Friday 27 January 2023
Tuesday 24 January 2023
Shortly before Christmas I decided it was a good idea to try to clear some of my personal (as opposed to book review) TBR pile, especially any that could have been last year's Christmas presents. Hence the seemingly random 'My Life In France' by Julia Child.
Friday 20 January 2023
Usually I come to do my best of the year list and struggle to keep it down to ten, or a dozen, but I seem to have read fewer books last year and so the 'best of' list is correspondingly short. I decided that I couldn't actually 'order' them into a ranking of first, second, third, and so on so they appear here in the order I read them
Top of the list then is Devotion by Hannah Kent from back in February. The story follows the growing, forbidden relationship between Hanne and Thea, moving from an Old Lutheran community in 19th century Prussia to the wildness of Australia's colonies. It's raw and warm, and filled with both love and loss, with Kent's poetic prose bringing the natural world of Germany forests and Australian outback vividly to life.
March brought two, very different, additions to the list. First, When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo. Darwin works in Fidelis cemetery in the fictional Trinidadian city of Port Angeles; he tends neglected grave plots, and comforts the bereaved. Above the city lives Yejide who has inheritated a strange responsibility - to comfort the dead themselves; to calm their spirits in transition from one life to another. Unsurprisingly they're drawn together. A wonderful mix of the mundane and fantastical, filled with the sights and sounds of its setting. An astounding debut.
Wild And Wicked Things by Francesca May. Coming into an inheritance from her estranged father, Annie Mason travels to mysterious Crow Island, the last refuge of magic in a world from which it's been banned. Here in this strange community, 'nice girl' Annie finds herself tempted by decadent parties, magic, and Emmeline Delacroix, the focal point of them both. Described by the author as a witchy, lesbian take on The Great Gatsby, it has that same moral ambivalence, and spell of glamour hiding darkness.
April brought another stunning debut - Trespasses by Louise Kennedy. Set in 1970s Belfast , this is a Romeo and Juliet style tale of a young, single Catholic teacher, and an older, married Protestant barrister drawn to each other despite everything that stands in their way. Set against a backdrop of sectarian violence, with a feeling of inescapable tragedy hanging over the couple, it's both wonderful and heart-breaking.
My last choice will come as no surprise as I'm always a fan of Donal Ryan's work, and his latest novel, The Queen of Dirt Island, is as heart-warming and moving as I've come to expect. In a bungalow in a small village in Co Tipperary live three generations of women, Eileen, her mother in law Mary, and daughter Saoirse. Their story begins with a death but is a celebration of life. Their home not one of peace and harmony, but of arguments and fallings-out, yet still a haven, a place of belonging and nurture. It's too easy, I feel, to just dismiss a new novel by an admired author as what you'd expect from them but Ryan always delivers, and this is no exception.