My best reads of 2022

It’s always a pleasure to look back on the books I’ve read during the year to pinpoint my favourites. During 2022, I have to admit I read far fewer novels than usual. I devoted most of my reading time to research, and I will keep those non-fiction books under wraps for the time being. When choosing my fiction reading, as in the first half of 2022, I tended to pick novels that came highly recommended to me.

In June this year I posted my best books for the first half of the year while they were still fresh in my mind:

The Fell by Sarah Moss (Picador, 2021)

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (Jonathan Cape, 2021)

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador 2022)

Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn (Harvill Secker, 2021)

News of the Dead by James Robertson (Hamish Hamilton, 2021)

Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela (W&N, 2019)

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Saraband, 2021)

So, here are my stand-out reads for the second half of 2022.

Historical fiction, it often strikes me, has much in common with speculative fiction in terms of world building. Many aspects of historical worlds are known to us, and certain aspects of a future world seem easier to predict than others. But writers of historical and science fiction must apply themselves to filling in the gaps. This year, my favourite historical novel was Hamnet (Tinder Press, 2020) by Maggie O’Farrell — beautifully realised and richly detailed in depicting life during the closing years of the sixteenth century in Stratford-upon-Avon.

One of the delights of my year was catching up with the novella Small Things Like These (Faber & Faber, 2021) by Claire Keegan. The story is tightly focussed on a coal merchant and his interaction with a convent and the Magdalene laundry run by the nuns. Keegan prompts the reader to ask what they themselves would do. Would the reader, in similar circumstances, fail in their lack of curiosity, turn a blind eye, or would they intervene?

There is little I can add to the praise for Sea of Tranquility (Picador, 2022) by Emily St John Mandel, but I can say that Mandel is now a must-read author for me. I saved this novel to read on holiday in the latter part of the year. It did not disappoint. Smart, fragmented, and intriguing from start to finish. Sea of Tranquility combines historical, contemporary and future settings. Wonderful.

Another novel combining past, present and future storylines is The Coral Bones (Unsung Stories, 2022) by E.J. Swift. I was fortunate to read this novel in manuscript. It’s an elegant novel — a beautifully crafted love letter to our endagered coral reefs, confirming Swift as a writer of compelling eco-fiction.

I returned once again this year to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Jonathan Cape, 1986) because I’m writing an essay about the influence of that novel on my own fiction. Though I have read The Handmaid’s Tale at least four times over the decades, I found new, startling resonances in the wake of Trumpism and the overturning of Roe versus Wade. It makes me wonder if I should return to more old favourites!

Sandra Newman’s The Men (Granta, 2022) struck me as an equally confrontational feminist novel. I read it immediately after The Handmaid’s Tale. In Newman’s novel, all people with a Y chromosome — both young and old — disappear overnight. The author imagines a world run by women, prompting the reader to ask what would be gained and what would be lost. Equal parts utopia-dystopia-mystery-horror.

I also enjoyed a relatively recent classic, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) by Marilynne Robinson, which is a slow-burn novel about family, fathers and sons, religion and faith, a love of life in the face of approaching death, and the attempt to open one’s heart and set the record straight before it’s too late.

All in all, I regard this as a solid ‘best of’ year’ list, even though I had fewer books to choose from.

I’m enjoying everyone else’s yearly round-ups, and my pile of books for the coming year is reaching the ceiling.

Happy reading in 2023, everyone!