Which ones have you read?
THE GO-BETWEEN BY OSMAN YOUSEFZADA
I read this book at the beginning of the year and I can honestly say (and surely this is the mark of a good book, if ever there was one) that it changed the way I look at the world; and at Britain, specifically. Written by Osman Yousefzada who up until this book was best known for his work as a designer and an artist, The Go-Between: A Portrait of Growing Up Between Different Worlds details his memories growing up in a Pashtun community in the middle of a red-light district in Birmingham during the 1980s and 1990s. It’s fascinating; sometimes humorous, sometimes harrowing, but always beautifully and evocatively written. One of my colleagues, Sophie McElligott, rather brilliantly wrote that, “What Elena Ferrante does for Italy, Yousefzada’s The Go-Between does for Immigrant Britain” – and I can’t think of a better summation than that. It’s amazing. (TS)
FUCCBOI BY SEAN THOR CONROE
Look, I don’t enjoy admitting that my favourite book of 2022 is a novel titled Fuccboi, any more than you enjoy hearing it. And maybe my love of the book does have something to do with some weirdly precise parallels between myself and its protagonist: a young man with a love for Sheila Heti, a chronic skin condition, and a so-far-unrealised dream of publishing a novel. Nevertheless... Sean Thor Conroe’s autofiction is undeniably addictive. Its slang-centric prose style drags the reader through an exploration of contemporary masculinity and the gig economy, and spits them out into a “Works Cited” list featuring Eileen Myles, Nietzsche, and Lil B. Yes, there was controversy surrounding Fuccboi’s release, but that’s no bad thing. As Conroe told Dazed at the start of the year: “I don’t want all this noise, but it seems having all this energy around the book is good for books.” (TW)
Read our interview with Sean Thor Conroe here.
EVERYONE IS AWFUL BY NATALYA LOBANOVA
This year has been a lot, so I haven’t been reading much. Thankfully for anyone else with absolutely no energy, Everyone is Awful by the legendary Natalya Lobanova consists mostly of line drawings illustrating how terrible life can be but in an easily digestible format. You’ll go in thinking “everything sucks, what’s the point?” but come out feeling like everything sucks but at least it’s not just happening to me. It’s like an extended version of this tweet:
Me (young, naive); I hope something good happens
Me (now): I hope whatever bad thing happens is at least funny
I’M A FAN BY SHEENA PATEL
A hilarious, sickening, and totally compulsive read. I’ve been evangelical this year in my commitment to make as many people as possible read Sheena Patel’s celebrated debut novel. I’m A Fan [Rough Trade] remains totally disarming and tender while continually giving way to the protagonist’s vainest, darkest, and most brutal, self-sabotaging impulses (which you will struggle not to identify with, I’m afraid). (ED)
Read our interview with Sheena Patel here.
MY PHANTOMS BY GWENDOLINE RILEY
My Phantoms follows the dysfunctional relationship between Bridget and her mother, the lonely and perpetually dissatisfied Helen, whose characterisation is at times excruciatingly funny. She slips into “her Italian restaurant owner accent” while attempting to seduce an uninterested married man (“we gotta the radishes, we gotta the nuts!”) At one point, Bridget reports, “she was even more cheerful later on that night when she told me how a woman in her aqua aerobic class had died.” She speaks almost entirely in cliches (like muttering “once more unto the breach!’” as she struggles to finish an artisanal salad), which Riley somehow manages to elevate into some of the sharpest dialogue I’ve ever read.
Helen is a tragicomic grotesque, to the point that when I recommended the novel to my mum I felt compelled to clarify, “I’m not trying to imply this character is like you or anything btw!!!’ And yet, in a sense… All Mums Are Helens. Everyone I know who read this book came away from it reflecting on their own relationship with their mother, or even feeling implicated by it (Bridget is herself unlikely to be crowned daughter of the year.) Riley’s writing is biting and laugh-out-loud funny, but what makes this novel remarkable is that it still ends up being so poignant. (JG)
POOR LITTLE SICK GIRLS BY IONE GAMBLE
This one is co-signed by both me and Hatti. The long-awaited first book by Ione Gamble, founding editor-in-chief of Polyester zine, did not disappoint when it was released this summer. It’s a refreshing salve after all the “empowering”, lean in, girlboss choice feminism nonsense that has been dominating women’s literature for the last few years. Here, Gamble prods, probes and skewers a range of subjects – from wellness and social media, to class and the internet. As the Polyester podcast has proven over the last 12 months, there’s no one doing cultural criticism quite like Gamble. (DS)
Read our interview with Ione Gamble here.
DIEGO GARCIA BY NATASHA SOOBRAMANIEN AND LUKE WILLIAMS
“This is the story of a book we are still writing”, reads the opening line of Diego Garcia, the collaborative novel by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams. In Edinburgh, we meet two writers, Damaris and Oliver Pablo, who spend most of their time languishing in a writerly fog, talking books, bitcoin and charity shop steals. They meet the poet Diego Garcia, who teaches them about his mother’s native land which he is named after – an island in the Chagos Archipelago, just south of the Maldives. Damaris and Oliver learn of how the Chagos people were illegally banished from their homes by British soldiers in 1973, and become obsessed with their plight. Diego’s presence as a character is brief, but he makes an indelible mark on the narrative. After he is gone, Damaris attempts to write his story, but questions the ethics of recounting a tale that isn’t your own.
Reading Diego Garcia is unlike any other experience. An abstract blend of intersecting narratives, non-fiction asides, indulgent email chains and stories within stories all collide to produce a speculative work of fiction, about how fleeting encounters can change the trajectories of our lives. (EH)
YOUNG MUNGO BY DOUGLAS STUART
Young Mungo is bleak – a lot of the time I found my hand drifting towards my eyes, to try and shield myself from the horror – but it never feels gratuitous. There’s a lot of love and hope in here too, shimmering away in some of the most unexpected places. The novel takes place in 90s Glasgow and follows the star-crossed romance between closeted teen Mungo (a protestant) and his sensitive neighbour James (a Catholic). They dream of escaping the suffocating dread and relentless violence of their poverty-stricken neighbourhood – but will they ever get the chance? You’ll be so invested even after the first few sentences, you’ll need to find out. (DS)
TENANTS BY VICKY SPRATT
Tenants charts the diabolical state of housing in Britain, written by the i’s brilliant housing correspondent, Vicky Spratt. Tenants doesn’t hit you round the head with a gazillion dispassionately-listed facts and figures, nor is it full of unnecessarily complicated housing jargon – instead, it invites you into the world of Britain’s renters, painting a vivid picture of their plight in the process. Take Limarra, the single mum evicted from her home in Peckham. Or Henry, the young graduate priced out of renting in his home city of Bristol. Using their stories as starting points, Spratt carefully untangles the thorny mess of the housing crisis, explaining how we got here, who exactly is impacted (spoiler alert: it’s not just middle-class millennials and Gen Z), and how we can build a fairer society with shelter for all. (SS)
Read our interview with Vicky Spratt here.
NOTES ON HEARTBREAK BY ANNIE LORD
Vogue dating columnist Annie Lord’s debut, Notes on Heartbreak, is a visceral yet funny recollection of the breakdown of her five-year-relationship, told in her distinctive, lyrical style (“It’s there on the 11.15 North Eastern service that I feel my heart break [...] something in my chest snaps; the separate halves of it drift apart like rubbish in the ocean caught by two different tides”). It’s difficult to write about experiences as complex as love and heartbreak without sounding either cheesy or melodramatic, but somehow, Lord nails it. Anyone who’s ever been unceremoniously dumped will find themselves furiously underlining the book’s most resonant passages (which is basically the whole thing). (SS)
STRANGERS TO OURSELVES BY RACHEL AVIV
This is a really affecting book, and one that anyone with even the faintest interest in mental health should read (which after the last few years is probably everyone). Written by New Yorker staff writer Rachel Aviv, it’s a series of in-depth character studies – meticulous, moving portraits of people, from all walks of life, who have experienced some kind of struggle with their mental health. The book doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it does raise a lot of questions about the way we categorise, respond to, and treat our psychological distress. After all, humans are far more complex than even modern medicine can grasp – and this book is a compassionate tribute to that complexity. (DS)