My best novels of the year

by Chris Armstrong on December 28, 2023

I tend to read a novel a week (53 this year). Academic friends sometimes appear amazed by that, but if I don’t read 20 or 30 pages at night, I’m not going to sleep. Add 10 pages here or there during the week, and it’s four a month. Here were my 10 favourites during 2023:

James Cahill, Tiepolo Blue
Hernan Diaz, Trust
Michelle De Kretser, Scary Monsters
Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle
Andrew Miller, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Rupert Thomson, Barcelona Dreaming
Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream
Daniel Woodrell, The Death of Sweet Mister
Emily St John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility
Laurent Mauvignier, The Birthday Party

(I’m including contemporary novels only – I read excellent novels by Sam Selvon, Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, etc, but it feels more appropriate for some reason to separate them out). Are there common themes to these novels? Not really, but it is striking that a number of them deal with themes of breakdown: personality breakdown (Tiepolo Blue, arguably Trust, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free), ecological breakdown (Scary Monsters, Sea of Tranquility). A few of them were split into apparently separate parts – some of them resolved those divisions, some didn’t (Barcelona Dreaming, Trust, Sea of Tranquility). Anyway, no doubt I missed many gems. Tell me about them!