[UNDERSTATEMENT WARNING] 2021 has been strange and absurd and crazy and stressful and happy and sad and all kinds of things, hasn’t it?
But the one consistency in this rollercoaster of a year has been all the books I have been able to buy, borrow, read and review. I have read so many excellent novels I have been putting off choosing the best 10 because it’s just so difficult to pick which ones to include and which to leave out. So this year, I’m making an exception — and choosing a Baker’s Dozen instead.
I read a total of 89 books, just a few more than last year, and most were published in 2021, but the books I am going to select here aren’t all new, they’re simply ones I chose to read between 1 January and 31 December regardless of the year they were published.
In fact, I made a concerted effort to read older books by embarking on a plan to read 21 books from my TBR between 1 January and 31 May in a project I dubbed #TBR21. I actually managed to complete this but never did a wrap-up post.
I also participated in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer for the fifth time and managed to successfully read 20 books from my TBR — all listed here.
Other projects I did this year included running Southern Cross Crime Month in March and #BIPOC2021, which was my plan to read more books by black, Indigenous and people of colour over the year (I read 12 in total). Once again, I attempted to read all the books on the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year shortlist but only managed three out of five. (It didn’t help that I was in the throes of purchasing a new apartment at the time.)
I also participated in various other challenges and blogger events across the year, including the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021 (a wrap-up post will follow tomorrow), Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge, German Literature Month, Novellas in November hosted by Cathy of 746 Books and Rebecca of Bookish Beck, and non-fiction November.
Phew! That’s enough about my projects. What were the books that left a marked impression on me? Without further ado, here they are, all arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. Hyperlinks will take you to my full review.
‘Like Mother’ by Cassandra Austin (2021)
Literary fiction meets a fast-paced psychological thriller in this Australian novel about a new mother who misplaces her baby and spends an entire day (in November 1969) trying to find her.
‘New Animal’ by Ella Baxter (2021)
This black comedy about death, grief and bondage follows a 20-something funeral parlour make-up artist whose life is thrown into disarray when her beloved mother dies unexpectedly.
‘Mermaid Singing’ and ‘Peel me a Lotus’ by Charmian Clift (1956/1959)
Published in one volume, these twin memoirs chart Clift’s life on two different Greek Islands with her husband, the novelist and war correspondent George Johnston, as part of a Bohemian set of artists and writers in the 1950s.
‘Mrs March’ by Virginia Feito (2021)
A wickedly fun story about a narcissistic, paranoid, upper-class woman who believes her writer husband has used her as inspiration for one of his unsavoury characters in his latest best-selling novel.
‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut (2021)
Tracing the downfall of a white Afrikaans family over the space of 40 years, this year’s Booker Prize-winner is framed around four funerals, each about a decade apart, and uses a style and structure inspired by filmmakers to create a dazzling novel that feels fresh and new.
‘Maestro’ by Peter Goldsworthy (1981)
Set in tropical Darwin in 1967, this masterful coming-of-age story is about a teenage boy who takes piano lessons from a renowned Austrian musician with a shady past.
‘Moral Hazard’ by Kate Jennings (2002)
A brilliant gem of a novel set in the 1990s, it recounts the story of an Australian woman working in a Wall Street investment bank by day and who looks after her ill husband by night.
‘We Are Not in the World’ by Conor O’Callaghan (2020)
A haunting tale of a long-distance lorry driver trying to come to terms with the breakdown of a six-year affair with a married woman and the hospitalisation of his beloved young adult daughter who has tried to take her own life.
‘The Memory Police’ by Yoko Ogawa (1994)
A deeply affecting dystopian novel set on an island in which residents are collectively forced to forget certain objects — including ribbons, roses, maps and calendars — by a mysterious and draconian force called the Memory Police which round-up and “disappear” anyone who disobeys.
‘One Hundred Days’ by Alice Pung (2021)
A teenage girl living in a high rise flat is smothered by her over-protective mother and forced to stay indoors for 100 days when she falls pregnant.
‘The Rules of Backyard Cricket’ by Jock Serong (2017)
A hugely entertaining tale of two brothers, one good and one bad, who rise to become successful cricketers on the world stage.
‘The Fortnight in September’ by R.C. Sherriff (1931)
An utter delight to read, this heartwarming tale perfectly encapsulates the small joys of a family embarking on their annual holiday to the English seaside.
‘Here we are’ by Graham Swift (2020)
Set on the Brighton seafront in 1959, this is a truly immersive story about three entertainers who perform in the regular variety show at the end-of-the-pier theatre during the summer season.
I hope you have discovered some wonderful books and writers this year. Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? What were your favourite reads of 2021, I’d love to know.
Please note that you can see my favourite books of all the years between 2006 and 2021 by visiting my Books of the Year page.