The Best Novels of 2014

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Let me open contentiously: I’m bored by the 2014 year-end lists in literature, especially from big print newspapers. The reason? There is a measure of comfort in books coverage that breaks faith with the lively, exploratory spirit of contemporary literature. And 2014 has been an exemplary year in this regard, especially for poetry and the novel.

The novel is changing. Whether it comforts you or not, literary fiction is shedding its obsession with the page-turner in favor of sophisticated, language-rich novels that are no less readable for being unabashedly smitten with the intersection of life and words. There isn’t a novel on this list that is difficult to read, and yet I get the feeling that readability was far from the first thing on these writer’s minds as they completed their work.

Part of the way we know this: many of these novels are either bildungsromans, novels that deal with maturation and education, or künstlerromans, novels about an artist or writer coming to the point where they can create their art. This fact alone is fascinating, especially in a year where maturation from childhood to adulthood has been thrown into question. These books assert that there are no hard breaks — punctuations — in life that easily demarcate how we develop; nor do they decline belief that humans mature through language. And language is key. So, too, is fiction. These novels suggest that what is real is somehow tied to life and living, and living is itself composed in large part of fictions.