A sentiment at the moment seems to be that 2018 has felt like a very long year, but honestly I feel like I blinked and we’re at the end of the year. Certain moments throughout the year feel like they happened ages ago, yet it also feels to me like Halloween just happened. Maybe my perception of time is a little skewed right now.
At any rate, here we are once again with my end of the year top five list, presenting the five books I enjoyed reading the most in 2018. They are in no particular order, nor do they need to have come out in this year.
Circe by Madeline Miller
I’m a sucker for mythology, especially Greek mythology. I’d known about Miller’s novel The Song of Achilles for a while, but when I heard she had written a new novel telling the life of Circe, the witch from The Odyssey, I was much more eager to check it out. She adapts the mythography exceptionally well, giving firm narrative connections to familial relations consistent with the lore but never really explored. The characters are well fleshed out and the stories feel superbly faithful to the old myths while having a unique life of their own thanks to Miller’s writing. It didn’t so much feel like she was adapting the mythology, as novelizing that world itself.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
This is a book I’d heard about for a long time, but never fully understood what it was. Within reading circles, bringing it up would always result in somebody jumping up excitedly; once the waitress at the pub we were meeting at was the person who did this very thing when she saw a copy on the table. In its formatting alone it is a beast of a novel, filled with labyrinthine footnotes, numerous narrative layers and unreliable narrators to keep straight, and hidden messages. At its heart is an intriguing story about a house that is somehow bigger on the inside, but that’s really only the skeleton of what is at play.
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
I only got to a couple of Discworld novels this year, but I was very pleased to have read this one, which is the second novel in the Death sub-series. Giving the concept of Death anthropomorphic personification is hardly an original idea, but there is just something so grimly honest, wise beyond all years, yet innocent about Pratchett’s interpretation of that idea that captures my imagination. This novel has him coming to grips with an impending demise, experiencing mortality for the first time, and it was effective to see such a wizened being struggle coming to terms with something we all accept, even if we don’t always too much think about it; that time doesn’t stop marching on and we’re all going to die.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I want to call this book the quintessential haunted house story, but I feel there’s more to it than that. While full of tension, atmosphere, and paranormal occurrences, the strength of this tale lies in the perspective of its lead character, Eleanor, whose psyche plays a pivotal part in how you interpret the tale. The titular Hill House has a reputation that precedes the investigation she is a part of, and there are many shared experiences that lend credence to the idea that something ghostly is afoot, but the novel never shows its hand one way or the other. I loved this book for the way it built out its characters, let you get into the head of the protagonist, and presented a haunting both believable and frightening.
Bloodline by Claudia Gray
Between comic books and novels I read quite a lot of Star Wars fiction over the course of this year, but few of them measured up to this novel. Telling a story about Princess Leia Organa decades after the fall of the Empire, it gives a precise look at the character at a time in her life when she has become jaded with politics, isolated from her family, and is still coming to terms with the truth of her parentage. Many of these factors come to a head in drama that eclipses the action/adventure aspects of the story, enjoyable though there are. At points I found myself eagerly devouring page after page anticipating the moment when two characters would confront each other verbally in the fallout of a major event. All the while it tells a story that ties into greater aspects of the lore without ever losing sight of its focus.