I thought it might be fun to share the list of 20 books I plan on reading in 2020. Most of these are books that have been confined to my shelves for too long, but some are books which have caught my eye on Instagram and others which I am waiting patiently to be released (alongside the ones mentioned in this article).
1. Alia Trabucco Zeran - The Remainder
Set in Santiago, Chile, a city is covered in ash, three children of ex-militants are facing a past they can neither remember nor forget. Felipe sees dead bodies on every corner of the city, counting them up in an obsessive quest to square these figures with the official death toll. He is searching for the perfect zero, a life with no remainder. Iquela and Paloma, too, are searching for a way to live on. When the body of Paloma's mother is lost in transit, the three take a hearse and a bottle of pisco up the cordillera for a road trip with a difference.
2. Anna Burns - Milkman
After my Mum raved about this book last year I had to add it to my TBR. At the book’s heart, a teenager – whose only means of escape is literature – is slowly ground down by the unwanted attentions and creeping psychopathy of a paramilitary many years her senior. This is the secret state, a place where gossip and hearsay are weaponised methods of control, contained in a novel written with both a sad humour and a certain kind of fury. Eschewing mention of Belfast and cloaking every character in nameless anonymity, this is contemporary history rewritten as dystopia, where power and fear are wrought by rumour and half-truth.
3. Sayaka Murata - Earthlings
From the author of the quietly spectacular Convenience Store Woman comes a new novel featuring a young woman who is convinced she is an alien. Published October 2020.
4. Jacqueline Harpman - I Who Have Never Known Men
Deep underground, thirty-nine women live imprisoned in a cage. Watched over by guards, the women have no memory of how they got there, no notion of time, and only a vague recollection of their lives before. As the burn of electric light merges day into night and numberless years pass, a young girl - the fortieth prisoner - sits alone and outcast in the corner. Soon she will show herself to be the key to the others' escape and survival in the strange world that awaits them above ground.
5. Lucie McKnight Hardy - Water Shall Refuse Them
Set during the heatwave of 1976 and following the accidental drowning of her sister, sixteen-year-old Nif and her family move to a small village on the Welsh borders to escape their grief. But rural seclusion doesn't bring any relief. As her family unravels, Nif begins to put together her own form of witchcraft - collecting talismans from the sun-starved land. That is, until she meets Mally, a teen boy who takes a keen interest in her, and has his own secret rites to divulge. With tones of Sarah Moss' Ghost Wall this one has really peaked my interest.
6. Lisa Taddeo - Three Women
All Lina wanted was to be desired. How did she end up in a marriage with two children and a husband who wouldn't touch her? All Maggie wanted was to be understood. How did she end up in a relationship with her teacher and then in court, a hated pariah in her small town? All Sloane wanted was to be admired. How did she end up a sexual object of men, including her husband, who liked to watch her have sex with other men and women? Three Women is a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions.
7. Chia-Chia Lin - The Unpassing
In Lin's debut novel, The Unpassing, we are introduced to a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and contractor, while the loving, strong-willed, unpredictably emotional mother holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes a week later to learn that his younger sister, Ruby, was infected too. She did not survive. With prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Chia-Chia Lin explores the fallout from the loss of a child and a family's anguish playing out in a place that doesn't yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the myth of the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately profound, reality.
8. Toni Morrison - Sula
One of my reading resolutions for this year was to read more of Morrison's novel and this is where I am going to start. As young girls, Nel and Sula shared each other's secrets and dreams in the poor black mid-West of their childhood. Then Sula ran away to live her dreams and Nel got married. Ten years later Sula returns and no one, least of all Nel, trusts her. Sula is a story of fear - the fear that traps us, justifying itself through perpetual myth and legend. Cast as a witch by the people who resent her strength, Sula is a woman of uncompromising power, a wayward force who challenges the smallness of a world that tries to hold her down.
9. Ottessa Moshfegh - Death in Her Hands
A woman comes across a note in the woods in this suspenseful novel from the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Published April 2020.
10. Carmen Maria Machado - In the Dream House
In the Dream House is Machado's engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing experience with a charismatic but volatile woman, this is a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Each chapter views the relationship through a different lens, as Machado holds events up to the light and examines them from distinct angles. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction, infusing all with her characteristic wit, playfulness and openness to enquiry.
11. Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes's spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes's story begins to emerge and with it the family's terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed. Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we're told.
12. Leila Aboulela - Elsewhere, Home
Aboulela's Elsewhere, Home offers us a rich tableau of life as an immigrant abroad, attempting to navigate the conflicts of assimilation and difference in an unfamiliar world. A young woman's encounter with a former classmate elicits painful reminders of her former life in Khartoum. A wealthy Sudanese student in Aberdeen begins an unlikely friendship with a Scottish man. A woman experiences an evolving relationship to her favourite writer, whose portrait of their shared culture both reflects and conflicts with her own sense of identity. Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss and alienation that come with leaving one's homeland in pursuit of a different life.
13. Rachel Cusk - Coventry
Cusk's Coventry offers new insights on the themes at the heart of her life's work. Encompassing memoir and cultural and literary criticism, with pieces on gender, politics and writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Olivia Manning and Natalia Ginzburg, this collection is essential reading for our age: fearless, unrepentantly erudite, both startling and rewarding to behold. The result is a cumulative sense of how the frank, deeply intelligent sensibility - so evident in her stories and novels - reverberates in the wider context of Cusk's literary process. I really enjoyed Outline so I'm looking forward to exploring some more of Cusk's writing.
14. Silvina Ocampo - Thus Were Their Faces
Thus Were Their Faces offers a comprehensive selection of the short fiction of Silvina Ocampo. There are tales of doubles and impostors, angels and demons, a marble statue of a winged horse that speaks, a beautiful seer who writes the autobiography of her own death, a lapdog who records the dreams of an old woman, a suicidal romance, and much else that is incredible, mad, sublime, and delicious.
15. Bernice L. McFaddenn - Praise Song for the Butterflies
Abebe Tsikata lives a comfortable, happy life in West Africa as the privileged 9-year-old daughter of a government employee and stay-at-home mother. But when the Tsikatas' idyllic lifestyle takes a turn for the worse, Abebe's father, following his mother's advice, places her in a religious shrine, hoping that the sacrifice of his daughter will serve as religious atonement for his ancestors' crimes. Unspeakable acts befall Abebe for the 15 years she's enslaved within the shrine. When she's finally rescued, broken and battered, she must struggle to overcome her past, endure the revelation of family secrets, and learn to trust and love again.
16. Jesmyn Ward - Sing, Unburied, Sing
An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power - and limitations - of family bonds. Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children's father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. When the children's father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
17. Ruth Ozeki - A Tale for the Time Being
In the wake of the 2011 tsunami, Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home in British Columbia. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes, heartbreak and dreams of a young girl desperate for someone to understand her. Each turn of the page pulls Ruth deeper into the mystery of Nao's life, and forever changes her in a way neither could foresee. Weaving across continents and decades, A Tale for the Time Being is an extraordinary novel about our shared humanity and the search for home.
18. Sophie Mackintosh - Blue Ticket
The follow-up to Mackintosh’s eerie debut The Water Cure is set in a world where motherhood is decided by lottery. This was one of my favourite books of 2018 so I'm looking forward to see what Mackintosh has in store for us next. Published June 2020.
19. Emma Timpany - Travelling in the Dark
In the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, Sarah travels back to her home town with her young son. Delays and diversions take Sarah on an emotional journey as she's forced to return to well-known places echoing with painful memories from her youth. Set in the wild, beautiful and unreliable landscape of southern New Zealand, Timpany's novella is an evocative story of a woman coming to terms with her past and forging a brighter future
20. Louise Erdrich - The Round House
A mother is brutally raped by a man on their North Dakota reservation where she lives with her husband and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. Traumatized and afraid, she takes to her bed and refuses to talk to anyone - including the police. While her husband, a tribal judge, endeavours to wrest justice from a situation that defies his keenest efforts, young Joe's world shifts on its child's axis. Confused, and nursing a complicated fury, Joe sets out to find answers that might put his mother's attacker behind bars - and make everything right again. Or so he hopes.