The Top Twelve List of the Best Fiction I’ve Read in 2014


It is a Top Twelve list this year instead of a Top Ten list.  Perhaps I should use a little less exacting care in selecting the fiction I read, so it would be easier to narrow my favorites down.

Click on the book cover to see my original review.


dublinesque1.  ‘Dublinesque’ by Enrique Vila-Matas  (2010) – The age of print is over; we are streaming into a new age. A publisher and a few of his writer friends decide to hold a funeral for the Print Age.  What better time and place to hold the requiem than in Dublin, Ireland on Bloomsday, June 21 ?




2.  those-who-leave-and-those-who-stay‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante (2014)  –  The saga of those two girls, Lenu and Lila, from Naples continues.  The girls are in their twenties in Part III.  This story from Italy in the 1970s is told with an intense angry passion.




3the-known-world.   ‘The Known World’ by Edward P. Jones (2003)  – By focusing on a black slave owner, Edward P. Jones avoids turning this novel into a morality play of good and evil.  There is no one preaching.  The matter-of-fact tone only intensifies the reader’s reaction to this story.




an-Author-20Murray-20Bail-20at-20his-20Potts-20Point-20Apartment-20120921120818547105-300x0 4.  ‘The Voyage’ by Murray Bail (2012) – Here is a novel that sails merrily on its way, stubbornly original and idiosyncratic.  A piano designer from Sydney, Australia brings his piano to Vienna, like taking coal to Newcastle.  The novel can be considered an homage to Thomas Bernhard.




sound-of-things-falling-220x3305.  ‘The Sound of Things Falling’ by Juan  Gabriel Vasquez (2013) Unlike Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vasquez sees nothing magical in Colombia’s recent history, only violence and cruelty.  This is a moving novel of how ordinary Colombians got caught up in the vicious cocaine empire of Pablo Escobar.




218175386.  ‘The Other Language’ stories by Francesca Marciano (2014) – Here are stories that set you down in another person’s circumstances so well that you become that person and see the world through their eyes.





Euphoria-198x300 (1)7.  ‘Euphoria’ by Lily King (2014) – Inspired by the fieldwork of Margaret Mead on the island of New Guinea, ‘Euphoria’ is an exciting mix of the romantic, the erotic, and the intellectual.  The anthropologists are there to study the mating habits of the tribal people, yet it’s their own love triangle that consumes them.




cover250x3128.  ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ by Richard Flanagan (2014) – The prisoners of war held by the Japanese during World War II are used as slave labor to build a railroad from Thailand to Burma.  The story is told from the perspective of doctor and officer Dorrigo Evans, an Australian prisoner.




the-hired-man9.  ‘The Hired Man’ by Aminatta Forna (2013) – Here is a novel of modern Croatia, a country which is positioned well to become a world-class tourist destination but is still haunted by troubles from its recent past.  ‘The Hired Man’ reminds me of ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro.




1928878810.  ‘Wittgenstein Jr.’ by Lars Iyer (2014) – Here is a humorous novel about a philosophy class at Cambridge University which is taught by an instructor whom the students call ‘Wittgenstein Jr.’ in partial derision. He is an unforgettable character.




51pE1cNC-vL11.  ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr (2014) – This is a novel of child-like wonder which captures the miracles of nature in short breathtakingly beautiful sentences.  We also get the parallel stories of  a blind girl growing up in France and a scientific boy growing up in Germany before and during World War II.




DareMe_sm12.  ‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott (2012) – This is brutal noir crime fiction disguised as a high school novel.  Megan Abbott nails the visceral intensity of girls’ high school cheerleading.




21 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carole Besharah on December 7, 2014 at 3:13 AM

    Great list. I just bought a copy of All the
    Light We Cannot See. Everyone is gushing over it.


    • Hi Carole,
      Yes, ‘All the Light’ is a fine novel. I also looked at many of the lists and came away with the idea that I should read ‘Fourth of July Creek’ by Smith Henderson. I’m reading it now, and it looks to be right up my alley.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL Now I remember who’s responsible for some of the new books on my TBR. The Ferrante, the Forna and the Iyer!
    And why did I buy them? because I trust your taste:) I too loved Dublinesque, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Known World and the Voyage.
    Will try to resist the temptation to buy the others you’ve listed – at least until I have made a bit of a dent in the TBR.


    • Hi Lisa,
      I suppose you might be a little surprised that among Aussie authors, I placed the Murray Bail ahead of the Richard Flanagan. Perhaps the Flanagan story was a bit too straightforward for me. I found the Bail capricious and delightful.


      • I didn’t realise you’d listed them in order of preference. Now *pause to look afresh* that *is* interesting. (And I’ve just realised that I also bought the Vasquez because of you!).
        I really loved the Voyage. I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t get the attention it deserved because, well, Australia is like that, but I thought it was a perfect sort of book, I loved everything about it. I loved The Pages too, he is such a brilliant writer. *Hopeful frown* he must be just about due to publish a new one…


        • Hi Lisa,
          I can’t exactly say what drew me to The Voyage. It just seemed like a light souffle with undertones of great depth. It was also much different from anything else I’ve read recently. I’m also a huge fan of Thomas Bernhard, so that helped.
          One of these days I will be reading ‘The Pages’.


  3. Yes, I liked the Voyage a lot too – and was surprised it got little attention. I think I saw it on one or two shortlists. My reading group is doing The hired man next year. I can’t wait to read that one. Lovely, diverse list Tony. I won’t be doing mine for a few weeks but my mind is thinking!


    • Hi WhisperingGums,
      Yes, ‘The Voyage’ didn’t make as big a splash as it should have. There are a lot of novels today that don’t.
      ‘The Hired Man’ would make a great movie. If they made a movie in Croatia it probably would really take off as a vacation place. It has the long coastline along the Adriatic Sea. I haven’t been there but maybe someday.
      I’m looking forward to seeing your this year’s Best list.


  4. I have only read the Flanagan and Forna (you and I seem to be the only ones I know who rated that on highly), I do have the top two on hand awaiting reading — alas, with Ferrante I have the two preceding volumes to get to first.

    And thanks for the reminder of the Bail — I’ve liked his previous books and had forgotten your enthusiasm for this one.

    An interesting and thoughtful list, as usual. Thanks.


    • Hi KFC,
      I’m looking forward to seeing your list for this year. None of the Canadian novels seemed to make much of a publicity splash this year, but there probably were some that should have. I was tempted to read ‘The Orenda’, but at 500 pages…
      Perhaps ‘Us Conductors’ for next year…


  5. I’m happy to see The Known World on this list. It’s destined to be a hardcore classic.


    • Hi Angus Miranda,
      I am eagerly awaiting Edward P. Jones next novel or story collection. He is an excellent short story writer too. I have read both of his collections, ‘Lost in the City’ and ‘Aunt Hagar’s Children’.


  6. Interesting list as always. My piles are growing once more. I like the sound of All the Lights We Cannot See. Most of the others are already in my piles.


  7. I failed with Dublinesque but am looking forward to the Vasquez and to Richard North


    • Hi Booker Talk,
      That happens. I fail on a lot of highly praised novels, and since I don’t complete them I don’t have to write about them. For whatever reason, I stopped reading ‘The Good Lord Bird’ early on as one example.


  8. Posted by Annabel (gaskella) on December 14, 2014 at 7:51 PM

    Interesting list – although I’ve only read No12 which I’m rather pleased to see on your list – Abbott is definitely one to watch. I am in the middle of the Ferrante series though which I’m loving so far. I’m going to have to buy the Doerr too – sounds irresistible.


    • Hi Annabel,
      Yes, I definitely will be on the lookout for Megan Abbott’s next, hope it comes out in 2015, but I don’t see anything scheduled. Happy to see you are liking Ferrante.


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