Five Favourite Reads from 2021

Five favourite reads of 20212021 was a busy year (PhD, teaching etc…) so I’ve not been able to spend as much time as I’d like reviewing books. Here are five of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past year, with just a quick summary or comment for each one, rather than a full review…    

Crime Fiction:

Without Prejudice by Nicola Williams

Book - Without PrejudiceWithout Prejudice was originally published in 1997, but it was re-printed in 2021 as part of the Black Britain Writing Back series, published by Penguin, with an introduction from Bernadine Evaristo. It is a gripping crime thriller, very difficult to put down, and I read most of it in just one day. The protagonist is Lee Mitchell, a thirty-year-old barrister from a working-class Caribbean background. She takes on a new case, defending Clive Omartian, a charming young millionaire who has been charged with fraud, who specifically invited Lee Mitchell to be his barrister. I can’t say more without giving too much away, but I definitely recommend this for anyone who is into crime fiction.

Historical Fiction:

Pure by Andrew Miller

Set in 1875, Pure follows the story of a young engineer who has been tasked with removing and re-locating an overflowing graveyard from the centre of Paris. Every last bone must be dug from the ground by manual workers, and carted off to an appropriate location. He must deal with all sorts of problems, from the overwhelming stink that permeates the entire district, to the strange hold the place seems to have on those who live nearby, affecting people in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Atmospheric, detailed and evocative.

Prose Poetry:

Obit by Victoria Chang

Many of the poems in Obit are designed to look like an obituary column in a newspaper. They are written in a strange, lyrical style that makes you pause to read them again and again. Each poem recalls a thing that has died: memory, or ambition, or ‘my mother’s teeth’ or ‘appetite’. Here’s an example:

Gait—my father’s gait died on March
14, 2011. Once erect, light, flat-footed.
Magnificent. Now, his gait shuffles like
sandpaper. Once my father erected
a basketball net, mounted it onto a
wooden pole from the lumberyard to
save money. With each shot, the pole
moved a little, invisible to the eye, until
I had to shoot from the side of the
driveway. Now I avoid semicolons. I
look for statues whose eyes don’t
move with me. The kind of people
who stand in place and lights can be
strung on. The problem is, my father’s
brain won’t stop walking…

Each poem is crammed with strange and mesmerising ways of understanding grief, death, life, family, memory, language – everything that matters.

Historical & Crime Fiction:

None So Blind by Alis Hawkins

Book - None So BlindNone So Blind is a historical murder mystery novel with a difference – the protagonist (Harry Probert-Lloyd) is gradually going blind. It is set in 1850, in rural West Wales, at a time when suspicion and fear still have a strong hold over the local population following the Rebecca Riots. The gentry speak English, and the ordinary folk speak Welsh, but Harry, son of the local landowner, has been brought up to speak both languages, and is in danger of alienating everyone unless he reveals his failing sight. This novel is full of plot twists and intrigue, and is also the first in a series, so I’m now part way through the second book.

Non-Fiction:

Why I Write Poetry edited by Ian Humphreys

I’ve just started reading this one (a Christmas present) but it’s already inspired a few new writing ideas, and is full of encouragement and fresh insights from a whole host of contemporary poets from Andrew McMillan to Mary Jean Chan and Kim Moore. It’s a good book to dip into every now and then, especially in those moments of blank-page-doubt or existential angst.

Happy New Year! Bring on the books of 2022…

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