When I started making this list, I had more than 40 books scrawled on a piece of paper. Getting it down to 20 books was difficult. Whittling it down to 10 was excruciating. I could actually feel it in my gut each time I crossed one out. Fact is, this list would probably be slightly different depending on the day you asked me to make it. On any other day, Favel Parrett’s There Was Still Love, Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, and R.W.R. McDonald’s The Nancys — not to mention a whole host of others — might’ve made it. But ultimately I think my Top 10 fairly and evenly represents the books that I think stand above the rest this year.
10. The Testaments by Margaret Attwood
It’s completely fair to say I got swept away by the hype for the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. But I think most of us did, so I don’t feel too bad about it. And while I don’t think it resonates as strongly as its predecessor — and in fact, I’m not sure it’s actually Booker-winner worthy — there’s no denying its narrative hums and roars like a high-performance vehicle. I inhaled The Testaments in a couple of reading sessions, completely absorbed by its three characters, whose stories are presented as historical documents. It reads like a thriller, but one with true thematic gravitas.
09. Recursion by Blake Crouch
Blake Crouch’s Recursion is a wildly ambitious, fast-paced, high-octane science fiction thriller about the apocalyptic consequences of one woman’s quest to build a machine that allows people to relive memories. It builds from shock to shock, intensifying with each turn of the page. It’s part love story, part meditation on grief and its long-lasting resonance, and how memories shape us. And it is never anything less than electrifying.
08. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
The Weekend is a perfectly balanced encapsulation of the human condition, its melancholy truths set to a delightful melody only Charlotte Wood — one of our greatest writers — could devise. It charts the complex, resilient relationship between three friends, all in their seventies, who’ve just lost a member of their quartet. Sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes joyous, it is never anything less than sharply poignant and true.
07. The Rip by Mark Brandi
The Rip is a story of real life: of human frailties and violence. It is chilling and completely credible as it speeds towards a dark inevitability. I loved Wimmera, but Brandi’s second is an incredible step forward. He’s a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.
06. Snake Island by Ben Hobson
Ben Hobson’s second novel is about the darkness of our hearts, and the search for lost light within them. Snake Island is not a tale of redemption, although you might catch glimpses of it. This is a book about actions and their consequences; big and small, and irrevocable. It is a violent, visceral and gripping tale about the cyclic, destructive nature of revenge; an exploration of the spectrum of morality, and the purity of hate versus the complexity of love and forgiveness, told in brisk declarative sentences that possess the cadence of a shotgun blast.
05. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
In Olive, Again Elizabeth Strout once again makes exquisite fiction from the stuff of ordinary lives, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author addresses mortality in thirteen anecdotes set in Crosby, Maine, linked by the presence of Olive Kitteridge. A book to love, and to be returned to, and loved again.
04. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
Dervla McTiernan came out swinging with The Ruin (2018), but The Scholar is a knockout (and her third, The Good Turn, is somehow even more impressive). A relentlessly paced, bombshell-laden plot combined with sharply-drawn, empathetic characters make this is the whodunit that puts McTiernan in the same league as Ian Rankin, Peter Robinson, Denise Mina and Tana French. Strong on atmosphere and suspense, with a vivid cast of major and minor characters; this is crime writing at its absolute best.
03. Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
This is a wrenching American generational saga about the heavy burdens of family and guilt, and the redemptive power of love. At times I was reminded of my favourite experiences with Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett; Ask Again, Yes is deeply involving, emotionally rich, a book to settle into fully, even as it breaks your heart and opens it up. There’s nothing pretentious about it; just a good story, with characters you love, alongside strong themes, perfectly crafted.
02. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The magic of Patchett’s work is her ability to spin ordinary lives into operas; to take the patchwork of moments that comprise our lives, the comedy and pathos, and turn it into revelatory, enthralling art. This is her best book yet; as good a novel as you will ever read, this year or any year, about two siblings who plummet from riches to rags and form an everlasting bond as a result.
01. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
There are very few books that so completely and utterly annihilate my poor excuse for a social life and devour every available moment of my day. There are books I like, and books I love. And Daisy Jones & the Six is a book I love. Like, truly adore. This is a book I could not get enough of. I am genuinely a little heartbroken it’s no longer in my life; that it exists purely in memory.