I didn’t realize it while it was happening, but apparently I read a lot of books dealing with infidelity this year: four of those books made my list! (I have no idea what this says about me. Yay single life, maybe?) The first three titles listed are ranked, with Graham Greene taking top honors for the year. The rest of the books are listed in alphabetical order.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
A writer named Maurice Bendrix looks back on a short but passionate affair with Sarah Miles. In doing so, he determines, “This is a record of hate far more than of love.” He desperately seeks answers as to why Sarah, a freethinker dabbling in Catholicism, broke off their affair so suddenly. It’s a gorgeous book that explores themes of love, hate, and religion. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Colin Firth, which made it even more delicious.
Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset (1909)
This is an epic set mostly 11th century Iceland and Norway. A Viking named Ljot falls in love with a landowner’s spoiled teenage daughter, Vigdis Gunnarsdottir. After a tumultuous off-and-on courtship, she rejects him. Outraged, Ljot rapes her and leaves her pregnant: the ultimate shame. Most of the book revolves around the fallout that happens as a result. From my review: “I was a little apprehensive at first because I don’t really read this type of historical fiction, [but] I can’t recommend this edition enough. It’s fabulous.”
The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini (2014)
A violent event in Dale Sampson’s teenage years leads him to discover an amazing secret about himself: he can regenerate his limbs. Years later, Dale struggles with PTSD and suicidal thoughts, but a chance encounter with a girl from his past gives him a new sense of purpose. It’s a unique, macabre, superhero-ish tale. From my review: “There’s a deeply human element to the novel…I absolutely loved it.”
The Bees by Laline Paull (2012)
Born into the lowest caste of her hive’s hierarchy, Flora 717 is destined to be a sanitation worker for her entire life. Instead, she’s born with certain characteristics that allow her to move up through the ranks of the tightly controlled hive; it’s an unusual situation, considering how conformity is revered. From my review: “There’s a startling amount of information that Paull includes about bees, and it’s all done in a way that flows with the story…It’s utterly mesmerizing, and it’s certainly one of the more unique stories I’ve ever encountered.”
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)
A mixed-race family is faced with tragedy at the beginning of this novel: Lydia, the favorite child — the one her parents pinned all of their hopes on — drowns. In the aftermath, the entire family starts to fall apart. Though Lydia’s death appears to be the catalyst, the family’s unraveling has been years in the making. It’s a slim but powerful novel; I loved its alternating explorations of what it meant to be a woman and what it meant to be a Chinese American in 1970s Ohio.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
I was never assigned The Giver when I was in school, so I made it a point to read the book before seeing the movie that came out earlier this year. Jonas lives in a perfect world where everything is controlled and no one feels any real emotion or attachment to others. When he turns twelve, he’s chosen to become an apprentice to become the community’s next Giver. The Giver holds the community’s memories and is the only one who has any concept of what it is like to experience emotion.
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein (2014)
This book revolves around the World War II firebombing of Tokyo, which burned down half of the city and left millions homeless. It alternates between different characters and includes both US and Japanese perspectives. From my review: “As much as I love a good World War II novel set in Nazi Germany, it was refreshing to hear about the war from a new angle…Epstein’s book is a page-turner.”
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum (2014)
Richard and Anne-Laure have been married for seven years, so Anne-Laure is blindsided to learn that Richard has been having an affair. Richard is a jerk about it at first, but he soon begins to regret what he’s done and tries to win Anne-Laure back. From my review: “Some of my favorite explorations in the novel hinged on the fact that neither side of their family was a stranger to infidelity, though the way their families dealt with it — depending on their French or British culture — was very different.”
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2012)
Elena and Lila are unlikely best friends growing up in impoverished 1950s Naples. Lila is perhaps the smartest girl in her class, but her background and attitude hold her back. Elena’s parents are shamed into coming up with the money to keep her in school, so the girls’ futures start to diverge even though their friendship remain strong. From my review: “I loved it because of how well Ferrante captured the intricacies — the jealousies, the unique bonds — of female friendship.”
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1981)
Set mostly in 1960s occupied Prague, an artist named Sabine is the lover of two different men. One is a surgeon named Tomas who prides himself on his womanizing ways; he eventually falls in love with an innocent and trusting woman named Tereza, and a lot of the novel focuses on the what Sabine’s presence does to Tomas and Tereza. A different plotline focuses on Sabine’s relationship with her other lover, Franz. Honestly, the book is impossible to boil down into a few sentences. It’s too gorgeously layered and philosophical.