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My favourite books of 2021

Happy New Year everyone! I know we’re all hoping that 2022 will be see us get back to some degree of normality after the turmoil of this last year. But before we get stuck into a new reading year, I wanted to look back over the past 12 months.

I read 65 books in total in 2021, which is a higher figure than it’s been for nine years so I’m dead chuffed about that. Even more delightful was the fact these books were written by authors from 23 different countries (26 if I counted the home nations of the UK as separate countries)

Thirteen books were published in 2021. I don’t normally rush out to get newly published books but one of the members in our walking group who does keep a close eye on new issues, kept telling me about all these wonderful new titles. So of course I got tempted.

My 2021 reading year wasn’t all new stuff though. I made a conscious effort this year to read more of the books I already own, the ones that have been stuck on the shelves yearning to be picked out. I could have joined any number of challenges but decided to come up with my own. #21in21 was a project in which I planned to read 21 books from my TBR by Dec 31. I smashed this by reading 30 books purchased before 2021.

Which of these books made the most impression on me? Here are my top 10, in alphabetical order of author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my review (some are yet to be reviewed.).

The Mission House by Carys Davies

A wonderfully subtle novel by Welsh author Carys Davies about a lonely man adrift in the modern world, who seeks refuge in an Indian hill station. The novel contains a darker thread about the continuing legacy of British imperialism in India.

Twelve Nights by Urs Faes

Twelve Nights is a superbly atmospheric novella of a man’s journey through a snow-laden valley in search of peace and reconciliation. Urs Faes’ tale is a mere 84 pages long yet the emotional depth he conveys is extraordinary.

Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley

From Australia comes an artfully constructed novella that blends comedy with pathos as it relates the story of a lonely spinster who gets swept along by a fictional world. This is a novel that’s so good, I’ve read it twice.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

It’s months since I read this book but Shamsie’s narrative is still resonating with me. She shows the personal and political fall out after a young British man is groomed by ISIS. His involvement with terrorism causes international tension, a break down in sisterly love and the collapse of the career hopes of a high-powered politician. Terrific.

Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor

My stand out book of the year. it begins as if it’s an adventure novel where a tragedy occurs at an Arctic exploration station. But McGregor turns this into a thought-provoking narrative that shows both the limitations of language and the potential of other forms of communication. 

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

This debut novel portrays the consequences of one ill-considered Facebook post at a time when India is reeling from a terrorist attack on a train. The young girl arrested as a perpetrator hopes two people who know her will come to her aid. But her former teacher has political ambitions and the hijra she taught to read, dreams of becoming a film star. Majumdar’s novel is an engrossing novel that considers questions of justice and loyalty.

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Malouf’s fascinating tale reflects a clash of cultures and the fear of the unknown. It’s a story of a young English cabin boy who is abandoned in Australia. He is raised by a group of indigenous people but then attempts to move back in the world of Europeans. To them he is a force that both fascinates and repels.

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

Mohamed’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel is set in Tiger Bay, a part of Cardiff which was, in the 1950s, a cultural melting pot near the city’s docks. It’s a fictionalised account of a real life case of injustice; the wrongful imprisonment and execution of a Somali seaman who was the last man to be hanged in Cardiff prison. Though we know how his story ends, the final chapters of the book are still a shock.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Dystopian fiction isn’t my thing so I wouldn’t have read this book but for the fact it was the book club choice. It was the most unsettling novel I’ve read in many years; a completely engrossing narrative of a world whose inhabitants are controlled by an unknown force that causes objects and the memory of them to disappear. It’s a profound tale about memory and existence.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

This was my final book read in 2021 and what an unexpected joy it turned out to be. Von Arnim blends humour and sensuous descriptions of nature in her story of four women who rent a mediaeval castle on the Italian Riveria. Seduced by the Mediterranean spirit, they gradually shed their skins and discover a harmony each of them has longed for but never known.

What have you discovered this year? I’d love to know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of the books on my list?

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