Favourite books of 2022

My favourite book published this year was Candescent Blooms by Andrew Hook. It’s an outstanding, confident, often surreal collection, featuring accounts of the final days of Hollywood actors who died before their time. Despite its strong pitch, it remains difficult to describe – the stories are poetic, subjective, dizzying. Though there’s a huge amount of research in evidence, tone and language take precedence over biography. Normally I struggle to read whole collections from start to finish, whereas in this case I told myself I’d take my time, savour the richness of each story, but then raced through the whole lot in a couple of sittings, so that now they all merge in my mind and I couldn’t tell you which I loved most. It’s a huge achievement and a hell of an experience, and I recommend you get hold of a copy immediately.

Another 2022 novel I loved was Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. In many ways it operates as an out-there coda to her previous novel, The Glass Hotel, and though I adored it less than that book, its broader scope, multiple time periods and tangents that double back to become relevant at unexpected moments entirely won me over.

Of the other recently published novels I read this year, the one that meant the most to me was Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession (2019). I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story of humble, modest people achieving humble, modest success. You might describe another of my favourites as an antagonistic twin of this book: No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (2021), which genuinely made me laugh out loud in the first half and also cry at the end, and I can’t remember the last novel that managed that. One of the most exhilarating books I read in 2022 was By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar (2020), casting Arthurian legend in bizarre new forms, a 21st-century riff on T H White’s already riff-packed The Once and Future King. I’m saving the second of Tidhar’s Anti-Matter of Britain Quartet novels (The Hood) for a later treat, and I can’t wait to find out which legends the final two novels will address. Other novels that I loved unequivocally were The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe (2001), my first Coe, which sparked a season of reading his other linked books, and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989), a big, bold carnival of a carnival novel which was Very Much My Thing even before the speculative elements showed up.

What else floated my boat? Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017), certainly, but I was late to that party. I thought The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (2020) was superior to his excellent The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, mainly by virtue of several of its high concepts remaining concealed from the reader. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (2019) was one of my favourite fantastical fables of the year. Circe by Madeline Miller (2018) is another novel everybody else read before me, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Similarly, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011) was one of those novels that seem to be everywhere for a time, which makes me contrary about refusing to read – which makes me an idiot, as it’s terrific. Three SF novels that I loved this year were The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (2018), Skyward Inn by the always wonderful Aliya Whiteley (2021) and I Still Dream by James Smythe (2018), an excellent AI novel that seems far more prescient now that my social media feed is full of people opining about AI compositions.

On to older novels. I was blown away by the restrained energy of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980), and the inventiveness of the Jekyll and Hyde-inspired Two Women of London by Emma Tennant (1989) – I must get on to reading more of her work. I found The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe (1962) thrilling in spite, or perhaps because of, its claustrophobia.

Alongside the Stuart Turton mentioned above, my favourite crime novels this year were The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo (1946), which features a murder mystery with the most terrific explanation, and The Riverside Villas Murder by Kingsley Amis (1973), which is startling in its plotting but also its inversion of various mystery tropes, and an unlikely 14-year-old detective.

A list of wonderful novels I read this year and that I should have got around to reading much sooner includes: the amoral The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis (1903), the lively Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928), the unexpected pleasures of The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesterton (1905), the proto-SF The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster (1909) and the intense and startlingly modern The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899). Even odder, and somewhat embarrassing, omissions until 2022 were the wonderfully bizarre The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (1934) and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1895).

Most of the non-fiction I read this year represented writing research of one form or another. My favourite non-fiction book that I read purely for pleasure was The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn (1988).

In total, I read 51 books in 2022. I’m a bit ashamed to say 36 of them were written by men; I’m determined to equalise the ratio next year.