10- The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
As you might have previously seen, Cloud Atlas has topped my Top Books of 2013 list and for good reason.
Although I did not find that The Bone Clocks lived up to Atlas, I find it quite a good read.
It’s as mind-twisting as you would expect a Mitchell novel to be; it’s smart and fairly eloquent; and as opposed to Atlas, it’s quite easy to follow. Also, it has a beautiful and ambitious idea.
At first I was hooked on the book, barely able to breathe at what a marvel I was getting myself into.
Half-way through the book, that feeling was gone.
Some of the characters (whom I’d grown attached to, and who exhibited major roles in the plot) started fading into the background, giving me the feeling that the novel could have existed without them.
The characters began losing their voices and individuality, and started sounding generic. I could no longer feel any of them as the novel developed. The climax of the novel failed to thrill me or hold me in my place. I felt something was broken.
It truly gave me the vibe that the book was written under a deadline, and like Mitchell was rushing into finishing the novel; it feels as though he finally resorted to taking Neil Gaiman and Madeleine de L’Engle, throwing them into a blender… and bam… the rest of the novel.
Many loose ends were left undone and the story seemed to fade as quickly as it crawled inside me.
I would still give the novel 4 stars. It still is a very good novel, and I would still recommend it; most of my criticism to it solely comes from the expectations I’d build and the leading let-down.
9- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
I’ve had this book on my to-read list for quite a while — around 8-9 years. Since I’d made it a habit to read a few of those gems whose titles I’d scribbled somewhere, I chose The Bell Jar to be among those I read in 2015.
It can be a disturbing read as it delves into the mind of a suicidal. It causes plenty of questions about the tendency of our minds to go adrift in the midst of ‘normal’ circumstances.
Behind the subtleties of the plot hide exquisitely crafted details that remove you from the setting of the novel every once in a while, in order to satisfy your appetite for those moments where you just take a break from your reading to reflect.
I identified with Esther so much that it was ominous. I feared for her because I feared for myself.
The Bell Jar is one book you must read to get a better understanding of the people around you. There is so much to your loved ones than meets the eye.
8- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margret Atwood
Set in an unfamiliar kind of dystopia, a horrifying one at that, The Handmaid’s Tale follows the story of Offred whose life had taken a sharp turn due to sudden political and sociological changes in her world.
Once a wife and a mother, now she has become a handmaid confined to The Commander’s house, forced to do his every bidding, even spreading her legs once a month in order to be fertilised by him. It was nothing personal; it was the law.
The novel twists our understanding of women and their roles; not because it reminds us of how bad their situation was, but how horrifying it would become — oddly, this resonates well in our world.
To tell the truth, at first I was quite disappointed with the way the novel ends. Now I understand it, and it makes perfect sense. I cannot explain further without risking any spoilers; you must read it.
7- Carnival – Rawi Hage
The Cockroach becomes Fly. The brutally honest voice of a ‘fly’ on the wall, or behind the taxi wheel to be literal, carefully watching but never judging.
Fly takes us through the labyrinthine streets of Carnival city, revealing to us its midnight pleasures and morning suns. We are too entranced in the processes of his thinking that pictures of people fly past us in glimpses as if seen from the window of a taxi.
We get to know stories of prostitutes, drug dealers, and madmen through the naked eye of one who never judges, just watches.
Behind the subtleties of the simple plot, these stories intertwine to weave the bigger story of a freakshow, and that is what Carnival: a beautiful Freakshow.
6- My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk
In order to delve into My Name is Red, I had to give up my attempts at trying to figure out the voices of the narrators. I had to let go of my attempts at understanding, and ride the current.
The story is set in sixteenth century Turkey, a country battling modernity, and struggling to keep the islamic tradition, especially in art.
The Sultan has commissioned the best artists to illustrate the most glorious book in existence in order for him to be remembered. However, the style he has requested the artists to employ goes against all Islamic illumination tradition. Also, panic strikes the country as one of those comissioned elite artists is murdered, and the rest is mystery.
The novel is a beautiful exploration of cultural conflicts between East and West. It is also an exploration of the country itself. We dive inside the heads of murderers, masters and vagabonds; we even become paintings in coffee shops and golden coins that ride across the nation. All these perspectives and more add to the richness of the way Turkey of the time is depicted.
5- 1984 – George Orwell
1984 gave me shudders at every turn of the page. It is more of a horror novel than a dystopian. It not only captures the future of civilisation, but contrasts human nature against it. The novel is a struggle for individuality and freedom of thought, which are never forbidden. However, practicing them will lead into disappearance, then most likely death. Does that ring a bell?
1984 is a poignant reminder of the destruction of humanity and the rise of the system. Casting aside the argument of socialism and its defects, one cannot help but wonder: among all the ruling systems that humanity has devised across the thousands of year, will any of these ever be able to save us?
I can finally say I’ve read 1984. And it scared the hell out of me.
4- Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Stardust defines the term “fairytale for adults”. It reminds us of how important it is to stay in touch with our dreamy state of mind, to look up at the sky and remember that stories are all that we are and all that we will ever be. It’s humorous at times, sad at others, and summarizes much of our human condition in a poetic, lyrical style. It is very reminiscent of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, which was my favourite book of 2014, and it is my favorite Neil Gaiman book so far.
3- Queen of Shadows – Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #4)
Maas has done it again. The book is an amazing follow-up to Heir of Fire. The series has thus far been included on my favorite books of both 2013 and 2014. The pace of the plot is perfect. The characters have grown well on me. The themes are well explored. I cannot wait for the next one!
2- The God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy
The heartache this novel has brought about!
I first heard about the novel during my first year of university; a friend had told me about it. I encountered the book several times in bookstores, and I always thought I would read it, but I kept postponing. I wish I’d read it earlier.
I did read it while on a short ‘vacation’ to Dammam, and if you need advice, do not read it on a vacation if you plan on sleeping soundly.
It is a haunting and chilling account of the lives of fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel whose lives are shaped not by their decisions but by social structure and the caste system.
The novel is an exploration of the unpredictable course that love in all its forms can take.
The characters “all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much.”
It is sad, so very sad, that sometimes love should destroy lives.
1- On the Shortness of Life – Seneca
Now it may seem odd that this book is listed among works of fiction. However, the impact this book has had on my life is so tremendous that I felt the need to top my list with it. Ever since I read this book, I have become a better person.
106 pages of life-changing wisdom. I cannot recommend it enough. It is far from the spiritual pretentiousness, and it delves into the common, basic routines of daily life. It was written 2000 years ago yet still astonishingly resonates today as it would for millennia to come.
I shall let the book speak for itself by listing some quotes.
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
“I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.”
“No one will bring back the years; no one will restore you to yourself. Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside. What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.”