This is the one list I read that isn’t attached to an award but instead is a selection of the best books of 2015 as chosen by the editors of the New York Times Book Review section. The full list is here but I’ll be only focussing on the 5 fiction novels. And here they are:
- The Door by Magda Szabo (Translated by Len Rix)
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (Translated by Ann Goldstein)
Clearly those pesky Social Justice Warriors have infested the New York Times Book Review section what with two translated novels, four woman, the only man being a person of colour and not a single white, anglo American amongst them. Yeah, the New York Times is that progressive rag that right-wing types like to kick the shit out of, but even last year they were able to find a place for two American white men (Anthony Doerr and Phil Klay). This year, though, it’s a wasteland. Not even Jonathan Franzen got a look in.
If I stop shit stirring and actually focus on the five novels there’s plenty to be excited about. First off it’s refreshing to see that neither Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff or A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara are featured. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of these books but I’m glad the NYT editors didn’t feel compelled to go with the flow.
Of the books listed, I really liked Outline, specifically how it marries together an aloof narrator and inconsequential plot with a visceral and intimate reading experience. I might be wrong but it feels like that Outline has caught on more with US readers than those in the UK. (This may have something to do with her previous book – a divorce memoir – that generated some controversy back home).
I’ve heard plenty about Lucia Berlin’s collection – especially on the NYT Book Review podcast – and would have been stunned if it had not been present. I know little about the Beatty, Ferrante or Szabo but look forward to expanding my horizons. In particular I note that The Door was first published in 1987 and translated in 2005. The edition that’s been praised here is the first US publication. Should a Best of Year include a novel written 28 years ago? Well, context is everything and if it means promoting translated work and non-English writers than the answer is a clear yes.
If I have a reservation about this shortlist it’s that the Ferrante is book four in a series that chronicles the lives and friendship of two young woman. I’m certain fans of the series will be adamant that to get the full effect I need to have read the previous three books. We shall see.
Overall though this is what diversity in literary fiction looks like. And I like it.