12 of the best books of the year so far 2023

by The Insights

Kashnana Cauley’s Survivalists

In The Survivalists, Aretha, a lawyer, moves in with her cafe entrepreneur boyfriend, Aaron, and his roommates who are plotting the end of the world. What follows is a half-joke exploration of capitalism, gun ownership, and what it takes to survive in the modern world as a black American. “Learn his name, because Cauley is one of the funniest writers at work today, period,” says the Los Angeles Times. Vulture agrees, describing Cauley as “one of the smartest and funniest writers working today, and this novel is a chance for fans to spend even more time with his scathing critiques of the flaws in American culture”. (KG)

Wandering Souls by Cécile Pin

Inspired by the story of her own mother and mixing real historical facts and fiction, Cécile Pin’s first novel begins in 1978, three years after the departure of the last American troops from Vietnam. Young orphan siblings Anh, Thanh and Minh flee their village, first in Hong Kong, making their way as refugees to the unattractive landscape of Thatcher’s Britain. Their journey is accompanied by the voice of their younger brother, Dao, a lost soul who speaks of the hinterland between the dead and the living. Wandering Souls is “subtle and engrossing”, writes the LA Times, while iNewspaper declares: “it is a powerful and timely start on seeking asylum; on what life is like when it is torn from its origins, and how happiness and identity can be found on foreign shores.” (RL)

The Garnett Girls by Georgina Moore

Set on the UK’s Isle of Wight in a beloved but crumbling family home, Sandcove, three very different sisters and their unconventional mother tackle life and long-held family secrets. Georgina Moore’s best-selling debut novel from The Sunday Times explores whether or not children can truly be freed from the mistakes their parents made. “Each of the main characters is flawed but relatable,” says The Independent, “and the family dynamic between the strong women is portrayed perfectly by Moore. An immersive novel that leaves the reader feeling like they’re part of the family now.” It’s a confident start, according to The Observer. “With Moore’s evocative prose, it’s easy to see why The Garnett Girls are compared to the works of Penny Vincenzi.” (KG)

Maidens in the Wood by Margaret Atwood

This collection of 15 powerful short stories is Atwood’s first publication since The Testaments. Divided into three parts, it is dedicated in part to Atwood’s partner Graeme Gibson, who died in 2019; scenes from Tig and Nell’s wedding sandwich a disparate slew of stories that encompass everything from aliens to pandemics. Old Babes in the Wood is “an engrossing read”, writes the FT, which highlights “themes that are always at the heart of Atwood’s work: the haunting presence of traumatic stories, the deep imbalances of power and of opportunities in the world today, and society’s darkest possible futures.” The Guardian says: “There are shards and fragments of lives, full of boldness and sadness.” (RL)

Time of the Old God by Sebastian Barry

Faced with a past he would rather forget, the life of retired police officer Tom is even more confusing. In the Irish author’s ninth novel, Barry explores how the effects of violence and abuse ripple through generations. Old God’s Time is an “account with violated innocence”, says the Irish Independent. “The familiar story of the crimes of Church and State is told in a fresh and dramatic way.” Meanwhile, iNews describes the book as a “profound novel about the state of Ireland”. Barry, he says, is “a master storyteller…exploring the fluid boundary between the real and the unreal, and its relationship to trauma.” (KG)

That Other Eden by Paul Harding

This is New Englander Harding’s third novel: after Enon (2013) and his 2009 debut novel, Tinkers, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. It was in This Other Eden, however, “that Harding’s gifts found their fullest expression”, writes The Observer, praising “the depth of Harding’s sentences, their breathless angelic light”. Inspired by historical events, the story is set on Apple Island in early 20th century Maine, which the mixed-race Honey family had called home for generations, until they were abruptly driven from the island. island. This other Eden, writes the New York Times, is “a novel both devastating and meditative”. (RL)

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