My Top 5 Books of 2023 – Fiction

Best fiction books of 2023For me, this year has been both immensely exciting and unbelievably challenging, in more ways than one, and through it all, these novels have kept me going. I struggled to pick my top five fiction books, so I’ve added a special mention at the end. These books were not all published in 2023, but they are all fairly new… 

I was not familiar with Claire Keegan’s writing, but her little novella – Small Things Like These – kept appearing online, so I treated myself to a copy, and was not disappointed. It’s short, but poignant and deeply emotive. Written in a style that reminds me of James Joyce’s Dubliners, the narrative is told from the perspective of Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant who is grateful for the good start he was given in life, despite his mother’s situation.

“Furlong had come from nothing. Less than nothing, some might say. His mother, at the age of sixteen, had fallen pregnant while working as a domestic for Mrs Wilson, the Protestant widow who lived in the big house a few miles out of town. When his mother’s trouble became known, and her people made it clear that they’d have no more to do with her, Mrs Wilson, instead of giving his mother her walking papers, told her she should stay on, and keep her work.”

Demon Copperhead, Small Things Like These, and Mrs Van GoghWhile Furlong works hard to provide for his wife and daughters, he is also aware of the burden of poverty that others in his small community must bear, and of the great kindness that was shown to his mother all those years ago. This small book explores the fragile balance we must all negotiate between the need to protect our own, and the desire to reach out and help those in greater need, whatever the risk.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead had me gripped from the beginning. Kingsolver reimagines Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield in modern America, and the young protagonist’s voice feels exactly right. Demon is a kid for whom the odds are never in his favour. He must forge a path through poverty, abuse, deception, the vagaries of the foster care system, the lure of drugs and young love, and the unsettling but ever-present feeling of always being the outsider, never quite accepted. A heart-wrenching, delightful, but challenging read.

I also particularly enjoyed reading The Same Country by Carole Burns. Having heard Carole reading extracts of her work at a local open mic event over the past few years, I was expecting good things, and I was not disappointed. The book is engaging and thought provoking, narrated by a young white woman (Cassie) who returns to her New England home town as a journalist, many years after an apparently accidental shooting, in which her best friend’s black boyfriend was shot dead in her bedroom. The book keeps you hooked as Cassie tries to figure out what really happened, all those years ago, challenging us to rethink our perceptions of friendship, family and racial tension.

The Lost Girls and The Same CountryThe Lost Girls by Kate Hamer follows on from her previous novel The Girl in the Red Coat, which I reviewed in 2016, and which has haunted me ever since. That first book follows the story of Carmel, who is kidnapped at the age of eight, but is eventually found, five years later. The Lost Girls examines the impact of this experience on both the girl (now a grown woman) and her mother, as they attempt to build a new life together. Carmel is still processing what happened during those five lost years, and she gradually unravels a complex web of truth and lies that will lead her to another lost girl (Mercy Roberts) whose own story weaves in and out of the novel. A tender, beautiful book that reveals the immensity of lost love, and the possibilities of healing.

My fifth top fiction book of 2023 is Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi. It follows the story of Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent Van Gogh’s sister-in-law: the woman responsible for making his artwork famous in the years following his death. The book paints an intriguing picture of Van Gogh and his brother as complex creative individuals for whom life was never easy. The brothers’ reputation, their jealousy and love for one another, and their connections within the art world, seem to hang by a thread, while the reputations of creative women at that time appear even more precarious.

And finally, I’d also like to give a special mention to Things Found on the Mountain by Diana Powell, which gives us a glimpse into the world of the Welsh Black Mountains – a world on the cusp of change in the years following the First World War, told from the perspective of an illiterate farmer’s daughter. It is fascinating to read her observations of the famous artist David Jones, and other members of the artist’s colony at Capel-Y-Ffin.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

If you enjoyed reading this post, why not subscribe to my blog and get regular features and book reviews sent to your inbox?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *