The Ten Best Novels I Read This Year

Happy New Year. I hope you’re all doing really well and that 2023 will bring you light and joy.

I’ve been gone a while. Over a year, to be precise. Since summer I knew I wanted to return to blogging, if only to help myself remember what I’ve been reading. It’s easy to remember the books that make our top ten lists at the end of the year but all the others? Not so much. There are a few titles I saw on other people’s lists that I read too but until I read those lists, I’d totally forgotten about them. Needless to say, they won’t be on my list. Very often this has nothing to do with their quality at all. It has more to do with me as a reader. I’ve been an extremely distracted reader this year. I read far too many books in parallel and abandoned far too many. Nevertheless, the ten novels on my list not only captivated me, but they stayed with me.
I’ve read a lot of memoir and other nonfiction books this year. as well Also some poetry. More than usual, but to keep the list short, I’m only mentioning the novels.

Über Menschen by Juli Zeh

This chunky book hasn’t been translated yet. Possibly, because it was very controversial. It tells, among other things, the story of a woman who befriends a Neo-Nazi and tries to understand where he’s coming from. But it’s also set during the beginning of 2020 and the narrator flees to the country to avoid strict lockdown rules. I loved it for the writing. They way Juli Zeh describes people and places is just so immersive. I also found it courageous.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

This was not what I expected. I had high expectations but more for the story, less for the writing. The stellar writing was a huge surprise. The rhythm of the book conveys the music the protagonist listens too. Each short chapter has its own flow, own rhythm. Some sentences, images are repeated, some sections meander, others are written in a staccato rhythm. The story, too, is beautiful and heartbreaking. As a woman, I’m often afraid to walk through certain neighborhoods as it can be scary to find yourself totally alone facing a hostile looking stranger. Now I know that young black men must feel like this just as often.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

What a haunting book. And so unusual. I don’t want to give away too much, I will just say that it tells the story of a homeless man, of social invisibility, using a very ingenious approach.

Passager de la nuit by Maurice Pons

This hasn’t been translated. Too bad as I loved it. It shows a side of the war of Algeria, or rather how the war played out in France, I was less familiar with.

Sunday in Ville-d’Avray – Un Dimanche à Ville-d’Avray by Dominique Barbéris

A dreamy, lyric, short novel with a rich mood. Two sisters meet, speak about their childhood, their dreams, and one confesses a secret love story.

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

Not one of Pym’s lighter novels, this story of four people who might not exactly have had the life they wished for, is still typical Pym. As usual, the character portraits are rich and detailed and the story, while sad in places, isn’t depressing. I liked it a great deal. She’s such a sharp observer.

In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

Another novel from a sharp observer. This might not be my favorite Taylor novel but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The main character, a widow, marries a far younger man and it soon becomes clear, she might have made a huge mistake. Wonderful character portraits and a surprisingly enjoyable story.

The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

Such a beautifully nostalgic novel. It begins during a summer holiday at the outbreak of WWII which will change everyone present. Fifty years later, the protagonists meet again for a funeral. It’s not a very straightforward novel but very immersive nonetheless.

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff 

I’m so glad I saw this mentioned on Twitter and elsewhere several times as I wouldn’t have discovered it on my own and that would have been such a shame. I read it in September and loved every page of it. Such a gentle, delightful book that tells of the holiday of an ordinary family and of the little joys and woes the holiday brings. Even though this book came out in 1931, most of what Sherriff describes is still relatable now. A timeless classic of a family holiday.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

I can’t say that this historical novel was flawless, yet I still had a book hangover after finishing it, wishing it had been longer and looking for other, similar novels after putting it down. Mrs England tells the story of an Edwardian marriage and its dark undercurrents. The ending didn’t work for me, but the way Stacey Halls captured Edwardian England was so descriptive and captivating.

 

When I look at my best of list, it wasn’t such a bad reading year, but being able to easily whittle it down to ten, says a lot about the year as a whole. Normally, I always include a few crime novels in my end of year lists, but this year I managed to pick one dud after the other or just books that didn’t speak to me at all.

I decided to focus on novels in this post, but I didn’t want to end without mentioning my favourite memoir of the year, Horatio Clare’s The Light in the Dark, a Winter Journal. It’s about winter, the Yorkshire countryside, nature, depression and, as the title says, the light in the dark. Stunningly beautiful. Maybe my favourite book of the year.