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David Grossman’s MORE THAN I LOVE MY LIFE: Personally tormented Political histories

David Grossman’s 2022 International Booker Longlisted MORE THAN I LOVE MY LIFE, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen is a story of three generations of women in Israel reconnecting and retracing their personal pasts on a journey together to the island of Goli Otok.

Mainly written from the point of view of Gili (the recent from the three generations of women), though the book takes interesting shifts in perspectives, timelines and memories of all the different sets of characters.

There’s quite a dense use of technique of filming by its characters, whether it’s people or surroundings around them to retrace their complex past memories. It did work for me in the end but sometimes I was actually quite frustrated by this use of narrative in a very strong story actually.

But this is a very complex and politically strong story of ordinary people having to face trials and tribulations for doing nothing wrong, and their will to live their life despite being haunted by the trauma of these injustices, which prevail on themselves and is passed down to the next generations, which determines their choices in the future.

The book brilliantly captures this dilemma of these three generations of women, realising the truth of each other’s complicated personal pasts which was never clear to them.

MORE THAN I LOVE MY LIFE by David Grossman, translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. Published by Jonathan Cape. A huge thanks to Meenakshi Kainth at Penguin India for review copy of this title.

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Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY: Asking Very Deep Questions

Set amidst the Irish Troubles (quite a number of books published this year on it), Audrey Magee’s THE COLONY follows an Englishman and a Frenchman moving to a remote Irish village in an island for one summer. Both having their own personal motives, one trying to capture the landscape in his artwork and the other researching the vanishing native Irish language of this small community.

Beautifully paced and really well structured with every chapter returning with (surprisingly real) incident of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland during Irish Troubles and the reaction of this small community of villagers reacting to this violence.

Magee travels us to this almost repetitive everyday life of this community with beautiful descriptions of the surrounding landscape (beautiful visual wordplay).

With interestingly sparse conversations and long deep internal monologues of its characters, the book masterfully handles its tone.

Magee puts a very interesting perspective by putting two unusual characters (whose intentions are never clear) and their views polar apart regarding Irish colonialism. And in the middle of them both, this small community, who are silenced and they are indirectly being used by both of them.

Both men handles past in a very interesting way whether its one’s escape from his past and the other renewing his past.

This is not a book that sends a message but asks really deep questions about communal identity, language, art and freedom whether personal or societal.

THE COLONY by Audrey Magee. Published by Faber. A huge thanks to Lauren Nicoll at Faber for review copy of this title.

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Maddie Mortimer’s MAPS OF OUR SPECTACULAR BODIES: An Extraordinary debut

Maddie Mortimer’s debut novel MAPS OF OUR SPECTACULAR BODIES is a complex story of a woman in her forties (nearing the end of her life due to cancer), and her life from inside (literally) and outside her body.

With its experimental style of storytelling, lyricism, dark humour and intensely moving story creates an indelible mark in the mind of the reader.

There is a constant shift in perspective on the basis of narrative – from Lia, her husband, her daughter and her mother and at the centre of it all is this indescribable shape shifter travelling inside Lia’s body.

The strength of the book lies in Lia’s reckoning with her past, which is so brilliantly showcased starting right from her very religious childhood upbringing to her passionate loves and desires in her adulthood to her escape and survival in London.

The book could have been dull or depressing due to its subject matter, but is so playful with perspectives, timelines and in the end is an incredibly moving portrait of a person nearing the end of her life.

It would not be a surprise to see this book on upcoming major prize lists.

MAPS OF OUR SPECTACULAR BODIES by Maddie Mortimer. Published by Picador. A huge thanks to Kate Green at Pan Macmillan for review copy of this title.

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Violaine Huisman’s THE BOOK OF MOTHER: Emotionally Effective

Violaine Huisman’s THE BOOK OF MOTHER, translated from the French by Leslie Camhi, very deservedly Longlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize is a personal and moving account of a daughter’s search for her damaged yet loving mother.

Concisely structured in three brilliant parts, there’s a brilliant shift in perspective from the first person point of a child to an omniscient point of view regarding Catherine, the child’s mother.

Of course, she had told me the story of her life in great and contradictory detail, but to give shape to her I had to imagine her, interpret her. I had to become the narrator of her story in order to give back her humanity.

From the early pages of the novel, it’s quite clear that there’s something really wrong with the mother or Maman (as her daughters call her). This complexity of her life is very intricately proved in the second part of the novel through her convoluted past from her mother’s coldness in childhood to her failed career and marriages.

Beyond this personal and intimate details of one woman’s life, the books brilliantly showcases the issues ranging from illegal abortions in France, taboo of mental illness and class struggle in society of that period.

All of this helps in creating a deeply moving portrait of this woman, striving for her personal freedom as well her daughters.

Leslie Camhi does a brilliant job with the construction and lyricism of this Proustian prose style. So in my opinion this is a brilliant and unforgettable piece of writing.

THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Huisman, translated from the French by Leslie Camhi. Published by Virago. A huge thanks to Zoe Hood at Little Brown for review copy of this title.

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Alejandro Zambra’s CHILEAN POET: In Pursuit of Family and Poetry

An unusual and brilliant story following two generations of poets not united by blood but bond. Alejandro Zambra’s Chilean Poet, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, is the story of Gonzalo, a striving poet in Chile and his reunion with his teenage love Carla, now a mother of a six year old boy named Vicente. Fast forward the story after a couple of years, Vicente now himself also an aspiring poet reuniting with Gonzalo.

With the page length of almost 400 pages, the novel with its extremely funny, witty yet simple prose has an amazingly immersive quality.

Zambra’s fully formed and interesting characters and their equally interesting journeys, makes the reader plunge into the depth of the emotions, lives and situations of these characters.

The inner quest of finding the words for the poetry by these characters in contemporary Chile, with the backdrop of the country’s long standing tradition of poets is the essence of this book.

The book very warmly explores the ambition and meaning of familial love and bond (which is not always related by blood).

CHILEAN POET by Alejandro Zambra. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell. Published by GRANTA.

A huge thanks to Pru Rowlanson at GRANTA for the review copy of this title.

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Louise Kennedy’s TRESPASSES: Simply moving

Irish writer Louise Kennedy’s debut novel Trespasses (after her highly successful short story collection The End of the world is a Cul de Sac) follows Cushla, a twenty four years old primary school teacher, living amidst the Irish Troubles in a small town near Belfast, and her relationship with a much older and important man.

More of a traditional type of storytelling, the book is full of interesting characters, a brilliant sense of place and simple yet effective prose.

Kennedy wonderfully evocates the everyday life of a person in the Irish Troubles. In this terrible background, stands a deep and passionate love story between two people who cannot stay apart.

One very interesting thing that I noticed about the structure was that many of the chapters start with an information about the atrocities of violence in the area. So the author doesn’t let the reader fool only with the passionate story but also states the particularities of the violence amidst this Sectarian violence.

The book is incredibly wise in all sorts of direction whether it’s love, guilt, kindness, grief, desires etc. This leaves a very deep indelible marks on the readers mind after finishing this novel for a long time.

TRESPASSES by Louise Kennedy. Published by Bloomsbury. A huge thanks to Bloomsbury for the proof copy of this title.

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HAPPY STORIES, MOSTLY by Norman Erikson Pasaribu: An interesting and innovative collection of queer stories

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao, currently very deservedly Longlisted for 2022 International Booker Prize is a collection of twelve great short stories connecting the themes of queer loneliness, religion, single parenting and many more.

Generally, a great pitfall of short story collection is that there’s always a preference or mostly a strength of some stories over the others. But personally for me all twelve of the stories in this collection stood out on their own. There are themes connecting all of them but nonetheless, they are interesting and innovative standalone.

This collection takes a very interesting and inventive take on queerness. I mean doesn’t limit itself to that, there’s addition of futuristic stuff, alternative histories, absurdity and farce in these stories, which makes them extremely readable and puts a fresh perspective on the table.

The book is stunningly translated by Tiffany Tsao, by managing all of these innovations with great depth in these stories, with very good prose. That’s why each story is immersive and definitely well worth reading.

HAPPY STORIES, MOSTLY by Norman Erikson Pasaribu. Translated from the Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao. Published by Tilted Axis Press.

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Paulo Scott’s PHENOTYPES: An intimate and political study of race in Brazil

Paulo Scott’s 2022 International Booker Longlisted PHENOTYPES, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, follows the story of two brothers, Federico (our protagonist who passes as white due to his light skin) and Lourenco (black) in Porto Alegre and their very different lives.

Written in an almost unstoppable prose, without any break (I wonder whether it’s a theme in the books published by And other stories), the book follows Federico, our middle aged protagonist at present and also shifts back to his past.

This is a very political book tackling from the very start the issue of race quotas for Brazilian students. The book quite heavily also talks about the laws, criminal proceedings, student protests in Brazil.

The book constantly shifts between the present and the past through the eyes of Federico. We travel with him to his childhood, to his past affairs and his guilts.

I found the main protagonist fully realised. The way the author showcases that his race, his past and his fight for justice shaping his contemporary life is really worth admiring.

Actually it was a very educative book in the sense that, it made me familiarise with the issues in Brazil, that I wasn’t much aware of.

PHENOTYPES by Paulo Scott. Translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Published by And other stories.

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Mieko Kawakami’s HEAVEN: Delving Deeply into Bullying

Mieko Kawakami’s 2022 International Booker Longlisted title Heaven, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd follows an unlikely friendship between an unnamed protagonist (who is subject to constant bullying for his lazy eye) and Kojima, his classmate who suffers the same fate.

With its simplistic and beautiful prose, this slim novels dives deeper into the mind of the narrator.

Kawakami leads the way for the reader into the life of this middle school student, who is bullied in some extreme ways and is constantly in fear of his bullies and this fear has gripped his inner self. The only light in this darkness is because of his new friend Kojima.

The book takes a deep route by questioning us about strength and weakness, justice and suffering in this cruel world and mostly standing for yourself (which is not an easy thing to do).

This moving story creates a space in the mind of the reader for quite a while.

HEAVEN by Mieko Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd. Published by Picador.

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WHEN I SING, MOUNTAINS DANCE by Irene Solà: Cornucopia of delights

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Solà, remarkably translated by Mare Faye Lethen focuses on a story of one family through generations in a small village in the Pyrenees, through the eyes of various different characters ranging from ghosts, witches, mushrooms, clouds and many more.

Perfectly structured in four sections, with unexpected perspectives of almost every natural being from these Catalan mountains, gives the reader a fresh and new perspective despite its traditional and mythic insight.

Translation beautifully carries this mythic, lyrical and restless prose, which I found incredibly musical. The rhythm of the prose flows beautifully throughout the book.

Taking the reader into the time period of Civil war, Catalan myths and traditions, the book has an incredible sense of place. The book immerses the reader in this village in the Pyrenees.

Despite all these different perspectives, the book could very easily have failed but the the hold of the writing and translation captures the essence of this very beautiful and unusual story.

WHEN I SING, MOUNTAINS DANCE by Irene Solà, translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethen. Published by Granta. A huge thanks to Pru Rowlandson at Granta for copy of this title.

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CLEOPATRA AND FRANKENSTEIN by Coco Mellors: Destined to be Adapted for screen

Coco Mellors’ debut Cleopatra and Frankenstein seems to have taken the book world by storm but for totally good reasons. This wonderful debut set during two years in New York centrally focused on two very interesting and magnetic people – Cleo (British) & Frank (American) meeting during New Year and their quick marriage, it’s effect on not only themselves, but on a rich set of various characters.

This utterly gripping, extremely funny and surprisingly moving story kept me reading till late in the night.

The structural timeline of the novel, beginning each chapter with a month of the year works brilliantly by creating a clear and vivid picture of the situation of the characters and to be completely honest I felt like I was watching or bingeing an amazing television series.

The book is very funny with its jokes, witty dialogues and awkward situations but the book also touches deep subjects of mental health, childhood neglect, trauma in a very accessible way.

The most surprising and another reason why I loved the book was because of the inclusion of stories of various different characters, rather than that of titular characters.

I really admired the author’s creation of brilliant and vibrant characters that are so believable and her questioning through these characters of finding oneself through different situations in life.

CLEOPATRA AND FRANKENSTEIN by Coco Mellors. Published by Fourth Estate. A huge thanks to Laura Meyer at Fourth Estate for review copy of this title.

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Alex Hyde’s VIOLETS: Deeply Moving and inventive story about womanhood.

Set during the dying days of World War Two, Alex Hyde’s debut novel takes into account the lives of two women (both named Violet), one experiencing a miscarriage and living with the impossibility of future pregnancy while her husband has been deployed in the war in Burma, another Violet escaping to work in Naples after the discovery of her pregnancy out of her fear of telling the truth to her mother.

And between these constant shifts between two women, there’s a poem running throughout the book addressed to a baby.

The whole book is written like small vignettes which carry the beautifully lyrical flow of the story.

The wonderful thing about this book is that yes it’s focusing on the heavy backdrop of war where generally, it quite honestly becomes unreadable for the reader due to the heavy writing. But what Alex Hyde does here is carry the quietness and sensitivity through her prose style, while delving deeper and covering time without feeling as if we have to hold our head in our hands to get the perspective.

The book beautifully handles femininity, motherhood, love and personal desires through the eyes of two wonderful and finely drawn women.

I was deeply moved by the portrait of these women and their lives drawn together and how they are intermeshed together.

Beautifully covering the time period and the subject matter, It’s worth noticing how inventive and daring its style is. I would not be surprised to see this title in the forthcoming major prize lists this year.

VIOLETS by Alex Hyde. Published by Granta Books.

A huge thanks to Granta Books for the copy of this title.

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Samuel Fisher’s WIVENHOE : Humanity in Catastrophe

Samuel Fisher’s short dystopic novel WIVENHOE starts with a murder of a young man in a village in Wivenhoe, ravaged by environmental catastrophe (in this case terrible snowing).

The book is set during a single day and follows the voices of a mother and son. The setting of narrative during 24 hours is one of the most risky thing for a writer to do, because there’s always a risk of whether the story and the characters are fully realised? But I think Fisher has nailed it in my opinion.

Each chapter follows the voices of a mother and son, involving flashbacks of the past, whether it’s personal or environmental. So it fully creates a strong narrative without any gaps in between.

Despite the destructive background of environmental conflict, what the book does is asking very deep questions about preserving humanity when everything is lost and the possibility of love in such terrible times.

The book with its beautiful prose, gripping story and a very interesting vision definitely deserves more readership.

WIVENHOE by Samuel Fisher. Published by Corsair.

A huge thanks to Hayley Camis for providing a review copy of this title.

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Sara Freeman’s TIDES: Fragmentary meditation on loss

Sara Freeman’s debut novel TIDES follows Mara, a woman fleeing her family to live in a seasonal seaside town, after experiencing a tragic loss. And in that town as the tourism season expires, her livelihood recedes and then continues her search for a job in the town.

What stands out in this title is the form of storytelling. The whole novel is written in fragments. The fragmentation of the book gives the story a very strong perspective on the heroine’s past memories and the situation she’s present in.

A line from the book seems to capture its essence:

It’s the echo she wants more than the sound.

The prose very lyrically captures the past memories like small tides in the sea. The author does not submerge the reader in the ocean of the past but rather does it through small dips in the ocean.

The incredible writing is matched with a very mysterious story. I really liked the protagonist Mara, and her determination in search of herself.

Freeman very skilfully captures the themes of grief, depression, love and surprisingly which I was not expecting and really liked – relationship between siblings or in this case conflict between siblings.

So I thought it was a very powerful and lyrical debut by a writer of an amazing talent.

TIDES by Sara Freeman. Published by Granta books.

A huge thanks to Granta Books for copy of this title.

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Ursula Scavenius’ THE DOLLS: Dystopian and Historical Nightmares

The Dolls by Ursula Scavenius, brilliantly translated from the Danish by Jennifer Russell is a collection of four stories (all equally brilliant). Two dystopic and other two historical stories involving environmental catastrophes, historic wars, human killing machines and much else, but the common thread running through them all is familial bonds and connections or sometimes conflict between sibling.

Generally in quite a lot of short story collections, you prefer one story over the other but I absolutely adored each and every story because all of them are extremely strong, independent stories and doing their own things.

The astonishing thing about this book is that all four of these stories concern itself with big background scenarios like environmental conflict, war and dystopian nightmares but it’s pivotal focus is on the deep observation of human connection or in this case familial connection in such tumultuous situations.

I really loved how varied each of these stories were, one a very gothic and eerie story with a girl with memory loss taking shelter with a person called Notpla whose intentions are never clear, another a dizzying and political, yet a dystopic view of a society where refugees are killed by Machines and the other two historical stories about people running from countries to return to their ancestral places.

And finally I loved how in the book there is a sense of grayness in all the stories which I think is brilliantly reflected in the cover.

THE DOLLS by Ursula Scavenius, translated from the Danish by Jennifer Russell. Published by Lolli Editions. A huge thanks to Denise at Lolli Editions for the copy of the title.

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Jonas Eika’s AFTER THE SUN: Weird yet radical literature

Danish writer Jonas Eika’s AFTER THE SUN, remarkably translated by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg and published by Lolli Editions is an extremely wild collection of stories. Reading this title was quite an experience, I must say.

There are utter weird things happening throughout the book like a homoerotic relationship between two strangers, but not in a sexual way but with the bond over technology, a grieving character merging with an extraterrestrial machine, characters turning into animals and various other things.

What I loved about it is that this isn’t weird for the sake of thrill but every one of Eika’s story is a penetrating comment on modern world, capitalism, nature and technology.

Despite being fantastical and having some sci-fi elements to it, these stories surprisingly seem to have a realistic quality to it.

The book is brilliantly translated by capturing all the weirdness and its qualities in an amazing way by not truly seeming like a translated title.

That’s why I think it’s great that it’s important to radicalise literature, there’s so much you can accomplish with unusual perspectives and this author and translator has proven it through weirdness in this title.

AFTER THE SUN – Jonas Eika. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg. Published by Lolli Editions. A huge thanks to Denise at Lolli for providing a copy for review of this title.

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Arifa Akbar’s CONSUMED: Personal and deeply moving memoir

Arifa Akbar’s 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize longlisted book CONSUMED is a deeply personal memoir about her elder sister Fauzia, who died of tuberculosis in 2016.

Yet the striking thing about this memoir is that it’s not just about one thing. It takes into account the family migration of Arifa’s family from Lahore to London, mental illness, art, grief and sisterhood. Arifa has mixed all these personal themes to create a beautiful and moving book.

Brilliantly structured and beautifully written, Arifa takes us to her sister’s deathbed to her family in Lahore to the resting place of John Keats.

The book makes one bring all ones emotions to understand her sister Fauzia. From the very beginning we know that something’s not right with her life and Arifa writes about her sister’s childhood and adulthood supporting that.

This is not a sugary book sisterhood but author very honestly also showcases the complex relationship between them. In the end I thought it was an incredibly touching memoir about sisterhood.

CONSUMED A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar. Published by Sceptre. A huge thanks to Sceptre for providing a review copy of this title.

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Patrick Mackie’s MOZART IN MOTION – Sentences like Sonatas

Patrick Mackie’s title Mozart in Motion, Published by Granta isn’t a traditional biography, where generally you are promised an arc. Mackie here takes a different approach where he focuses on Mozart’s specific period of life that is referenced in his musical pieces. The author did cut all the slack and focused only on essential parts and that is presented brilliantly here.

Divides into three parts, the book is finely structured and at the start of every chapter there’s a musical piece mentioned which is useful. The complex information about the musical piece gets very clearer while listening to it and truly it’s an unusual thing to say but I have read the whole book listening to these pieces and enjoyed it tremendously.

The author very cleverly moves from the personal and intimate life of Mozart and musical journey (from Salzburg to Paris to Vienna) and to broader scope of that time period by showing the values and hardships of art in the Eighteenth century Europe.

The book is very insightful on the European society and their behaviour or perception of music and opera and art in general. Mackie commentates on Mozart’s aberration of the musical art form by pushing the boundaries of music by bringing some controversial themes (for that time period) in the book.

So Mackie with his beautiful gifted hands as a poet gives us a fresh take on Mozart’s work and the world around him which influenced his music.

MOZART IN MOTION His Work and his world in pieces by Patrick Mackie. Published by GRANTA

A huge thanks to Pru Rowlandson at Granta for review copy of this title.

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Zyranna Zateli’s AT TWILIGHT THEY RETURN: Epic Greek Saga

Zyranna Zateli is regarded as one of the best writers in her native Greece. Her novel At twilight they return, translated into English by David Conolly is an extremely ambitious multigenerational family saga combining myth, magic but also taking into consideration history of that period.

The book is structured brilliantly in the form of ten tales. Each tale is an account of the life of particular member of family. The most interesting thing is that these tales are not in chronological order, but in an uneven form.

It’s extremely hard to describe the scope of this book because it’s something you can’t describe but have to be immersed in this epic saga full of uncountable characters. It is an incredibly immersive read.

What’s the most strongest part of this novel is it’s narrative voice. The voice of the omniscient narrator is what drives and connects all these tales wonderfully well.

The writing and translation by David Conolly is beautifully lyrical, poetic and clear, irrespective of the fact that the matter covered in this book is incredibly wide, which sometimes happen while translation. The rhythm is equally strong in all these tales throughout the book.

Zyranna Zateli has created characters that get inside your head and story that is remarkably immersive and now I can see why this book is considered masterpiece in Greek literature.

AT TWO THEY RETURN – Zyranna Zateli. Translated from the Greek by David Conolly.

A huge thanks to Yale University Press UK for giving me a copy of this title for review.

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Best of Literature 2021

2021 was a year full of literary adventures full of surprises, writers of tremendous ambition, inventive skills and experimentation with form. Some books created a very deep impact on me and there were many that were good but quite honestly forgettable. So here are the ten books that impressed me the most (in no particular order)

Cal Flyn’s ISLANDS OF ABANDONMENT was my favourite non fiction title of the year which really surprised me with its Optimistic Nature writing.

Daisy Lafarge’s debut PAUL is a beautifully written novel with a dense, deep and visceral account of a young woman’s toxic relationship on a holiday in Southern France.

Both Booker International Prize and Booker Prize winners were truly outstanding and deserving of their work. David Diop’s AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK with the most lyrical and rhythmic translation by Anna Moschovakis is a harrowing portrait of madness in war. Damon Galgut’s THE PROMISE is a master of form and really pushes the form in new ways with a story of a white South African family over a decade.

Sally Rooney returned this year with her incredible new novel BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU, no one can write about contemporary relationships like her.

Nadifa Mohamed’s historical novel THE FORTUNE MEN tells the story of miscarriage of justice in Cardiff, which tackles really important issues of racism and injustice.

Out of all the memoirs Alice Hattrick’s deeply personal memoir ILL FEELINGS about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome stood out, which is remarkably beautifully written.

Danish writer Olga Ravn’s science fiction novel THE EMPLOYEES, translated by Martin Aitken is my favourite discovery of 2021. It’s an incredibly moving novel, truly unlike anything else.

German writer Judith Schalansky’s AN INVENTORY OF LOSSES, amazingly translated by Jackie Smith, is truly a cabinet of curiosities as in a way it looks at loss and change in a very eloquent way.

And finally Rachel Cusk’s novel SECOND PLACE is a masterwork. Her words are unlike anyone else.