Books read in 2022

Sebastian Faulks. Snow Country

Delia Owens. Where the Crawdads Sing

Emma John. Self Contained

Ann Cleeves. The Heron’s Cry

Dina Nayeri. The Ungrateful Refugee

Ann Cleeves. The Long Call

Paula Morris. False River

Dolly Alderton. Everything I Know About Love

Mick Herron. London Rules

Stephen King. On Writing

Lynn Truss. Psycho by the Sea

Amor Towles. The Lincoln Highway

C K Stead. What You Made of It (1987 – 2020)

Maggie Shipstead. Great Circle

Christopher Hitchens. A Hitch in Time

Helen Moffat. Charlotte

Graeme Lay. Larry & Viv

Stella Duffy. Lullaby Beach

Ann Cleeves. Hidden Depths

Kate Atkinson. Started Early, Took My Dog

Melanie Hudson. The Night Train to Berlin

Eileen Atkins. Will She Do?

Donna Leon. Give Unto Others

Ann Cleeves. The Crow Trap

Mark Hodkinson. No One Around Here Reads Tolstoy

Matt Haig. The Comfort Book

Richard Osman. The Thursday Murder Club

Deirdre Bair. Parisian Lives – Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me – a Memoir

Jackie Kay. Red Dust Road

Karen Joy Fowler. Booth

Meg Mason. Sorrow and Bliss

Penelope Lively. Metamorphosis

Stanley Tucci. Taste

Amy Bloom. In Love

Annie Garthwaite. Cecily

Minnie Driver. Managing Expectations

Kate Camp. Kate’s Klassics

Claire Keegan. Small Things Like These

Tim Higham. Island Notes

David Harewood. Maybe I Don’t Belong Here

John-Paul Stonard. Chatsworth: Arcadia Now

Joanna Quinn. The Whalebone Theatre

Kate de Goldi. Eddy Eddy

Stella Rimington. The Devil’s Bargain

Lea Ypi. Free – Coming of Age in at the End of History

Gabrielle Zevin. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Kati Marton. The Chancellor

Dr Lucy Pollock. The Book About Getting Older

Bonnie Garmus. Lessons in Chemistry

V B Grey. Tell Me How It Ends

Sisonke Msimang. Always Another Country

Richard Osman. The Man Who Died Twice

Christina Lupton. Love and the Novel

Sarah Moss. The Fell

Anita Sethi. I Belong Here

Arundhati Roy. My Seditious Heart

George Alagiah. The Burning Land

Jenny Offill. Weather

Jonathan Franzen. Crossroads

Martin Walker. Bruno’s Challenge

Miranda Cowley Heller. The Paper Palace

Noelle McCarthy. Grand – Becoming My Mother’s Daughter

Carl Nixon. The Tally Stick

Lynn Truss. Get Her Off the Pitch

Patrick Gale. Mother’s Boy

Donna Leon. Earthly Remains

That makes 67 books for the year, including the usual smattering of whodunits which are entertaining if they are well-written, e.g. those by Ann Cleeves, Donna Leon, Richard Osman and Martin Walker. Books I found disappointing included the latest Stella Rimington, which was pedestrian and not worth the read, Melanie Hudson’s The Night Train to Berlin, ditto, and Lynn Truss’s Psycho by the Sea, which was especially disappointing in the light of how much I later enjoyed her memoir. Get Her Off the Pitch was fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny.

Memoir makes up approximately a quarter of my annual total and the best of these was Lea Ypi’s extraordinary account of growing up in Soviet-era Albania. I was fortunate to hear her at the Auckland Writers Festival in August and was impressed by her intelligent analysis of the history she has personal experience of and felt envious of her students at the London School of Economics where she is professor of political theory. The history of the 20th century and its influence on an individual was also interestingly evaluated in Kati Marton’s account of Angela Merkel’s life.  I highly recommend Mark Hodkinson’s memoir, which I related to as someone who grew up in a community where books were not valued and reading considered an eccentricity. Sisonke Msimang’s personal misgivings about the ANC’s governance of South Africa after their years-long struggle to end apartheid make her memoir a must read and Noelle McCarthy’s view of herself through her account of her mother’s life and death is compelling. Taste is the disarming Stanley Tucci’s take on the role that food has played in his life and is highly entertaining and I enjoyed Minnie Driver’s autobiography.

New Zealand fiction I’ve read this year includes novels by the consistently reliable Carl Nixon and Kate de Goldi, both of which I highly recommend. Larry & Viv is also an entertaining read.

Of the fiction I’ve read this year, three novels that received accolades and rave reviews were a big disappointment. Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is a substantial 800-page account of the (mis)adventures of a fictional aviator Marian Graves that runs parallel to the story of 21st century actor Hadley Baxter, who is starring in a movie about Graves. I found little to empathise with in the Marian character, the Hadley character was unconvincing and the intersection of their stories seemed contrived. I admire Karen Joy Fowler’s writing so was very disappointed in Booth, which is a fictional epic about the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. My feeling is that she tries too hard to explain his actions in view of his family relationships and it results in a messy, dissatisfying read. I have always enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s writing, particularly his non-fiction, but Crossroads did not meet my expectations. It too is a family saga (the first in a planned trilogy), set in the 1970s and deals with each member of the dysfunctional mid-Western Hildebrand family in separate, interlocking chapters. I found it difficult to care very much about the characters and probably won’t rush to read the next instalment.

There is a lot of wonderful fiction in this year’s list. I highly recommend The Lincoln Highway, a multi-layered, enthralling tale told from multiple points of view (incidentally including a memorable Italian meal involving Fettucine Mio Amore); Sorrow and Bliss, which is about mental illness, an unlikely subject for an enjoyable read, which it is; Cecily, an effective fictional treatment of the life of Cecily Neville in the era of the Wars of the Roses, an outstanding achievement for a debut novelist; The Paper Palace, which follows a family as they spend their summers in the backwoods of Cape Cod, with flashbacks covering the previous 50 years and one tragic event; and Mother’s Boy, which is a competent imagining of the life of Cornish poet Charles Causley.  There are two must reads among this year’s fiction: Joanna Quinn’s and Bonnie Garmus’s novels. The former is the beguiling story of Cristabel Seagrave, who overcomes her dysfunctional home and family to live life her way, and the related tales of her siblings Flossie and Digby. Lessons in Chemistry is like nothing else I’ve read – it seems far-fetched at first but gets more and more pertinent as you read on and the characters are unforgettable.

My stand-out novel for 2022 is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It follows two childhood friends who share an interest in gaming and who go on to develop an innovative game of their own, which takes the gaming world by storm. For someone who knows nothing about gaming, this novel was revelatory – how intricate the story-telling, art work and coding is in these games and how the worlds they create inspire the people who play them. I highly recommend it, particularly if you, like me, have always dismissed this essential part of the modern world as not worth the trouble. It is entirely appropriate that the novel’s title is Shakespearean.