Something good had to come out of the miserable year that was 2020, and it did! So many wonderful books that many of us wouldn't have had time to read had we not been locked up on our houses. And despite books not being deemed essential items (debatable?!) and therefore being somewhat hard to come by for a while, if, like me, you had a kindle there were all sorts of pleasures out there to be devoured. And I also discovered Audible which enabled my book consumption to take to whole new realms. I could read / listen whilst walking the dog, on the school run, cooking, folding laundry, having a bath, gardening - a whole wealth of tedious tasks which suddenly became infinitely more enjoyable. Of course there are those moments when you are listening to a disturbing sex scene between teacher and pupil in My Dark Vanessa whilst cooking supper and your five year -old walks into the kitchen on the hunt for a snack and you are up to your elbows in raw chicken and can't hit the pause button. Or those other moments when you are crying so hard to Shuggie Bain that you nearly drive off the road and into a ditch! But needless to say my capacity for reading opened up last year and I found myself not sticking to my usually preferred genre of emotional women's fiction but all sorts of different things. One of my favourite books was Daisy Jones and the Six, written as a series of interviews by a reporter journalling the lives of the famous rock band in the 70's. The brilliantly flawed characters and their dysfunctional relationships left me desperate for more at the end of the book, so much so that I actually searched for tracks by the fictitious band to listen to! Up next was Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet and I nearly hung up my boots in the first few pages when I realised the story was about a child dying in the midst of a pandemic! But I persevered, and I am so glad I did. I listened on Audible which I would highly recommend, it was read by Daisy Donavan who bizarrely I used to work with at a TV production company twenty years ago. And she mastered the wonderfully innocent yet ballsy voice of Anyas, a playwright's wife quite brilliantly. The book has all of O'Farrell's trade mark beautiful descriptions and depth of character and is utterly heartfelt. Next up was Emma Jane Unsworthy's Adults which couldn't have been more different. An achingly current novel about romance and social media and a somewhat fraught mother / daughter relationship. Unsworth prose is sharp and witty and yet sometimes horribly poignant and sad. And then came Small Pleasures, one of those books that feels a bit like snuggling up in a cosy blanket with a mug of cocoa. Set in 1950's London, it is a quietly devastating story of repressed emotions and thwarted love that is so beautifully written that I never wanted it to end! Tayari Jones had a lot to live up to after An American Marriage but she totally nailed it with Silver Sparrow, a heart-warming coming of age story that confronts hard-hitting issues such as bigamy, race and class with sophistication and grace. And another coming of age tale which totally stole my heart was Where The Crawdads Sing, in fact I would go so far as to say it was my favourite book of the year. Delia Owen's writing was so beautifully rooted in nature and her character Kya so perfectly formed that I wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again when I finished it but instead I tried to harness that emotion into my own writing - a hugely inspiring novel on so many levels. Flat Share is a very different book and not one I would normally chose to read but my best friend recommended it so I thought I'd give it a go. And I didn't regret it. It is a brilliantly funny and feel-good read and a welcome relief after all the misery that I usually put myself through! Burnt Sugar is a brilliantly courageous novel, written in bare stripped back prose where not a word is wasted. It is an acerbic and insightful study of a toxic mother daughter relationship. I was writing my second book about a similar dynamic whilst reading this and found myself totally in awe with Doshi's language and depth of character. And last but certainly not least Olive Again, I was quite nervous about embarking on this book having loved Olive so much. But Elizabeth Stroud is a genius and I should have known that her depiction of Olive in her later years would be as consistently brilliant as the original. Spikey, blunt, contradictory Olive who is somehow deeply loveable. Stroud is the ultimate story teller, her prose so brilliantly bare yet packed with emotion. And each character is so authentically crafted that I wanted to read a whole novel about every one. And so, yes, in amongst all the misery, chaos, loneliness and grief of a dark year, some wonderful literature emerged from 2020.
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