Last week I wrote about some of my favourite books from this year. This week, I present Part Two. As many of you curl up on sofas, recovering from the chaos of Christmas, I hope you have books by your side as you do. If the books you received didn’t satisfy, or you’ve already torn your way through them, let these be inspiration. Tomorrow we will be reflecting not only on a whole new year ahead of us, but the beginning of a new decade. I wonder what the books we'll be discussing this time next year will be, and which books will become highlights of the years to come, many of which are still to be conjured in their authors' imagination. For now, here are my highlights from 2019.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Twelve women’s lives intertwine over the course of this compulsive novel that contemplates race, gender, sex, and class. It’s so full of life, it’s joys, dreams and disappointments, that the writing fizzes on every page, and the poetic-prose form adds so much to the pleasure of reading it. Very much a novel about how we live now yet it will undoubtedly resonate for years to come.
Bunny by Mona Awad
Praised by Kristen Roupenian and Lena Dunham, Bunny is a darkly comic campus novel unlike anything else I've read. Loner Samantha couldn’t be more of an outsider in the creative writing class she shares with the beautiful, rich and sickly sweet ‘Bunnies’. But when she receives an invitation from the unbearable clique to join their secretive ‘Smut Salons’, she finds herself enraptured in their sinister world at the very edge of reality. Brilliant and bonkers, playful and poignant, this is a coming-of-age novel like no other. And I'll never look at a rabbit in the same way again.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
This highly regarded poet’s debut novel had me reeling in shock and sadness. It’s a tender and subtle book following ‘Little Dog’, a Vietnamese immigrant, and his life in America. Written as a letter to his mother, it chronicles abuse, friendship and the immigrant experience. At times it reads like a hallucination, at other times it is as sharp as a needle prick on the skin.
An Unravelling by Elske Rahill
Elske Rahill’s extraordinary novel An Unravelling moved me so much. It unpicks familial breakdown and jealousy in the most beautifully written & emotionally insightful way. I've long been a fan of Tessa Hadley and Anne Enright's work, and this novel has as much empathy & beauty.
Bad Blood by John Carreyou
Bad Blood is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism that reads like a thriller. The true story of tech billionaire Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos, it's about one of Silicon Valley's rising stars, and the way that a charismatic personality can fool some of the planet's brightest brains - until it all comes crashing down, of course.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory is an epic novel about people and our relationship with trees. It's about ecology, friendship, humanity, nature, family, history, mythology and storytelling. Told through nine characters, whose individual stories come together in the second half of the novel, it is one of the most ambitious novels I've ever read. It's as majestic as the trees that form the novel's trunk, from which the individual stories grow as branches. It's an ode to the planet's best resource and a impassioned plea to all of us to protect them, beautifully told in emotive, poetic writing.
The Jewel by Neil Hegarty
After the theft of a famous piece of art from the Dublin National Gallery, three people's lives are irrevocably changed by its disappearance: the gallery’s quiet, prim curator; the specialist brought in to investigate the crime, and the thief themselves. Neil Hegarty's writing is incredibly moving and full of emotional depth.
Other Notable Books:
I wrote about some of my favourite holiday reads for Ultimate Library blog last month, and naturally some of them also happen to be my favourite books published this year. So here’s a snapshot of some of those books I recommend when spending time away from work.
Outside The Gates Of Eden by Lewis Shiner
Two teenagers meet in the summer of 1965 and, inspired by their hero, Bob Dylan, decide to form a band. The novel follows them through the next five decades, into the Summer of Love, the hope of those years, and the disillusion that followed. Described by George R.R. Martin as ‘A brilliant requiem for our generation and all our dreams’, Outside The Gates of Eden is an epic about music and friendship, with a phenomenal soundtrack to boot.
Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Reminiscent of the story of Fleetwood Mac and told through revelatory interviews with band members, friends, and producers, Daisy Jones and the Six charts the rise and mysterious fall of the world’s most popular band. It’s full of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but it also interrogates the unhappiness behind the glamour and the people behind the icons.
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
Pinch is the son of a great but troubled artist, Bear Bavinsky. He is one of his father’s many children, but as his eldest son he has his neglectful father’s favour. Pining for his father’s attention, Pinch attempts to follow in his footsteps, first as artist, then as his father’s biographer, before his need to secure his father’s love leads him to make a terrible decision that will affect his father’s legacy forever.