My favourite books of 2022 (part one)
From a literary thriller to a tragicomedy, five novels that I will rave about for years to come
I think this year has been one of the best for reading in a long time. It has been so good, in fact, that I found it impossible to whittle down the list of my favourite books to five. So I’m settling on ten. You’ll just have to wait until two weeks today to find out the other half. But first - and in no particular order…
Five of the best books that came out this year
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
This is a crime thriller unlike any I’ve read before. Ansel Packer is a serial killer on death row in Texas, with 12 hours of his life remaining. Chapters counting down the time to his execution are interspersed with the stories of three women whose lives Ansel affected: his mother, his ex-wife’s twin sister, and the detective who spent decades on Ansel’s tail.
Haunting and unbearably tense, I’m actually struggling to find the words to express how much of a masterpiece this book is. Utterly unforgettable.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait
If you are looking to fill the Sorrow and Bliss shaped hole in your life, then let me suggest this novel. They are, of course, each very much their own entity. But aside from the fact they both deal with the topics of siblings and mental illness, the main thing that they share - and what makes both so good - is that they strike that same sweet spot between humour and heartbreak.
I’m Sorry You Feel That Way doesn’t just have a great title - it is a rich and witty and sad book about family dysfunction. Twins Alice and Hanna are at the heart of it all, but we also glimpse into the life of their overbearing mother and her sister, and the whole thing is knitted together into a tragicomedy that I loved an inordinate amount.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
Some books just take your breath away and this is one of them. Set in Belfast during the Troubles, Cushla is a Catholic 24-year-old primary school teacher who also picks up shifts at the pub her brother runs. It’s here she meets Michael. He’s a barrister, a Protestant, he’s twice her age - and he’s married. And yet there’s a gravitational pull between them they cannot resist.
Meanwhile, Cushla tries to care for her widowed mother who drowns her grief in alcohol, and help the boy in her class whose father has been caught up in violence. But, at its heart, Trespasses is a love story to end all love stories. Kennedy’s writing is practically perfect and the book is so visceral, and so affecting, that I’m still reeling from it. This novel deserves many, many awards.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Here’s a rule for life: when Oprah chooses a novel to be adapted into a TV series, you take note, and read that novel. Black Cake opens with two estranged siblings, Benny and Byron, coming together for the first time in years when their mother dies. She has left behind a piece of traditional Caribbean black cake for them to ‘share when the time is right’, and an explosive voice recording revealing long-held secrets that will upend everything they thought they knew about their family.
The story spans multiple generations and countries, and features everything from a murder to a love story. Its short chapters and compelling characters also make it an addictive read that had me grappling between the ‘need to know what happens’ rush and ‘don’t want this to finish’ feeling. It’s going to make a brilliant TV show.
The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn
Oh my! This book is quite simply brilliant. At 560 pages, it is a novel you are forced not to rush. Instead it is the kind of story you sink into, getting totally wrapped up in the characters and their world. At the centre of it all is the wayward, headstrong Christabel, who is four years old when we first meet her in Dorset in 1919, where she spends her childhood having adventures and putting on outdoor plays with her siblings (and anyone nearby she can enlist).
She comes of age in the lead up to the war, and the decades that follow are tumultuous and the story itself is breathtaking. I can see myself (and a great many others) going back to this book time and time again, in the same way I only do with novels like Jane Eyre. The Whalebone Theatre is a book to treasure.
As the shiny new adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover arrived on Netflix this weekend, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what it means for our changing attitudes towards sex, smut and erotic fiction. Click here to read.
I'm saving The Whalebone Theatre for the Christmas break. Can't wait!
Notes on an Execution is also one of my favorites I read this year. Such a good story and commentary on who gets to tell the story.