Our choices this year are marked by great ambition and they will continue to draw readers for much longer than the next 12 months, writes Erica Wagner
It's a list for time travellers: Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake begins in the year of the Norman conquest, and is told in a bravura language unaltered by Latinate influence – the book was crowd-funded, to boot. David Mitchell, in The Bone Clocks, and Howard Jacobson in J, lead us out into the future in very different ways – a real departure for Jacobson. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan takes on the legacy of the second world war for both Australians and Japanese; Neel Mukherjee, in The Lives of Others, chooses Calcutta in the 1960s for his setting: and yet both these books cast a sharp beam on the present, too – as does The Wake.
Vivid characters drew us back to novels as we were choosing. In David Nicholls's Us a portrait of middle-aged marriage – and its breakdown – is delineated with humour and heart; the voices in Ali Smith's surprising, enchanting How to be both are vividly alive, whispering into our ears. Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the compelling, sometimes shocking story of a family; it raises the question of what it means, finally, to be human. A cliche? Not this time. Trust me