Top 10 Books Of The Year 2022 – Part Two – The Top 5

Here are my five favourite books that I read in 2022:

5. Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield (Black Swan 2018)

(Read and reviewed in October)

This is the third novel from a British author I had not read before and what story-telling!  I found this tale of a drowned girl who comes back to life in the 1880s and its setting of a stretch of the Thames between Cricklade and Oxford absolutely captivating.  I said; “It is beautifully rich, imaginative, involving and operates on the thin line between myth and dark reality.  I was spellbound by this book.”  Looking forward to reading more by this author in 2023.

4. The Appeal – Janice Hallett (Viper Books 2021)

(Read and reviewed in January)

I knew I had missed out on something good when I put this book in my “What I Should Have Read in 2021” post.  I had felt it calling me from a table of new titles at Waterstones.  I liked the look of this book, even though it’s not the kind of book I read regularly.  At that time I decided not to merely judge it by its cover but when I saw it in the library in January this year I snapped it up.  It’s clever, funny, and so well structured.  In my review I said “If we are considering this debut in the “Cosy Crime” genre then this is the best “Cosy Crime” book I have ever read.” Her follow-up “The Twyford Code” appeared this year and was good but did not blow me away like this did.  Her new novel “The Mysterious Case Of The Alperton Angels” is out in January.

3. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (1861)

(Read and reviewed in December)

A re-read but I had left it probably over 40 years.  The plot of this novel feels like it has been with me for the whole of my life, both from the book and film adaptations (apart from the ending which I always have trouble remembering).  In sections this is the best book I have ever read in my life but then there are sections that fall flat making it an uneven gem, but it is still a gem.  Perhaps it is a casualty of the way in which Dickens’ novels first appeared with a certain amount of padding mid-way through to keep the issues coming.  I feel that it should be Dickens’ best work- but it isn’t, but it is up there amongst his very best.  Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella, Joe, Magwitch – what characters!

2. Let’s Do It – Bob Stanley (Faber 2022)

(Read and reviewed in August)

Two books with the same title in my Top 10.  What are the chances?  Luckily, both have subtitles and this one explores “The Birth Of Pop” and it is my non-fiction pick for this year (I think I have to go back to 2010 and Vince Aletti’s “The Disco Files” to find a non-fiction work I have enjoyed as much).  This is a real labour of love and involved so much research for music journalist, founding member of Saint Etienne and DJ Bob Stanley.  Thousands of books have been published about the music industry post-Beatles (the author published a very thorough, critically acclaimed one “Yeah Yeah Yeah” himself about decade earlier – which I am currently reading) but this charts the development of popular music from its very origins to the point where Beatlemania came in.  Pop music is seen as transient and temporary but these developments inform everything that has come afterwards and so is a very important, totally fascinating history.  Beginning with Ragtime and Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” the first million selling sheet music from 1899 he explores the major musical shifts and the major players with insight, humour and with love.  This book had me seeking out all sorts of artists on Spotify.  I felt Bob really knew what he was writing about and was able to convey his views so well and this for me was a real treat.  The Telegraph had this book at number 8 in their Books Of The Year list.

1. Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (Picador 2022)

(Read and reviewed in April)

Well, this is unprecedented. I’ve never given my Book Of The Year to the same author before and here is Scottish writer Douglas Stuart doing it two years in a row with his first two novels.  “Shuggie Bain” – a Booker Prizewinner (and this would be a serious contender for best ever  Booker winner ever in my view) blew away all the competition for me last year and I do believe that “Young Mungo” is even better. It’s the best book I have read for 5 years.  It wasn’t Booker shortlisted and it didn’t get as much critical approval because some saw it as more of the same, but I really don’t understand that this is a criticism.  Some did get it- It is appearing in a healthy selection of Books Of The Year list – The Telegraph had it at number 34.  Emily Temple at Literary Hub produces an Ultimate Best Books list which counts the number of times books make the end of year lists in American publications and this makes it onto six lists, which earns it an Ultimate nod (the highest 14 was achieved by two novels Hernan Diaz’s “Trust” and Gabrielle Zevin’s ubiquitous “Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow”).  I said “I never thought I’d feel more sympathy towards a character than Shuggie, but Mungo, with his facial tics, unsuitable attire and devotion to a mother whose actions are consistently poorly-judged tops it.” I also felt “I did finish this feeling emotionally purged finding moments that I did not really want to read on from but ultimately being totally unable to take my eyes off the book.”  That for me represents an ultimate reading experience. Congratulations to Picador for publishing my ultimate favourite two years in a row. Over at Bookshop.org you can find Douglas Stuart’s list of the books which inspired him during the writing of this novel

So, Douglas Stuart makes it onto my Hall of Fame for the second time.  Just for some context here are my other top titles going back to 2008

2022- Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart (2022) (UK)

2021- Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (2020) (UK)

2020 – The Great Believers – Rebecca Makkai (2018) (USA)

2019 – Swan Song – Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (2018) (USA)

2018- The Count Of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (1845) (France)

2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)

2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)

2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)

2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)

2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)

2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)

2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)

2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)

2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)

2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)

Special mentions for the five 5* reads which did not make it into the Top 10. In any other year these would have been assured Top 10 places: The Manningtree Witches – A K Blakemore (2021); The Governor’s Lady – Norman Collins (1968) – narrowly missing out on a 3rd successive Top 10 title; Rainbow Milk – Paul Mendez (2020); Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker (1939); Fire Island – Jack Parlett (2022)

Here’s to some great reading in 2023.

If you missed out on the other books on my Top 10 you can read about them here.

100 Essential Books – Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield (Black Swan 2018)

I used to read this kind of atmospheric, richly told novel imbued with a hint of magic quite regularly but for every gem like “Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell” by Susanna Clarke, “The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock” by Imogen Hermes Gower and “Things In Jars” by Jess Kidd there were many others that fell so short that they switched me off and stopped me selecting books of this type as often.

I think this is why I have not read any of Diane Setterfield’s novels up to now, if this, her third novel, is anything to go by I have really missed out. 

There is outstanding story-telling here.  The novel is set on a stretch of the River Thames between Cricklade and Oxford in the 1880’s centering on The Swan pub at Radcot.  It is here that story-tellers meet to regale each other with tales of local folk, events and particularly the mysteries of the river and on a Summer Solstice evening they become part of their own tales when a badly injured man appears with the body of a drowned girl.  Nobody knows who they are and things take a momentous turn when the dead girl comes back to life.

The repercussions of this spread along the Thames.  The event and the child herself proves a great pull for some residents and this is their tale.  It is beautifully rich, imaginative, involving and operates on the thin line between myth and dark reality.  I was spellbound by this book.  Excellent characterisation of those involved on that night and those who hear about it.  This is a confident skilful writer, who, very early on, like the best story-tellers will have readers entranced.  A definite five star read and I am looking forward to reading her earlier two novels.

Once Upon a River was published in 2018 by Doubleday and as a 2019 paperback by Black Swan.