Books I have read in 2022

This has been a bumper year for books! I have really enjoyed exploring new works by familiar authors, as well as some by writers new to me. Here’s my rundown of some of the titles I’ve found particularly exciting in 2022 – have you read any of them? Let me know if you do, and what you think of them – there’s very little I like more than talking about books!

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

This was a simply wonderful book! Bonnie Garmus’s novel tells the story of brilliant chemist Elizabeth Zott, battling against sexism and social prejudice in 1960s America. Along the way, she accidentally becomes a hugely popular – if reluctant – TV chef with her show Supper at Six, as well as a rower and a mother. The novel also features the most amazing canine character I’ve ever read about.

The novel deals with themes of grief, identity, and a search for truth, all in an arch, wry style which keeps a vein of light in amongst the darkness. The odds are stacked against her – but Elizabeth Zott never gives up.

Gone by Michael Grant

I love a good young adult dystopia, and Michael Grant’s Gone series had me gripped this summer. Set in the fictional town of Perdido Beach, California, the story begins when, without warning, the town is suddenly surrounded by an impenetrable dome which seals it off from the outside world. Inside the dome, every person over the age of 15 has vanished – “gone.”

What follows is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, as the young people attempt to survive without adult supervision. But there’s a sci-fi twist, as several of the young people begin to develop strange superpowers – the ability to cancel gravity, to create visions, to heal, to teleport and to shoot light from their hands. Are the powers and the dome connected? And what lurks at the bottom of the abandoned mine?

Michael Grant doesn’t pull any punches in the pages that follow. His unflinching style takes in mental health issues, violence, religion and sex; and although it’s a young adult series, there are some horrific moments of brutality and gore. If you can manage those moments, it’s a thought-provoking, page-turning read. I enjoyed it – and devoured the other five books in the series (Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear and Light) as hungrily as a flesh-eating caterpillar.

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara’s previous novel, A Little Life, is one of the most unforgettable books I have ever read. I was really excited to read her follow-up, To Paradise – and although I wasn’t sure what to expect, it certainly wasn’t this! The novel tells three separate stories, all set in and around the same building in Washington Square Park, in Greenwich Village, New York. The stories – set in fictionalised and imagined versions of America in 1893, 1993 and 2093 – all feature characters with the same names, weaving themes of love, loyalty and family through the ages.

It’s a novel of breath-taking ambition and scope. The characters didn’t quite land as memorably as those from A Little Life, and I found the fact that they were all called the same names a bit confusing. Having said that, the story was compelling and bold, and the sheer imagination of the invented pasts and future was staggering.

Fire and Blood by George RR Martin

I am a big Game of Thrones fan – both the books and the TV series (except the last season – the less said about that the better). I was very excited about the new House of the Dragon TV series this autumn, and stole this book from my eldest son to try and catch up on the history of Westeros from the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror, through the Dance of the Dragons and beyond.

The story is told through the voice of an imaginary maester of the Citadel, attempting to piece together the history from sources of various reliability and bias. This is almost as much fun as the story itself, with its dragonlords and warrior queens, scheming, intrigue and corruption. The narrative voice gives an extra layer of realism to Martin’s fantasy world, and you still find yourself rooting for the various horrible (and occasionally not-so-horrible) characters who live there.

I found myself reading along with the events of House of the Dragon, and enjoyed both the book and series equally fantastic.

Pine by Francine Toon

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I didn’t know the writer (I later discovered this is her debut novel) but my daughter had read an extract and I was intrigued. I was rewarded with a spooky ghost story, coupled with a murder mystery, set in the freezing, snowy wilds of the Scottish highlands.

The story is told through the eyes of Lauren, a young girl trying to manage the trials of growing up. She lives with her father, Niall, who has turned to drink in the absence of Lauren’s mother, who disappeared a decade earlier.

Mysterious figures appear and vanish, doors lock and unlock, and stones arrange themselves into patterns. When a local teenager goes missing, the mysteries and secrets in this small rural community assume a frightening urgency.

I found this story haunting and compelling in equal measure. I’ll look out for what Toon writes next!

The Promise by Damon Galgut

I always like to see what the Booker Prize judges see in the novels on their shortlist – and especially those they choose to win each year. Damon Galgut’s The Promise was a gem of a read. The novel spans four decades as the Swart family gather for four successive funerals at their farmstead in Pretoria, South Africa. Ma Swart, the mother of the white family, makes a promise to the black woman who has served her family on her deathbed – that she will own the house and land she has lived in. As the years roll by, and South Africa changes in the background, death takes further members of the family and the promise goes unfulfilled.

The younger memories of the family, Anton and Amor, reject the old, racially segregated South Africa their white family stands for, breaking with the past with a determination to right the wrongs of their predecessors.

What struck me most about this novel was the free-flowing prose style, which flows and follows the thoughts of the characters in twisting flights of fancy and imagination. The plot frequently hangs suspended and unresolved as the characters’ thoughts take us on pages-long detours – but, in the end, it is Amor’s story that stayed with me.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet was one of my favourite reads of 2021, so I was really looking forward to her next novel when I unwrapped it on my birthday this September. This novel, set in Renaissance Italy, is shaped around the lady described by the callous and powerful Duke in the Robert Browning poem “My Last Duchess.” O’Farrell wonders who this Duchess might have been, how did she end up being the Duke’s “last” Duchess, and who painted this portrait that now hangs, behind a curtain, in his gallery?

The result is a compelling character – Lucrezia – herself a gifted artist, whose impassioned and ferocious inner life is rendered all the more powerful by the fact that she has to hide it to survive, before and after her marriage to Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. She is an unreliable narrator, so you are always left wondering whether her perception of events and characters around her is accurate or not, as she is never in possession of the full picture.

I found O’Farrell’s style in this novel even more spectacular than her previous work, with the passages early in the book describing Lucrezia’s wedding some of the most stunning I have read this year. The narrative is controlled with a subtlety and deftness of touch of a true genius, the imagery is rich and layered, and I could feel the heat of the seventeenth century Italian sun beating up at me off the pages. Brilliant.