Blowhard writers, amoral graduates, gritty cops and other characters that will survive from the Literature of 2014
Find out more about MBRB’s picks for the Best of 2014 every Tuesday and Wednesday of this month
And just like that, 2014 comes to an end. When we started this year we believed in Interstellar and Happy New Year and Ranveer Singh and countless other projects that only intermittently pleased us. We awaited with bated breath the new David Mitchell, the new Ali Smith and the new Sarah Waters, and they did not disappoint. But now it is almost the end of the year, and the magazines have started doing their end-of-year lists. We are looking for inspiration from them, and adding to our never-ending list of books-to-read and authors to discover. We are amazed- as always- by how little we ended up reading (and how much time we wasted on watching The Mindy Project); and planning to address that next year.
But in the meantime, these are the characters from 2014 that stayed back, the ones that will befriend us as we discover 2015 and all the pleasures it has to offer.
Boy in Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy Snow Bird
For reasons of my own I take note of the way people act when they’re around mirrors.
It is difficult to choose a favourite from among Boy, Snow and Bird in Oyeyemi’s brilliant re-telling of Snow White in a racially charged environment. Snow is pure and resplendent, Bird fragile and fanciful, but it is Boy Novak who the reader follows from the first page to the last. Some part of Boy has been irrevocably broken in her childhood, and she carries that hurt and caution with her all the way through. In a story where people assume identities and often pretend to be what they are not, she – in a lot of ways- is the most transparent. Transparent in her love for her daughter, in her desire for a better life, and in her search for beauty. She may be the wicked stepmother of the story, but it is with her that all our sympathies lie.
Hugo Lamb in David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks
This isn’t lust. Lust wants, does the obvious, and pads back into the forest. Love is greedier. Love wants round-the-clock care; protection; rings, vows, joint accounts; scented candles on birthdays; life insurance. Babies. Love’s a dictator
Truth be told, the Bone Clocks didn’t really work for us. All that Anchorites vs Horologists nonsense made us mistake the book for a Marvel comic more often than a David Mitchell masterpiece. But ohh, the characters were delicious! Hugo Lamb dominates one of the six mini-novellas within the book- and his amoral duplicity is our favourite shade of grey. We first met him in Mitchell’s Black Swan Green but he only comes into his own in Bone Clocks- as a smart Cambridge student running a side business in cheating his indolent aristocratic classmates of their money. There’s no mistaking him for one of the good guys (we tried for a while, but some of his actions are absolutely irredeemable), but he remains irresistible. It helps that David Mitchell is clearly speaking in his voice when writing Hugo Lamb’s reveries. Even the main protagonist Holly Sykes can’t resist his charm, and she is supposed to be some sort of mystical seer. So who are we to try?
Antoinette Conway in Tana French’s The Secret Place
Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series follows a unique pattern among thrillers. Each subsequent edition introduces us to more of Dublin’s Policemen (and women); and any one of them can be the protagonist of the next book. And while our favourite character to date remains Frank Mackey (who appears for a cameo in The Secret Place), we hope the next book is about Antoinette Conway. She is like one of those reality TV contestants who wears her “I am not here to make friends” attitude as a badge of honour. As a woman of colour in a predominantly male squad she has never quite fit in with the cops, and now, investigating a murder in a fancy all-girl’s prep school, she doesn’t fit in with the ‘girly girls’ and their teenage machinations. But this distance from her peers and suspects gives her an edge, and when she is not blinded by her own judgment, she makes a surprisingly astute investigator.
Madeline in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies
They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet
Big Little Lies is NOT the best book of the year. But if you’ve ever dropped your child to school in last night’s crumpled clothes, or fed her a cookie while the other mother’s offer their progenies organic apples, then you will identify with its depiction of the petty squabbles between the mothers of a year group at school. We can totally see why Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are co-producing the book as a mini-series, and we can’t wait to see Ms. Witherspoon nail Madeline.
Unlike the other characters, Madeline doesn’t nurse any big revelations in the book, but it is her sheer ordinariness which makes her so refreshing. She is an imperfect, if opinionated, mother who loves her three children with ferocity, is comfortable in her marriage, and is not afraid to take sides in Playground wars. If she was in our daughter’s school, we only hope we were friends with her, since she seems infinitely more fun than anyone else in the book!
Fern from Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves
“In the phrase ‘ human being,’ the word ‘being’ is much more important than the word ‘human.’
This is the year of mothers banishing their step-children to purgatories. While Boy sends away Snow to ensure that Bird is never compared with her, the family in We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves sends away Fern when she becomes a danger to their daughter Rosemary. Fern, you see, is part of a psychological experiment being conducted by the Cookes (we will let you read and discover what the experiment is). Until they are five, Rosemary and Fern believe they are practically twins, and this banishment fractures the entire family. Rosemary stops speaking, their brother Lowell becomes an environmental activist on the run from the authorities, and Fern is left to languish to her fate.
No book touched her more than this lovely read this year, and it is Fern’s fate that we keep returning to in our dreams. She makes us question everything we know about nature and nurture, and wish that humans were a kinder race.
Owen Quine from Rowling’s The Silkworm
“He’s a writer,” she said, as though this explained everything. “He’s disappeared before?” “He’s emotional,” she said, her expression glum. “He’s always going off on one, but it’s been ten days and I know he’s really upset but I need him home now.
We won’t lie – our favourite character is actually Cormoran Strike. But we can’t make a case for him being a character from this year, so will choose the murdered victim of his latest case instead- the irascible Owen Quine. It helps that we ourselves have a fondness for those enfant terribles of literature, who live to provide umbrage (we still read everything Martin Amis writes even if it drives us mad!). But Quine- with his flair for drama, immense narcissism, and desperate desire to stay relevant – is a wonderfully realized creation. We kind of want to read his first book Hobart’s Sin, and have him make the literary comeback that he so desperately craves! Imagine the speech he would make if her were to win the Man Booker!