Books of the Year 2022: Part Two

At the beginning of April, H and I took ourselves off to Manchester, a city I’d not visited since the ‘80s. Unsurprisingly, it’s changed considerably since then. We Cover image for Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley had a great time exploring and meeting up with two dear friends with not much time for reading.

Plenty of that when we got back, beginning with Ellen Hawley’s Other People Manage whose Anne Tylerish cover suggested a novel about the everyday with a cast of characters you might recognise and a good dollop of insight. It follows Marge who had been with Peg for over twenty years, meeting her in the ‘70s, dancing at the Women’s Coffeehouse long before the advent of gay bars, at least in small town Minnesota. They seemed a mismatched pair – Peg was a post-grad student training to be a therapist, Marge a bus driver – but something clicked on that first night and remained in place until Peg died, leaving Marge unsure how to be in the world. Hawley’s portrait of a woman, laid low with grief, trying to find a way to carry on is poignant and affecting. Cover image for Trespasses by Louise Kennedy

April’s second favourite is also about a couple from very different backgrounds, this time crossing the sectarian divide in ‘70s Northern Ireland. Acclaimed short story writer Louise Kennedy’s first novel, Trespasses, sees a Catholic teacher falling in love with an older man, a prominent barrister, married and a Protestant. Michael’s requests for Cushla to give Irish lessons to him and his friends usher her into the world of the comfortably off, educated Protestant middle class while paving the way to an affair. Kennedy explores the Troubles through a tender love story which echoes the divisions running through Northern Irish society, setting it in County Down where she grew up. A deeply moving novel, but not one that was easy to write, I’m sure.

Cover image for Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso In May, we finally cashed in the Italian holiday we’d booked just days before Covid gripped the country back in 2020. As a result, not much reading was done that month. Just one book stood out and a short and rather bleak one, at that. Set in a small New England town, Sarah Manguso’s Very Cold People sees a woman explore her childhood, brought up by two people desperately ill equipped for the job. Affection is rare, and when it happens isn’t repeated no matter how much Ruth begs for it. School offers some sort of respite with its opportunity to make friends but that doesn’t come easily to her. As the years wear on, Ruth begins to understand why her mother is the way she is and seeks a way out for herself. Written in cool, crisp, clean prose with glimmers of deadpan humour, it’s the antithesis of Ellen Hawley’s Other People Manage but it’s extraordinarily good. Cover image for Spies in Canaan by David Park

Just two June favourites, the first of which, David Park’s Spies in Canaan, is about a man who’s spent his life in the shadow of his brief time in Saigon before its fall in 1975. Michael Miller began his stint in Vietnam sifting intelligence for the CIA. As incursions are made into the city, his language skills attract the attention of Ignatius Donavon, none too fussy about how he extracts intelligence from the enemy. Decades after his escape as the city fell, Michael receives a DVD which leads him to Donovan and the hope of some sort of redemption. An immensely powerful piece of fiction, and a sobering one, particularly given last year’s exit from Afghanistan and this year’s war in Ukraine.

By the middle of June, we were in the midst of a six-week kitchen renovation, washing up in the bathroom for weeks (oh joy) Cover image for Fight Night by Miriam Toews which was also being given a facelift. Not a lot of mental energy left for reading but enough for Miriam Toews’ Fight Night which takes the form of a letter written by nine-year-old Swiv to her father who her grandmother has told her is off fighting fascists. Swiv’s currently following an eccentric home-schooling curriculum overseen by Grandma with whom she and her mother live. Grandma regales Swiv with tales of her family, fighters all of them, then decides it’s time to see her nephews in California, taking Swiv with her. Toews’ novel fizzes with energy and wit but there’s a soberness underpinning it. Swiv is a brilliant narrator, instantly engaging who you’ll be rooting for right to the end.

Part three soon which begins with an impressive debut from a Swedish writer who I hope is busy working on her second novel. If you missed part one and would like to catch up, it’s here.

32 thoughts on “Books of the Year 2022: Part Two”

  1. Hi Susan, This is such a great list, as is Part One. So nice to see intriguing books highlighted that are not the ones everyone else is talking about. I’ve totally lost my WordPress mojo this year so have not been overtly active, but I have been following you posts in the background and always enjoy reading them, thank you. I look forward to Part 3! X

  2. Ha! I was at university in Manchester. These days I can no longer find my way around -at all. You seem despite all your challenges to have read through regardless. Not in the mood for heavy just now, but I’ve put the Sarah Manguso on my library Wishlist, as well as the Miriam Toews. No more house renovations in 2023 I hope? It sounds exhausting!

    1. Nice place to study. My brother was there in the late ’70s. It’s more like Berlin now! The Toews would be a great antidote to the Manguso, and definitely no more renovations for some time.

  3. Spies in Canaan sounds fascinating. I have so much already on my shelves to contend with that I won’t get to that one anytime soon, but what an enjoyable roundup!

  4. Some fascinating sounding books here too. I have a kindle copy of Trespasses waiting and I am very drawn to Fight Night, as I like child narrators if done well.

  5. Spies in Canaan sounds interesting and for some reason seems to have stayed clear of my radar until now. Oh well, just one for the wishlist so I suppose I should be relieved… 😉

  6. I haven’t seen that cover for Fight Night before. It’s a fun one! I loved that book.

    You were busy this year with your travels and renovations!

    1. Me, too! Yes, we were catching up for lost time. The renovations were finally finished yesterday much to my relief. There had been a delay with the last bit. No more for some time to come!

  7. Trespasses was one of my 2022 reading highlights, too. In fact I was slightly disappointed not to see it on the Booker longlist as it felt like that kind of book. Oh, well. Maybe the Women’s Prize for Fiction if it’s eligible based on the pub date?

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