A Year in Books, Asian American, Big Red, Daniel Wiles, Dawn, Four Treasures of the Sky, Ireland, Jenny Tinghui Zhang, Jerome Charyn, Jill Dawson, Josephine Johnson, Kate Atkinson, Kate Meyrick, Leïla Slimani, Louise Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Maureen Freely, Mercia's Take, Michelle Morgan, Now in November, Ocean State, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Roaring Twenties, Sevgi Soysal, Shrines of Gaiety, Stewart O'Nan, The Bewitching, The Country of Others, Trespasses, Turkey, When Marilyn Met the Queen, Witches of Warboys
I read Kate Atkinson’s first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, back in the late 1990s; and finally returned to her this year with Shrines of Gaiety, a Roaring Twenties romp loosely inspired by the rackety life of London’s ‘Queen of Nightclubs,’ Kate Meyrick. I was pleased to note that Atkinson’s dry wit remains intact.
Thanks to a certain reality TV star’s vanity cosplay, and an execrable Netflix biopic, the 60th anniversary of Marilyn’s passing was far from vintage – and with parallel timing, Elizabeth II’s long reign also ended this year. Fortunately, Monroe biographer Michelle Morgan’s latest book, When Marilyn Met the Queen, is a worthy tribute to both women, and perhaps her strongest effort to date.
Following a short story collection, Louise Kennedy’s first novel, Trespasses, births a tender love story amid the rancour and chaos of Greater Belfast at the height of the Troubles.
Published in 2021, Leïla Slimani’s The Country of Others begins a thrilling trilogy tracing Morocco’s journey from colony to independence, with a second instalment due in 2023.
In 1935, 24-year-old Josephine Johnson became the youngest winner of the Pulitzer Prize – a record unmatched to this day. Reissued this year, Now in November is a Dust Bowl saga to rival John Steinbeck, unfurling like The Grapes of Wrath by way of the Brontë sisters.
With Mercia’s Take, debut novelist Daniel Wiles forges a Victorian parable as a coal-miner faces a race to the death to save his family.
East Anglian author Jill Dawson once again shows her flair for dramatising historic events in The Bewitching, based on the tragic 1593 case of the ‘Witches of Warboys,’ which anticipated decades of English witch-hunting to come.
Another debut novelist, Jenny Tinghui Zhang travels from China to San Francisco and the Old West, in a young girl’s battle for survival played out beneath the Four Treasures of the Sky.
Hollywood fictions seldom measure up to the unbelievable truth, but Jerome Charyn’s Big Red, revisiting the wartime romance of outcast genius Orson Welles and reluctant siren Rita Hayworth, proves a riveting exception.
In his latest novel, Ocean State, Stewart O’Nan navigates the entwined fates of four women searching for love amid the class and racial strictures of contemporary Rhode Island.
And finally, Dawn – the powerful, autobiographical 1975 novel by Turkish dissident writer Sevgi Soysal – was reissued this year in a new translation from Maureen Freely.