Books of the Year 2022: Part One

This year continued the move back towards normality for me. H and I finally managed to take both the holidays abroad we’d booked for 2020 and there was much more socialising and getting out and about. We’re going to the cinema again (easy to lose touch when you don’t see the trailers) but I’ve realised Cover image for Zorrie by Laird Hunt that the world music gigs we enjoyed so much have been scuppered by Brexit. Yet another unwelcome side effect. As for books, as ever, I’ve struggled to get this year’s favourites down to twenty so it will be four posts again, beginning with a long one for the first quarter of the year when we were still hiding from Omicron.

Early in January, I spotted Laird Hunt’s Zorrie on Twitter, its quietly lovely jacket catching my eye and I’m so glad I did. It’s a small gem: the story of a woman’s life, lived simply but well, putting me in mind of Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life. There are echoes of Elizabeth Strout in Hunt’s perceptive characterisation and, like Zorrie, herself, his writing is quietly understated. Hers is a life marked by small tragedies, not unlike the lives of those around her, but it has its rewards. Nature is celebrated in lovely, painterly descriptions as Zorrie observes her farm and its surroundings, marking the seasons. I’d read and very much enjoyed Hunt’s The Evening Road five years ago but Zorrie is a cut above. Cover image for Tides by Sara Freeman

It was its cover that attracted me to Sara Freeman’s Tides, January’s other favourite. Mara has fled after suffering a devastating bereavement, taking a job in a small affluent town’s wine shop. She’s drawn into a relationship with the owner who’s grieving his own loss. That synopsis may sound rather prosaic but it’s the telling of Mara’s story and the complexity of her character that makes this debut stand out, delivered in a series of short paragraphs, most of which barely fill half a page, details of her past emerging often obliquely with little spelled out. I found it extraordinary. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s certainly mine.

Uncharacteristically for me, February’s reading kicked off with a sequel. Twenty years after her brilliant debut, The Cutting Room, Cover image for The Second Cut by Louise Welsh Louise Welsh’s The Second Cut turned out to be just as gripping, starring the unforgettable Rilke, given to dicey sexual encounters in Glasgow parks by night, mixing with morally dubious individuals in his job as an antiquities auctioneer by day. This second outing sees him trying to get to the bottom of a friend’s murder while the Bowrey Auctions Rooms struggles to get back on its feet post-Covid. Just as snarky as I remember him, Rilke’s a pleasingly complex character, inhabiting the shadowy territory that both his risky predilections and his work thrust him into yet troubled by a conscience that won’t let up. I raced through this one.

Daphne Palasi Andreades’ Brown Girls, my second February favourite, is as impressive a debut as Welsh’s The Cutting Room was Cover image for Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades all those years ago. Opening in New York’s working-class Queens where Andreades grew up, it follows the many and varied experiences of brown girls born to parents who’ve arrived in the USA, hoping for a better future for their American kids. Writing in the first-person plural is a risky choice but Andreades carries it off beautifully, underlining both the universality and individuality of brown girls’ experience in poetic, rhythmic language. Not an easy style to describe but it’s extraordinarily effective, summoning up images in a few well-chosen words. I’ve not been so impressed by a debut in some time.

Cover image for Marzhan, Mon Amour by Katja Oskamp I read several enjoyable novels set in Berlin this year my favourite of which was Katja Oskamp’s Marzhan, Mon Amour, a tender, affectionate portrait of a community in the eponymous old East Berlin suburb told through a set of thumbnail sketches of her clients by an unnamed writer turned chiropodist. Every working day our narrator takes the S-Bahn, opens the salon and prepares to meet her clients, all with a story to tell. Once a year, she and her two colleagues enjoy each other’s company at a thermal spa. After four years, our narrator is writing again, fitting brief stints in between her days at the clinic. Oskamp’s novella is an absolute delight, telling the story of this suburb of which our narrator is so proud through the lives of her clients with an empathetic humanity. Cover image for Dance Move by Wendy Erskine

With spring in sight, March’s first favourite is Wendy Erskine’s short story collection, Dance Move, one of several strikingly good books I’ve read by Irish and Northern Irish women this year. Often shot through with a humour that raises a wry smile, Erskine’s stories are snapshots of everyday lives in which characters are faced with a crisis or decision that jolts them, sometimes leaving them irrevocably changed. Quiet stories, unflashy in their brilliance, they make an impression that deepens as they sink in. I found myself thinking about several of them days after I’d read them. Erskine is a regular contributor to The Stinging Fly to which I finally took out a subscription this year, plumping for it as my birthday present from H.

Cover image for Groundskeeping by Lee Cole Rather like both Tides and Zorrie, it was its beautiful cover that first drew me to Lee Cole’s Groundskeeping. It follows Owen, who’s working as groundskeeper in order to pay for his writing course. At a college party he meets Alma, the writer in residence, younger than him but with a short story collection already published. Owen’s days are spent pruning trees, his evenings writing or watching westerns with his grandfather until his colleague invites him to a bar where he sees Alma again and slips into a relationship with her that grows into love despite the many obstacles in their way. I thoroughly enjoyed this quietly accomplished novel which offers an outsider’s view of university life.

March’s third book is Heather Marshall’s Looking for Jane which begins with the chance discovery of a misdelivered letter Cover image for Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall setting the woman who stumbled upon it on a quest to find the addressee. Marshall uses this trigger to explore the underground networks that existed in both Canada and the USA providing safe but illegal abortions before it was decriminalised, following three women, each of whom is connected to the others without knowing it. After several twists and turns, all three women’s narratives are satisfyingly drawn together. Such an immersive, moving story, told so well and sadly relevant given the events in the US later in the year.

Spring’s favourites next which you’ll be relieved to hear is a much shorter post. It begins with another quiet gem with an eye-catching cover which fits it beautifully.

35 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2022: Part One”

  1. I’m so glad I’m not alone in being shallow enough to choose a book by its cover! I’ve found some gems this way, so maybe not so shallow after all. Almost all of these are in our library system, so I’ve reserved or ‘wishlisted’ them, because you’ve made them sound so worth reading – whatever the cover is like!

    1. Covers are so important and publishers so often get them wrong, sadly. The paperback edition of Tides (due in February) is a case in point: same theme but all the subtlely that suits the book so well sucked out of it. Pleased to hear your library has come up trumps!

  2. Never thought about the impact of Brexit on concerts and live music…

    Zorrie and Tides look terrific, and I’ll check out the Oskamp and perhaps file away for next year’s #NovNov.

    1. Nor did I. Kept assuming it was Covid then the penny dropped as new programmes were published. So sad – I was introduced to so many different cultures through it.

      Great choices and they’d definitely fit #NovNov well.

  3. Crikey I’ve not heard of any of these.
    Looking for Jane caught my eye because earlier this year I read Red Clocks by Leni Zumas which also took on added relevance in view of the Supreme Court decision. Zumas imagines that abortion is once again illegal in America and anyone found crossing the border into Canada is immediately sent back with the potential for prosecution and imprisonment

  4. This is a terrible time of the year, trying to avoid the temptations of Best of the Year lists! Several of these sound good but the one that most appeals is Marzahn, Mon Amour. Sounds like an original way to build up a picture of a community.

  5. Groundskeeping was so well written I had an real-life hatred of the main characters. That is PRAISE. They were THAT well written. I’m considering a few of these for next year–esp the Berlin book.

  6. It’s so interesting about the Louise Welsh. I couldn’t get over the strength of the language in The Cutting Room. I will have to get around to The Second Cut, but in the meantime I have a few others of hers on my shelves yet to read. Great list!

  7. Gosh! Time for books of the year already. I look forward to the next three of your posts. I remember your enthusiasm for several of those books earlier this year, and although I haven’t read any of them I am especially drawn to Goundskeeping and Looking for Jane.

  8. Groundskeeping and Marzhan sound very tempting. Very hard at this time of the year not to add lots of titles to one’s list, however hard one tries

  9. Many of these are on my list, but Marzahn is new to me. It sounds great. Peirene books are rare creatures around here, though. But you never know…

    That Tides cover is gorgeous. And it looks so soft!

  10. I’ve got a copy of Dance Move on the shelf, so this is a timely reminder to get to it soon. Like you, I seem to do well with these thoughtful Irish writers, both north and south of the border, so it’s great to see the Erskine in your BOTY list.

  11. I really rated Brown Girls, too – I’m not sure if it will be a Book of the Year yet as I’m not certain how many I’ll allow myself! I haven’t read any of the others but you have a great selection there.

    1. Thanks, Liz. I was so taken with that first person plural narrative which underlined the universality of brown girls’ experience despite their diversity. Hope it makes it on to your list, too!

  12. Pingback: Winding Down and Wrapping Up (Part 1) – findingtimetowrite

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Claire! I think you’d enjoy Zorrie. It’s is quiet little gem. Glad to hear you loved Marzhan. It was written with such warmth and affection for the neighbourhood, wasn’t it.

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