’s relationship with Andre, a lifelong friend, is strengthened. So this is about a 3-way relationship with one of the participants, Roy, absent in prison for much of the story. The resolution to this complicated story is breathtaking.

Speak No Evil – Uzodinma Iweala

Uzodinma IwealaThis remarkable book is about two young people in Washington DC. Niro is a 17-year-old African-American who is graduating from High School and then on to Harvard. But Niro has a painful secret – he is gay, a wicked abomination to his conservative Nigerian parents. Niro’s best friend is Meredith but she is unable to provide Niro with the help and support that he needs. Niro is emotionally lost and conflicted with heartbreaking self-loathing and his relationship with Meredith comes to a tragic ending: powerful storytelling.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop - Rachel Joyce.jpgThis is a magical book about the power of music, of listening to music and learning to listen to silence. Frank has a music shop in 1988 with only vinyl records. Part of the charm of this book is the context; Frank’s shop is located on a failing street with other shops closing. He is a “music whisperer”, someone who can choose music that will change someone’s life. And then Frank meets Ilse and his life becomes complicated. The ending will bring you to tears because of the redemptive power of music. Joyce is a spectacular writer; read everything that she writes.

Next Year For Sure – Zoey Leigh Peterson

Next Year For Sure - Zoey Leigh PetersonThis is a fantastic book, a remarkable first novel that was long-listed for the Giller, and that, in my opinion, is much better than some of the books on the Giller short list. Full disclosure: this is a relationship book which everyone who reads this blog knows is my favourite topic. The story is about psychological intimacy, a couple that evolves to a consensual three-some and eventually to a four-some. The book is beautifully written with sub-headings like “Questions” and “Answers” and “What Kathryn Wants”. This is a delightful read about complex relationships with a brilliant ending – highly recommended, one of my best reads this year.

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach - Jennifer EganEgan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From The Goon Squad, and this new historical novel is a gem. Set in the depression-era 30s in New York and then in the naval shipyards in Brooklyn during World War II, the details of place and context are impeccable. The human relationships are a rich blend of secrets, lies and desertion, of love and lust. The writing is dramatic – part of the book describes so clearly the claustrophobic and oppressive world of diving which is also liberating. But it is the complex human dynamics the drive the story, with a very satisfying ending. This is a must-read book, in my opinion.