So it’s the end of 2020. A bizarre, frightening year by any standards. I hope you’ve managed to find some joy amongst the bad news, and also found some time to read, and perhaps find solace in, books. I thought I’d round off the year with a summary of some of my favourites.
In 2020 I read (or listened to) 54 books. This is fewer than usual, but it’s been an unusual year in many ways other than the obvious. I’ve watched a good deal more television than I usually do (personal favourites there are ‘Animal Kingdom’ and ‘Trapped’) and also watched more films, in part because through the pandemic/lockdown I discovered the joy of watching a film ‘with’ someone who wasn’t in the same room, or even the same postcode. And, since I spent much of the summer writing my next novel, this has necessarily left less time for reading.
I’ve read some great books, though, and so I thought it might be interesting to share my top ten with you.
10. Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell
I was glad to have read this in proof form before it became the unstoppable, award-hoovering juggernaut it was always destined (deservedly) to be. I really liked it, and thought it clever, interesting, and beautifully written. However I can’t forgive Maggie for using ‘This Must be the Place’ as a title before I got chance to, so I’m still sulking about that. For that reason, it’s in tenth place.
9. My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
I loved this, I thought it an ambitious and blackly comic romp. Not a crime thriller as such, it’s more a meditation on the love between siblings, but there was more than enough here to keep me hooked.
8. Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds
I’ve made an effort to read more poetry this year, and have been rewarded by discovering Olds’ work. This is from 2012, and charts the end of her marriage. In some ways it reminded me of Björk’s album “Vulnicura”, as both works take us on a journey into heartbreak and out the other side. For me this was a good example of the right book at the right time.
7. Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Published in 1966, this is one of those books that I’ve long felt I ought to have read, and on occasion have even pretended I had. I was glad to have rectified this omission in my reading history this year, though. I was thoroughly gripped by this study of female friendship, the perils of fame, and addiction. Not hard to see why it’s sold upwards of 30 million copies over the years. I watched the film too, which I also loved.
6. The Lamplighters – Emma Stonex
Another book I was lucky enough to read in proof form, and which is out in March. Inspired by a true story, this is the haunting tale of the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a remote tower of the Cornish coast. Part mystery, part love story, part ghost story, this kept me hooked and intrigued from page one. You’re going to love it.
5. The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle – Matt Cain
Ttale of Albert and his journey to discovering his true self is tender and moving, very funny, and yet another book I was lucky enough to read early. Matt has written something truly wonderful here, and once you read it you’ll fall in love with Albert just like I did. It’s out in May.
4. Cleanness – Garth Greenwell
A beautiful book, like his first, What Belongs to You. It felt, if not like a sequel, then very much a book that revisits the world of that book, expanding and enlarging it. Rarely have I read anything so illuminating about the language and nature of desire, it’s vital and life-affirming.
3. The Inverts – Crystal Jeans
Also out in April this is set in the 20s and 30s. It’s the story of Bettina and Bart, two best friends, both gay, who marry in order to deflect the disapproving gaze of society. It’s filthy and hilarious while also having something serious to say about queer love. By the end you’ll wish Bart and Bettina were your friends, too.
2. Tall Bones – Anna Bailey
This is a debut novel coming in April that follows the disappearance of a teenager from the woods outside Whistling Ridge. It’s dark and atmospheric, and brilliantly captures the claustrophobia and simmering tensions of small-town America. It had me gripped from beginning to end, and would easily have made first place had I not also read…
1. Diary of a Film – Niven Govinden
Niven goes from strength to strength and this is his best book yet, and my favourite of the year. It follows a filmmaker as he visits a festival to premiere his latest work, and is a beautiful and tender meditation on the nature of creativity and art. Out in February and already getting great reviews.
So that’s it. My top ten. I hope to read more in 2021, and write more too. Let me know what you’ve loved, and tell me about any books you think I might’ve missed. But for now, happy new year!