Category Archives: George Orwell

Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

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Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

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I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell

There are many reasons why joining a book group can be so much fun and I am actually planning on posting more on that next week. For now though I will just mention the fact that one of the things that I started a new book group for was that it would make me read books I normally wouldn’t, books I have always wanted to try or books that I am a little bit intimidated by and challenge me. George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four was one such book (intimidating but always wanted to read) and it was the choice for last months book group and brought out some major procrastination in me as it seemed immense, it probably didn’t help I did Animal Farm at school and hated it.

1984 (I am not going to write Nineteen Eighty-Four every time as will be a long post and my fingers may bleed/be worn to stumps) was originally written in 1948 and is Orwell’s idea of what the future could be in a world 40 years on. What is amazing with this book is just how much of what Orwell thought might happen actually has, in fact it is quite worrying in some ways.

The story of 1984 is told through the eyes of Winston Smith a member of the Party working for the Ministry of Truth in London the capital of Air Strip One (once Britain now really an additional part of America and the superpower Oceania). The story starts with Winston’s act of crime as he starts to write a diary something deeply criminal and forbidden in the totalitarian world in which he lives where the eyes of Big Brother are everywhere. Once taking part in this act of rebellion and ‘thought crime’ Winston knows he is ‘dead’ it is simply a matter of time as to when the Thought Police will get him because once you rebel they know, Big Brother knows everything nothing escapes his eyes.

Once Winston commits the crime he tries to throw himself into the path of The Brotherhood the rebellious underground criminals who want to see Big Brother’s demise. Along with Julia a girl at work who he commits another heinous crime with, the act of sex for enjoyment and falls in love with, they give themselves up to fighting Big Brother but how long can they go unnoticed and can anyone truly beat Big Brother and The Party? I could tell you but most of you have probably read this, and those of you who haven’t shouldn’t have the ending spoilt.

I loved this book, I thought it was marvellous. This was something I was very grateful for as I left it until the day of book group to start it (thank heavens I am not working at the moment) and once the first page was opened I genuinely couldn’t put it down. Oh, apart from the book within the book which I found decidedly dull but still went through anyway and it was a minor blip of twenty pages. This book falls into so many genres as it could be labelled a thriller, it’s a classic and of course falls into the science fiction category which I sometimes have problems with. Not in this case though.

This book was so beautifully and sparsely written despite being a dark book with quite a depressing and cloying subject matter it didn’t weigh me down or depress me. It did make me think and things like Orwell’s predictions of terrorism, Newspeak and even the Lottery shocked me by how accurate they are in the now. I could actually rattle on about all the subjects Orwell picked upon for hours and hours but that wouldn’t be very interesting for you. Suffice to say I thought this book was amazing and I am now going to have to rearrange my readers table so that this classic can be on it.

It has made me wonder if I should re-read the books I was given and detested during my schooling years such as ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘A Room With A View’ the latter in particular sends a shudder of dislike down my spine, I didn’t like my sixth form college very much is all I will say. Now along with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ this Orwell novel has become school taught classic, though I missed both and now as an adult reader I have loved, I wonder if I would have at school?  Thinking about it probably not as if I had been made to read and re-read 1984 at school I would have probably ended up hating it. Reading it for book group was another matter and was possibly my favourite discussion so far… more on that next week though.

What are your thoughts on 1984? What other Orwell is great to read? Which books did you study at school so much you just ended up not liking them? Which ‘school taught’ classics have you missed and want to read or have read as an adult? Should I try Animal Farm again?

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Filed under Books of 2009, George Orwell, Penguin Classics, Review