THIS week, I start the countdown from tenth place to sixth place of books which I feel are the perfect Christmas gift for loved ones (or yourself!). Each book is different, asks something different of us and appeals to us to be something more, coming into 2020.
10: The Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah-Davis Goff
Set against the backdrop of Ireland, this is a brave attempt to tackle post-apocalyptic themes in a new way and in her debut, Sarah Davis-Goff is a voice for young women embarking on a survivalist journey. Lead character Orpen is raised in isolation on Slanbeg Island, where she is prepared for survival on the mainland with tools of speed and stealth. We are similarly prepared for survival, with tools of education and self-confidence as our training knives. Yet, at the end of days, when it seems as if there is no source of optimism or positivity, that we are prepared to go to enormous lengths for companionship. We don’t want to die alone. This is geared at young adults or those who, like me, appreciate a reminder of what is important.
9: Looker by Laura Sims
Chilling, suffocating and terrifying, Laura Sims gives us The Professor. Bit by bit, the Professor’s life starts to fall apart and for every chip that drops from her life, across the road, The Actress shines even brighter. The Professor downs a warm bottle of white wine, The Actress sips on a crisp, chilled glass. Loneliness and a toxic envy surrounds The Professor, she becomes a cautionary tale for the perils of envy. When we become tempted by someone, something, we can risk our stability and our happiness; we can fall headlong into the rabbit hole and there is no easy return. A bite-sized novel, this is well written, psychologically jarring and sinister. Aimed at those who enjoy an intense plot, with uncomplicated language and a fast pace.
- Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
This is one of my favourite books, not just this year but perhaps, ever. The plot is not particularly exciting but it is written with a superior command of language and gives us an insight into the appeal of an ordinary day in an ordinary life. Living that ordinary day are Leonard and Hungry Paul, two friends who gently and unobtrusively try to find their place in the world. At first glance, the world may feel inclined to pity these men who live at home with their families and who seem to struggle with juggling independent living and the formation of relationships. Yet, Hession takes that inclination of ours and rips it to bits, showing us that is more than ok to not fit the societal mould; we can still make a subtle but far-reaching ripple in the lives of others. A beautiful story with a simple foundation, it is an ideal Christmas choice.
- The Failing Heart by Eoghan Smith
In such a materialistic world, we promise so much of who we are to others. Our enduring desire to please others allows society to drape us in layers of responsibility, obligation and we can no longer hear ourselves think. When grief hits, as it does our nameless character in Smith’s novel, we can sink into the tar of grief, our dreams disturbed, our thoughts distorted – the process of grief denied to us under the weight of the cloak of responsibility. College assignments still need to be paid, rent still needs to be paid and our voice becomes strangled in the tentacles of societal obligations. Smith forces us to step back from it all and to, above all, listen to ourselves. We are all that matters. An existential read this Christmas, we are encouraged to consider how important we are to ourselves and at what point we need to prioritise that.
- The Confession by Jessie Burton
Constance Holden takes Elise Morceau under her wing and, motherless and rudderless, Elise follows Constance into 1980s England. Jessie Burton captures loves and challenges us to consider our own definition of love, permanent or fleeting. 37 years later, Elise’s daughter finds Constance and walks away from her love, just as her mother before her did. A societal contrast is made between the sexual awakening of the 1980s and the acceptance of sexuality in 2017 overshadowed by money worries and pressures. Our female leads are lost, their identity anchored onto another, without thought for their own voice. Without love and the direction of another, who are we? A read to swiftly reel the reader in, Jessie Burton is cemented as one of the finest story tellers of our time.
Dymphna Nugent blogs at The Book Nook on Facebook