Best books of 2019 to give or recieve this Christmas
Recommended festive reads range from Ian McEwan’s latest novel to this year’s two Booker Prize winners
Cuddling up with a good book is a perfect way to unwind during the Christmas break.
And there are loads of great new releases to enjoy following a year in which Booker Prize judges were so spoilt for choice that they flouted the rules to announce two winners - Canadian author and poet Margaret Atwood and British writer Bernardine Evaristo.
Here are The Week’s top literary picks to give or receive this festive season.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The long-awaited sequel to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was the most eagerly anticipated book of 2019. The story picks up 15 years after her seminal novel and promises a new look into the dystopian world. “The Testaments is Atwood at her best, in its mixture of generosity, insight and control,” says The Guardian. It has been named joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, making the Canadian author the oldest ever recipient.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Experimental writer and Londoner Bernardine Evaristo shared this year’s Booker Prize, becoming the first black woman to win. Girl, Woman, Other features 12 characters and is written in a blend of poetry and prose. “If you want to understand modern day Britain, this is the writer to read,” says the New Statesman, calling the book “a story for our times”.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Atwood has described The Confessions of Frannie Langton as “deep-diving and elegant”. This reinvention of the classic gothic novel is an original and haunting story from the debut novelist. “A startling, compelling historical debut that should be on top of your vacation reading pile,” says The Washington Post.
Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
The year kicked off with a debut novel that had the tongues of critics wagging. Set in 1781 at the height of the struggle to abolish slavery, this pacy thriller centres around the discovery of a famed abolitionist’s body. It “has come in for high praise from veterans of crime fiction”, says the New Statesman.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
James crashed onto the literary scene with A Brief History of Seven Killings, the Booker Prize winner of 2015. His second book is a sprawling, epic fantasy about a mercenary hired to find a missing child. “The first of three novels in James’ Dark Star trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf fuses mythology, fantasy, and African history into a sensual, psychological triumph,” says Esquire.
Zucked by Roger McNamee
An early investor and one-time mentor of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, McNamee has since become one of the social network’s most vocal detractors.
He has denounced Zuckerberg and his chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg for their handling of numerous crises over the past couple years and even gone as far as to say Facebook is ruining the world and must be stopped.
“Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you'll want to see why one of Facebook's biggest champions became one of its fiercest critics,” says Business Insider.
The People’s Favourite Poems by Gary Dexter
When author and journalist Dexter developed an eye condition that made reading or looking at a computer screen painful, he was unable to continue writing for a living. Instead, he turned to an unusual second career - memorising hundreds of well-known poems and reciting them for spare change on the streets of Britain.
The result is this charming memoir, part poetry anthology, part snapshot of on the people and places Dexter encountered during his stint as a wandering bard - encounters which range from funny and sad to alarming and downright bizarre. It even includes Dexter’s tips for memorising poetry, if you want to give it a go yourself.
The Wall by John Lanchester
Set on an island nation that builds a concrete wall around its border to protect it from rising sea levels and to keep out “the Others”, Lanchester’s dystopian tale is filled with real-life parallels.
The author of Capital “has always made Britain, or the British abroad, his subject”, says The Guardian, and “now he recasts our country as a frigid fortress, where national service and a diet of ‘turnips, turnips, fucking turnips’ are endured with a needs-must stoicism”.
The Times calls it a “cracking adventure and an astute political fable”, while the London Evening Standard says “the novel expertly touches on the most pressing issues of our time - migration, political unrest and climate change – and acts as a warning for what could come”.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
Roupenian’s Cat Person was “perhaps the most talked about short story ever”, sending the internet into meltdown when it was published in December 2017, says The Guardian.
Now, the author has written a new collection of stories that explores the complex - and often darkly funny - connections between gender, sex, and power across genres, says the newspaper.
The stories are probably best enjoyed one or two at a time, says The New York Times, as they “are stylistically consistent, but thematically so distinct that reading them felt like binge-watching 12 completely different, intense movies”.
The newspaper adds: “What’s special about ‘Cat Person’ and the rest of the stories in ‘You Know You Want This’, is the author’s expert control of language, character, story - her ability to write stories that feel told, and yet so unpretentious and accessible that we think they must be true.”
White by Bret Easton Ellis
Ellis, the iconoclaistic cult writer behind Less than Zero and American Psycho, serves up his first full-length work of non-fiction, which Esquire says “slams censorship, social media, and the limits of freedom of speech in a rabble-rousing polemic for the age of Twitter”.
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
McEwan’s latest novel “asks what it means to be human by taking us to an alternative 1980s London, where Britain has lost the Falklands war and Alan Turing is developing artificial intelligence, and a young couple are caught up in a love triangle with a synthetic being”, says The Guardian.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
A winner of the prestigious Lambda Literary Award, Dennis-Benn’s long-awaited second book does not disappoint; Patsy is a “profound book about sexuality, gender, race, and immigration that speaks to the contemporary moment through the figure of a woman alive with passion and regret”, says Kirkus Reviews.
Set in 1998, Patsy is a single mother coming to terms with how her immigration to the US affects her family in Jamaica. She is forced to leave her daughter behind as she tries to secure a better financial future and reunite with her childhood sweetheart, now living in Brooklyn.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
From the author of Eat, Pray, Love comes City of Girls, an innovative novel about a young woman who becomes a seamstress for the showgirls of a “charmingly disreputable” revue theatre in 1940s Manhattan after getting kicked out of college.
The Guardian calls it a “glorious, multi-layered, emotional astute celebration of womanhood”.
Devotion: A Novel by Madeline Stevens
In her debut novel, Stevens explores jealousy through the story of Ella, who becomes a nanny to a wealthy couple in New York City’s Upper East Side, starting a mutual obsession with the child’s mother.
Author Julie Buntin describes Stevens as a “significant new talent”, adding: “I read this story of obsession, friendship, and betrayal with my heart in my throat, captivated by Ella’s increasing absorption into the privileged lives of the couple who hires her.”
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
Set over a 24-hour period in a ferry terminal in southern Spain, Barry’s novel is “drenched in sex, death and narcotics, in sudden violence, old magic and the mysteries of love”, says Canongate Books. The story follows two “fading gangsters from Cork City”, Charlie Redmond and Maurice Hearne, as they wait for the former’s missing daughter, Dilly, to pass through on a boat from the Moroccan city of Tangier or leave on one heading there.
Night Boat was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, and was named as one of the top ten books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, the New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement, the i new site, and Literary Hub.
The Guardian’s Alan Warner describes the novel as a “darkly comic journey into the abyss”, adding: “What distinguishes this book beyond its humour, terror and beauty of description is its moral perception… It is a plunging spiritual immersion into the parlous souls of wrongful men.”
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
Also longlisted for the Booker Prize,this radical love story follows a young transgender doctor, a celebrated professor, and a sex doll designer. A modern take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Winterson’s novel offers a “fascinating and engrossing look at AI, science, gender fluidity and, ultimately, what it really means to be human”, says Scottish politician Nicola Sturgeon, who chooses it as one of her top books of 2019 in the New Statesman.
Sam Byers is equally effusive in his review of Frankissstein in The Guardian. In this “work of both pleasure and profundity”, he says, “hard science and dreamy Romanticism exist in both tension and harmony”.