I read a lot, at times, in the curious mixed year of 2019. Many from earlier times, such as my most recent read, Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes To Harlem.
One 2018 title deserves praise as amongst the very best I read in 2019 before I move on to those actually published this year. Sarah Churchwell’s Careless People is a great telling of the lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their coterie leading up to The Great Gatsby. She combines this with a fascinating true life murder mystery from close to Gatsby’s setting. The result is revealing and gripping.
But from 2019 I eventually produced a list. 25 notable works across a range of genres.
25-11 in alphabetical order
Nina Allan – The Dollmaker
Nina Allan – The Silver Wind (revised expanded)
Zen Cho – The True Queen
Deborah Harry – Face It
Hannah Hodgson – Dear Body
Attica Locke – Heaven My Home
Juliet McKenna – Green Man’s Foe
Judith Moffett – Unlikely Friends
Amal el Mohtar & Max Gladstone – This is How You Lose the Time War
Fiona Moore – Driving Ambition
Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Gods of Jade and Shadow
Temi Oh – Do You Dream of Terra Two?
Gillian Polack – Year of the Fruitcake
Tim Robinson – Experiments on Reality
Kari Sperring – Serpent Rose
So there’s autobiography and memoir, crime, SF and Fantasy, poetry and more.
The top 10 almost wrote itself, with standout works of all kinds, again. I say almost, but a couple of the titles above I was very reluctant to leave out of the Top list. Those who know my tastes may realise which, and may not be surprised at some of the titles to come.
10. Melissa Harrison – All Among the Barley
9. Lisa Goldstein – Ivory Apples
8. Sarah Dobbs – The Sea Inside Me
7.Yvonne Battle-Felton – Remembered
6. Sarah Hall – Sudden Traveller
5. Lewis Shiner – Outside the Gates of Eden
By far the biggest book on the list, it needed to be to tell an epic, personal novel of the rise and fall of idealism across 60s and 70s music and society. Shiner is one of the few writers to get this right.
4. Natalie Haynes – A Thousand Ships
The siege of Troy (and related events) retold from the many, many women involved. Haynes gives passionate voice to goddesses, princesses, slaves, widows and lovers with rage, humour and honesty.
3. Bernardine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other
Almost as with Haynes, Evaristo’s cast of multiple women are enlightening, frightening, brilliant, lusty and funny. These are mostly Black British women, and their stories are revealing and affirmative.
2. Jeanette Winterson- Frankissstein
Reworking the overworked and misread is brave, but Winterson has never been a coward. This novel more than engages with its source, with the modern corrupted world, and her own worldview. If anything, there’s a hint of Richard Powers’ Generosity in here, but darker, more thrilling, more potent.
1. Jenn Ashworth – Notes Made While Falling
Quite simply unlike anything else I have read. Beginning in the nightmare of traumatic childbirth, Ashworth takes us through her subsequent psychosis, PTSD and breakdown in brutal, visceral depth. In the deliberately tangled narratives are personal analysis, cultural explorations of decay, faith, history and literary alleyways. It’s a working class, Northern work, but the despair and aspirations gradually balance. Chernobyl, Agatha Christie, trepanning and the recurring touchstone of King Lear make for hard, dark reading but the rhythms hold you as twisted humour flashes illumination.
So there you have it. 25 brilliant books full of dark brutality and shards of incandescence.