I’ve read some amazing books this year, but here are my favourites! Some will be no surprise to those who’ve already seen various critics’ top picks; some will hopefully be new to you and give you some ideas for your future reading lists. All these books were published in the UK in 2023 and are listed in order of publication date rather than preference; each one of them is special and particularly worthy of note in its own way.
Small World: Laura Zigman
When two quirky, newly divorced sisters move in with each other, they finally deal with the long shadow of their sister Eleanor, who was severely disabled, died very young and was almost certainly their mother's favourite. Funny, sharp, and touching, and based partly on the author's and her family’s own experiences.
Now She Is Witch: Kirsty Logan
When Lux meets the mysterious Else in the woods, the two embark on an adventure in which Lux meets mummers, mentors, a mysterious lady of the house and her injured lord, and Ash, a cheeky non-binary lover. A hallucinatory tale full of poetry and potions.
Really Good, Actually: Monica Heisey
Sweet, curvy adjunct professor Maggie breaks up with her husband embarrassingly soon after they get hitched. It doesn't take her long to decide that she likes being divorced even less than she liked being married. An unforgettable, painfully funny tale of quarter-life crisis with some Google searches you'll never forget.
The Year of the Cat: Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Journalist Cosslett’s memoir focuses on the trials and tribulations of pet ownership, the dilemma of parenting in a time of breakdown and crisis, love, lockdown, and PTSD. Happier than it sounds, and not just for cat ladies (like me).
If I Survive You: Jonathan Escoffery
In this Booker-shortlisted novel, Trelawney, Delano and their parents Topper and Sanya leave Jamaica to make a life in Miami. Trelawney suffers through an adolescence full of microaggressions, graduating into the recession. Blue-eyed boy Delano (literally; he has his father's distinctive eyes) has it easier, until the economic crisis begins to bite at his businesses too.
Two Sisters: Blake Morrison
In his memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father? Blake Morrison told the story of his father, a charismatic local GP who made his peace with his own infidelities. This latest chapter in their family's story deals with their ongoing repercussions on the female members of the family.
Hello Beautiful: Ann Napolitano
When curvy, curly-haired Julia Padavano sets her cap at college basketball star William Waters, she starts a chain of events that ruptures her tight-knit family. If William is Laurie in this updated Little Women story, and Julia is Jo, which one of the other sisters is going to be Beth?
Something Spectacular: Alexis Hall
Peggy Delancey is genderfluid and no-nonsense, except when it comes to her best friends Bonny and Belle, who create enough nonsense for everyone. When she falls in love with a rock-star castrato, chaos (and more than one session of group sex) ensues. Funny, filthy and surprisingly moving.
Games and Rituals: Katherine Heiny
A short story collection for those who didn’t previously think they liked short stories, featuring middle-aged mother Mia, second wife Charlie, and two confused twentysomething girls facing the pandemic with mango margaritas and pyramid skincare schemes, among other lost souls in these laugh-and-cry tales of modern America.
Death of a Bookseller: Alice Slater
Told from the perspectives of two booksellers – manic pixie dream girl Laura and Gothic murder-podcast-fanatic Roach – this dark, Walthamstow-set thriller is hard to put down.
The Guest: Emma Cline
This addictive read will have you rooting and cringing for high-class escort Alex while she scrabbles for survival in the Hamptons when her latest sugar daddy kicks her out. In the words of Brandon Taylor on Twitter, ‘HYPERVENTILATING.’
Yellowface: Rebecca F. Kuang
Believe the hype about this one, a sharp publishing industry satire that makes some hard-to-ignore points about the business surrounding authors, the lure of self-sabotage, (Bad) Art Friendships and the unique joys and pains of authorship (plus, of course, the merchandise – vegan tote bag, anyone)?
The Rachel Incident: Caroline O'Donoghue
Misfit twentysomethings Rachel Murray and James Devlin live together in a run-down student house in the early noughties. When they fall for the same man, it brings them closer as well as exposing the gaps between them.
None of This is True: Lisa Jewell
Blonde podcaster Alix has the perfect life. Josie Fairs really doesn't. When they meet in an aspirational gastropub on their shared birthday – Alix with a crowd of glowing friends, Josie with her elderly, stuck-in-his-ways husband – a chain of events starts off that ends in chaos. Simple, and enviably slick.
The List: Yomi Adegoke
Ola Olajide and Michael Koranteng, influencers and ‘couple goals,’ are getting married. One morning, they wake up to The List, a crowdsourced document of abusers – with Michael’s name on it. A nuanced portrayal of our ‘no smoke without fire’ online society and flawed human beings who deserve a fairer trial.
Normal Rules Don't Apply: Kate Atkinson
This darkly comic short story collection is chock-a-block with fairytale quests, talking foxes, magic rings inside fish, women craving a child, cats (and women) called Kitty, and a bargain-basement Scarlett Johansson lookalike actress who can’t escape her seedy past, even when she meets a handsome prince (who somewhat resembles our Harry).
The Breakaway: Jennifer Weiner
Within the format of a straightforward romance plot (ooh, they hooked up and now he’s on the bike tour she’s leading)! the bestselling author brings her lifelong passion for cycling plus her beliefs in body positivity and reproductive rights on this unforgettable journey.
Absolutely and Forever: Rose Tremain
When daffy 1950s teenager Marianne meets Simon at a party, all her vague ambitions up to this point are channelled into becoming Mrs Simon Hurst - but he is hiding something from her. Tremain is on form with this heartbreaking novella of seedy Swinging London, disappointed love and true friendship.
How to Say Babylon: Safiya Sinclair
Safiya tells the story of her family, headed by the creative, loving Esther and Howard, also known as Djani, her charismatic, powerful father. Both abandoned children themselves, her parents struggle in different ways, Djani cursing his neglectful mother to her face and beautiful Esther withdrawing into domesticity and marijuana to cope with her increasingly heavy load, as Safiya learns to assert herself and move on.
Good Material: Dolly Alderton
Andy Dawson is a carb-loving comedian whose self-involvement and thin skin will be familiar to any creatives (and their partners), pole-axed when his high-achieving girlfriend Jen dumps him. Andy's Nick Hornby-style adventures and Jen's ambivalence about their relationship will ring true (as will their love of truffle crisps, for anyone who's tried them).