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.

 

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “The Ten Best Novels I Read This Year

  1. Caroline, I am so glad to see you back. Hope the dark, depressing days are now gone. I’d say forever but that I know is a pipe-dream having experienced depression myself this year. Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy 2023.

    • Thank you, Karen. I felt bereft, not being able to look at my reviews. I really hope I’ll manage to get back to writing regularly. It’s precious to look back. Here’s to wonderful reads in 2023!

  2. Lovely to see a post from you Caroline! On your list I’ve read the Pym, Taylor and Sherriff and really enjoyed all of them, so great to see you did too. Tokyo Ueno Station sounds really intriguing.

    • Thank you, Mme Bibi. I hope you’re fine. They were great novels, weren’t they? Tokyo Ueno Station is well worth reading. Also rather short. I hope you’ll like it.

  3. Also great to see an Elizabeth Taylor there, and I would echo Tony’s praise of Tokyo Ueno Station. I read Juli Zeh’s New Year this year and thoroughly enjoyed it – hope this one gets translated as well.

    • I haven’t read New Year. This one and the one before, also set in the country, Unterleuten, are excellent. I think it hasn’t been translated either. I found Tokyo Ueno Station so powerful. Glad to know you liked it too.

  4. I have trouble getting Word Press to let me ‘like’ a post. At any rate, I’m glad you’ve reminded me about the R.C. Sherriff. I invested in it a while ago and still haven’t got to it. Cheers and be well!

  5. Lovely to have you back blogging again, and hope that 2023 proves a good year for you and both your reading and reviewing.
    I loved Open Water and Tokyo Ueno Station too, so glad to see them on your list – and of course Barbara Pym, an old favourite of mine. I bought A Fortnight in September because everyone was raving about it, but somehow forgot to read it this past year (it’s been a tough year for me too, but perhaps that would have been all the more reason to read it).

    • Thank you, Marina, we will see how being back goes. Last year was such a pile up of things not in my favor. I know you can relate. Glad to hear you liked Open Water and Tokyo Ueno Station too. I was feeling quite good while reading Fortnight but I’m sure it would have cheered me up if I hadn’t. Hope you’ll enjoy it too.

  6. Wonderful to see you back sharing and talking about books, Caroline! I’m with you about blogging – it helps me sort out my thoughts about certain books and process them, and to remember more about them. I hope the books keep bringing you joy and that this year will be an especially fruitful reading year for you.

    • Thank you so much, Julé. I missed blogging but sometimes when we haven’t done something for a long time, it can feel daunting. And WordPress underwent so many changes.
      It’s nice to think about the books again when writing about them. And then go back and reread the review. I hope you’ll have a wonderful reading year ahead of you too.

  7. It’s lovely to have your back, Caroline, especially with such a terrific selection of books!

    Like you, I loved the writing in Open Water, so beautiful and poetic while still retaining an edge. A very affecting book from an exciting new voice – I think he’s got a new novel coming out at some point this year, maybe in the spring. A Quartet in Autumn also made my ‘best of ‘list for 2022. It was a re-read for me, and I think it’s my favourite Pym. Such a poignant portrait of ageing and how different people deal with it – I’m so glad you liked it too.

    • Thank you, Jacqui. I didn’t read as much as I normally do but at least there were some really great books among them. I’m very glad to hear you like Quartet as much as I did. I might reread it some day but first I’d like to read more of her.
      Open Water was truly a surprise. A perfect book for baby reasons. I’m very interested to read more of him.

  8. I’m so glad you’re back, I’ve missed you! You read some lovely books this year, especially Tokyo Ueno Station (in my opinion). I’m looking forward to sharing more literature with you in 2023!

  9. Beautiful post, Caroline 😊 So nice to see you back blogging! Welcome back 😊 I want to read Sunday in Ville-d’Avray by Dominique Barbéris and The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare. They are both calling me right now 😊 Thanks for sharing your favourites list. Hope you’ll find more time for blogging this year. Will look forward to your posts.

    • Thank you, Vishy. 😊Both books are so beautiful. I hope you’ll enjoy them too. I hope this poses means I’m really back. I will certainly make an effort. It will be nice exchanging impressions in what we’ve been reading. I don’t see you on Twitter anymore. The algorithm has gone down the drain.

      • Thank you, Caroline 😊 Hoping to read them soon. Will look forward to bookish conversations with you here. Can’t wait for your next post! 😊 Yes, the Twitter algorithm has become unpredictable these days. Just went to your home page there and posted a comment 😊

        • That’s nice. Thank you. I absolutely don’t understand what’s going on. I hardly see anyone anymore. I see predominantly German Twitter and others only when I actively search for them, like and comment. The number of views tells me clearly hardly anyone sees me.

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