Best books of 2022: Fiction

The Book of Goose
by Yiyun Li, Fourth Estate £16.99/Farrar, Straus & Giroux $28

Inspired by the true (and curiously little-known) story of Berthe Grimault, a 1950s girl from rural France who found fame as a debut author before being revealed as illiterate. Yiyun Li’s compelling and elusory novel uses a similar plotline to explore the deep and disquieting bond that is forged between two teenage school friends.

Book cover of ‘Lessons’

by Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape £20

It’s a far cry from The Cement Garden. With his latest novel, Ian McEwan — known for the raw depravity of his early work — has become almost misty-eyed in old age. But Lessons is a terrifically enjoyable account of how personal and political history intersect through the life of Roland Baines, a failed poet who happens to share several biographical details with the author himself.

Book cover of ‘The Marriage Portrait’

The Marriage Portrait
by Maggie O’Farrell, Tinder Press £25/Knopf $28

Readers expecting the all-consuming poignancy of Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet may feel a little short-changed by her latest novel. But The Marriage Portrait — based on the short and tragic life of the 16th-century Florentine princess Lucrezia de’ Medici — conveys, with cool brilliance, the beauty and barbarity of Renaissance Italy.

Book cover of ‘The Last White Man’

The Last White Man
by Mohsin Hamid, Hamish Hamilton £12.99/Riverhead Books $26

“One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” So begins Mohsin Hamid’s powerful contemporary update of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. For all its dystopian gloom — racial hatred, societal collapse, familial discord — not to mention claustrophobic sentence structure, this is a weirdly uplifting novel.

Book cover of ‘Act of Oblivion’

Act of Oblivion
by Robert Harris, Hutchinson Heinemann £22/Harper $28.99

For his latest historical thriller, Robert Harris turns his attention to the aftermath of the civil wars of the 17th century — and to the manhunt for real-life figures Edward Whalley and William Goffe, wanted for their involvement in the murder of King Charles I, as they flee across North America. “This is by far Harris’s best book since An Officer and a Spy,” according to the FT review.

Book cover of ‘Briefly, A Delicious Life’

Briefly, A Delicious Life
by Nell Stevens, Picador £14.99/Scribner $26.99

Mallorca, 1838. Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer George Sand, together with her two children, have arrived in search of respite and inspiration. Nell Stevens’ account of this bizarre episode in cultural history features storms and sickness — and a narrator in the form of a traumatised teenage ghost — but it is dreamy and sensual, and life-affirming, too.

Books of the Year 2022

All this week, FT writers and critics share their favourites. Some highlights are:

Monday: Business by Andrew Hill
Tuesday: Environment by Pilita Clark
Wednesday: Economics by Martin Wolf
Thursday: Fiction by Laura Battle
Friday: Politics by Gideon Rachman
Saturday: Critics’ choice

Book cover of ‘Best of Friends’

Best of Friends
by Kamila Shamsie, Bloomsbury £16.99/Riverhead $27

Opening in Karachi in 1988, before cutting to London in 2019, Best of Friends considers how political events — from Benazir Bhutto’s election to the recent rise of xenophobia — shape the lives of school friends Maryam and Zahra. If the book becomes a little dry and moralistic towards the end, it is worth reading for the gripping portrayal of female connection early on.

Book cover of ‘Demon Copperhead’

Demon Copperhead
by Barbara Kingsolver, Faber £20/Harper $32.50

Barbara Kingsolver’s updating of David Copperfield — Dickens’ most autobiographical novel — relocates the action to Appalachia to tell the story of an orphaned boy through the prism of the opioid crisis. While Kingsolver’s moralising instincts are clear from the off, Demon Copperhead is nonetheless a vivid — and entertaining — portrait of modern America.

Book cover of ‘Bournville’

by Jonathan Coe, Viking £20/Feltrinelli Editore $15.99

In this affecting generational saga, framed by the pandemic and structured by seven milestone broadcasts, Jonathan Coe — known for his state-of-the-nation novels — once again takes the temperature of Britain. The novel is told through different narrative perspectives, as well as emails and even a concert programme, but these coalesce into a deeply satisfying whole.

Book cover of ‘Trust’

by Hernan Diaz, Picador £16.99/Riverhead $28

A riveting exercise in unreliable narration, Trust tells the story of fictional 1920s Wall Street financier Andrew Bevel and his wife Mildred through four conflicting documents. Alongside the febrile atmosphere of prewar Manhattan, the book conjures myriad questions about wealth and power — and whether it’s possible to control one’s own legacy.

Book cover of ‘Nightcrawling’

by Leila Mottley, Bloomsbury Circus £16.99/Knopf $28

This impressive debut — longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize — by 20-year-old Leila Mottley tells the story of Kiara Johnson, a black Oakland teenager forced onto the streets by circumstances beyond her control. Told in a distinctive first-person narrative, Nightcrawling is inspired by true cases of police sexual abuse, and announces Mottley as a name to watch.

Tell us what you think

What are your favourites from this list — and what books have we missed? Tell us in the comments below

Book cover of ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
by Shehan Karunatilaka, Sort of Books £16.99/WW Norton $18.95

This year’s Booker Prize winner is a genre-defying tale of political subterfuge and murder mystery set during the Sri Lankan civil war. Shehan Karunatilaka’s narrative, which follows Maali Almeida as he emerges from the afterlife to investigate his own brutal death, is both breathtakingly kaleidoscopic and just a little overwrought.

Book cover of ‘The Passenger’
Book cover of ‘Stella Maris’

The Passenger and Stella Maris
by Cormac McCarthy, Picador £20 each/Knopf $30 & $26

You wait 16 years for a Cormac McCarthy novel then two come at once. The Passenger sets off as a hard-boiled thriller, following salvage diver Bobby Western as he investigates a plane crash in early 1980s New Orleans. But before long it’s nosing into quantum physics, F2 racing and Western’s own dark past. Disparate threads are held together throughout by lush, doom-laden prose — and further explored in the follow-up, Stella Maris.

Book cover of ‘Shrines of Gaiety’

Shrines of Gaiety
by Kate Atkinson, Doubleday £20/Knopf $29

The 20s are roaring and London is in thrall to revellers and rogues. Shrines of Gaiety — a mystery focused on the shadowy activities of Soho nightclub owner Nellie Coker — follows an outlandish cast of characters as they criss-cross about town. “This book is sharp, witty and fiendishly plotted,” wrote the FT’s reviewer. “You don’t so much read it as surrender to it.”

For further recommendations, see Summer Books 2022

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