Top 10 Novels of 2020
Throughout the utter weirdness of this year, I have found respite and escapism in reading - and I know I'm not alone. Whilst most industries around the world have been inevitably affected by the dreaded pandemic, the publishing industry seems to have undergone a surge in sales (particularly where e-books are concerned). People in 2020 have been reading, writing, and rediscovering their creativity - to be fair, there hasn't been much else to do.
2020's rollercoaster of events and emotions has at least been kind to my bookshelf, giving me the chance - and, crucially, the time - to read to my heart's content. Although narrowing these stories down to my top 10 was a pleasantly difficult task, I finally managed to compile a list of the novels which most spoke to me this year: the ones which made me sob, made me smile, and made me reconsider the way I look at the world. After all, isn't that what a good book should do?
So, here they are: my top 10 reads of 2020. Let me know whether you agree in the comments below, or over on Instagram!
P.S. A lot of these novels weren't published this year - I just finally got around to reading them.
10. The Girl with the Louding Voice
Abi Daré (@abidare_author)
14-year-old Adunni is a young Nigerian woman who dreams of choosing her own future, and of paving her own path. Instead, she finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage with a man her father chose for her. Realising that she wants more from her life, Adunni runs away to the city, and is determined to follow her dream, get an education, and make her voice heard. The Girl with the Louding Voice is a novel about hope, empowerment, and the power of dreams.
A curious and ingenious marriage between speculative and historical fiction, Jeanette Winterson's Frankissstein jumps between a contemporary-yet-futuristic Britain and 1800s Switzerland, and discusses the way technological advances will influence our own perception of the past. The novel is narrated in part by celebrated author Mary Shelley and modern-day Ry: a transgender doctor who falls in love with professor and scientist Victor Stein. The book's structure is as much a hybrid as its eponymous monster, and causes readers to question the link between humanity and artificial intelligence.
8. Rainbow Milk
The debut novel from writer Paul Mendez, Rainbow Milk manily follows the life of 19-year-old Jesse, who moves to London from his home in the Midlands to escape his strict Jehovah's Witness upbringing. As he comes to terms with his sexuality, Jesse turns to sex work to support himself and his lifestyle. This coming-of-age novel explores the themes of race, sexuality, class, and freedom, and is poetically and bravely written.
7. My Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell (@kateelizabethrussell)
Often dubbed a modern-day Lolita, My Dark Vanessa explores the relationship between a teacher and a young student, and the way this manipulation followed her into her adult life, leaving her with a warped understanding of love and affection. A novel which is as uncomfortable as it is gripping, this book will draw you in, refusing to release you until you have turned the final page.
6. Girl, Woman, Other
Bernardine Evaristo (@bernardineevaristo)
One of the year's most successful books - for good reason - Girl, Woman, Other is a poignant patchwork of stories and lives, which weave together in an incredibly realistic and meaningful way. Following the lives of 12 different characters - mainly Black, mainly female - the novel provides an insightful and very real representation of modern-day Britain, and of the rich tapestry of people which make the country what it is.
5. Exciting Times
Naoise Dolan (@naoisedolan)
A novel which will speak particularly to women in their mid-twenties, Exciting Times is an exploration of adulthood, emotional manipulation, and human relationships. Our narrator is 22-year-old Ava, who leaves Ireland and moves to Hong Kong to teach English in a school. When she arrives, she finds herself swept up by the charm and financial stability of banker Julian; that is, until she meets headstrong, intelligent Edith. Lovers of Sally Rooney will adore this novel.
4. The Great Believers
Rebecca Makkai (@rebeccamakkai)
Fans of Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life will love The Great Believers. This 2019 Carnegie Medal winner is a heart-wrenching novel split between 1980s Chicago and Paris in 2015, drawing readers into the characters and their intertwining stories. The book speaks particularly about the devastating AIDs crisis, and about the long-lasting effects of the disease on so many people.
Normally a self-confessed contemporary lit fanatic, my expectations for this novel were fairly low - but, boy, was I wrong! Inspired by the life of Shakespeare's son, eponymous Hamnet is a historical novel sprinkled with elements of the fantastical, which tackles the difficult subject of loss, family ties, and a broken marriage. O'Farrell's writing is frustratingly beautiful and melodically enigmatic, and will draw you deeply into the lives of her characters.
2. The Heart's Invisible Furies
A beautifully-written novel which paints a detailed and somewhat critical portrait of life in 1970s Catholic Ireland, The Heart's Invisible Furies is heart-wrenching and heart-warming in equal measure. The novel depicts the life of Cyril Avery: a boy who was adopted by a wealthy Irish family after his 16-year-old birth mother had no choice but to abandon him. Thoughout the book, Cyril's friendship with charismatic Julian seems to be the only thing tying him to life in Ireland - but what happens when that friendship begins to change? This novel, written by the author of award-winning The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is a moving exploration of identity, religion, and belonging.
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea
T. J. Klune (@tjklunebooks)
Finally, my absolute favourite novel of 2020 was this feelgood, fantastical story by T. J. Klune. The House in the Cerulean Sea is funny, lighthearted, and moving, whilst simultaneously touching on a number of difficult and essential themes, including: acceptance, open-mindedness, and inclusivity. Lonely social worker Linus lives a solitary existence with just his cat and surly neighbour for company, until he is sent to investigate the children of a somewhat unusual orphanage, opening his eyes to the way his life could be.