Best fiction books for Christmas 2014
Want a thoughtful, lasting present for friends and family? Browse our pick of fabulous and fascinating fiction titles: there's something to whet every literary appetite.
The Children Act Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan's crisp, unshowy prose is ideally suited to tackle the ethics and conflicts surrounding family law. His 13th novel follows Fiona, a High Court judge, and Adam, a 17-year-old Jehovah's Witness with terminal leukaemia who refuses life-saving blood products. Fiona's ruling will determine whether doctors can go against his wishes. McEwan defty pulls you into the soul-searching and emotional intensity of the case.
Mr Mac and Me Esther Freud
Inspired by the true story of Charles Rennie Macintosh's stay in Walberswick (the Suffolk seaside village where Freud has a house), this atmospheric novel makes perfect bedtime reading. It is 1914, and young Thomas Maggs strikes up a friendship with the curious Scotsman who strides along the beach at odd hours. When war is declared and soldiers bound for Belgium arrive, the village begins to whisper about this stranger and what has brought him to their isolated spot.
The American Lover Rose Tremain
A collection of 13 short stories told in Rose Tremain's trademark stylish, sensuous prose. The author of Restoration and The Colour creates a series of character portraits that are immediately arresting and intriguing. Leaping from Canada to Russia to 1960s Paris, this is an ideal escapist treat for Tremain's many fans.
The Assasination of Margaret Thatcher Hilary Mantel
A sharp and witty collection from the double-Booker winner. As always, Mantel's writing appears effortless, while her observations of human nature are second to none. The autobiographical elements add to the conspiratorial style of the writing, as if Mantel is confiding in you personally. A brilliantly dark, bittersweet corrective for anyone who feels as if they've overdosed on seasonal saccharine.
Balancing Act Joanna Trollope
This is the story of Susie Moran, mother of three and founder of a highly successful pottery business (think Emma Bridgewater). She's a modern-day model of accomplishment and self-control - up to the moment that the sudden appearance of her estranged father throws everything in her well-ordered life off course. A satisfying Aga-saga that has the advantage of making your own clan appear refreshingly well-adjusted by comparison.
The Love Song of Queenie Hennessey Rachel Joyce
The present that all Harold Fry fans will be longing for this Christmas. Rachel Joyce follows up her spectacularly successful tear-jerker with this parallel tale. When Queenie learns that Harold is walking to visit her, a volunteer at the hospice encourages her to embark on a second letter: to tell him all the secrets she has kept hidden for 20 years. Narrated in the same subtle yet powerful style as Harold's story, this is about finding joy where you can.
The Coincidence Authority John Ironmonger
An intriguing mix of philosophy, adventure and romance. Thomas Post, an expert on coincidence, has a visit from Azalea Lewis, whose life apears to be built entirely on them. When she is reported to have died in Africa, Thomas travels there to piece together the patterns that governed her life. Their two stories intertwine in a cleverly constructed mystery about destiny and fate.
A Ted Hughes Bestiary selected by Alice Oswald
An exquisite edition of Hughes' animal poems. A superbly gifted poet in her own right, Oswald's visceral imagery and focus on the natural world make her Hughes' natural successor, and an ideal curator of his work. Her selection brings out the wild beauty of Hughes' poems, featuring both real and imaginary beasts and examining their relationship to us.
Nora Webster Colm Toibin
Like his bestseller, Brooklyn, Toibin's deeply moving new novel centres on an Irish heroine trying to adapt to seismic changes in her life. It's the late 1960s: Nora is recently widowed, and struggling to find a way to live that will work for her and her children. Nora's thoughts and gradual transformations are filled with moments of quiet epiphany. Nominated for the Booker three times, Toibin is exceptionally adept at creating strong, vivid female characters - and his writing, as ever, is just beautiful.
The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
A new book from David Mitchell is always cause for celebration - and this exotically inventive novel from the author of Cloud Atlas has enough literary fire-power (and pages) to keep the most avid bookworm up until the early hours. Attempting to summarise it would be futile - let's just say there are worlds upon worlds of fantasy and imagination that transcend time and place, yet also encompass 1980s England, the Iraq war and the apocalypse.
The Miniaturist Jessie Burton
Newly-married Nella arrives in Golden Age Amsterdam to a house full of intrigue. Her wealthy husband is never there, her sister-in-law is mercilessly spiky and even the servants seem to be harbouring some sort of secret. When her husband gives her a cabinet that shows her home in miniature, Nella embarks on an adventure with the odd character who will furnish it - and seems to predict events in the house before they happen.
The Paying Guests Sarah Waters
A superbly smooth page-turner and a thoughtful portrait of social unease and changing attitudes. Set in a 1920s London still reeling from the brutality and economic cost of war, the drama centres on a formerly well-to-do household who are on their uppers. Frances and her mother must take in lodgers to pay the bills; into their genteel lives come Lilian and her clerk husband Leonard. A passionate affair, a murder and a tightly-wound court case ensue.
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