The last year has been a weird one for me and I’ve really struggled to find books that have grabbed my attention. However, that makes my top books of 2019 even stronger. Some of my list is made up of books I expected to love, and some were a wonderful surprise. What they all had in common was the ability to command my attention and whisk me away into another world.
Welcome to my top books of 2019, let’s started with, possibly, the most unsurprising title on my list, Margaret Atwood.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was published in 1985, and 2019 saw the hotly anticipated sequel hit bookshops across the world. The Testaments leaves Offred’s story and picks up with three different protagonists; Aunt Lydia (Offred’s Aunt from The Handmaid’s Tale), Agnes – a character living in Gilead, and Daisy – a character who is based in Canada.
I don’t want to give away too much about Agnes or Daisy as their place within this story is all part of the narrative. However, I can share how much I adored learning more about Aunt Lydia. From her perspective, we’re allowed an insight into the very early days of Gilead and how quickly human rights were stripped from women. You soon understand what she had to go through to survive and how that turned her into the woman we met in The Handmaid’s Tale.
After three decades, The Handmaid’s Tale feels scarily current, and The Testaments is an extension of this and one I found less gruelling to read. Gilead is a claustrophobic and torturous place, but somehow Atwood’s writing still manages to make it a fun read.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Although The Vegetarian by Han Kang was published in 2016, I only managed to read it at the end of 2019…and my mind was blown.
I’ll get it out to the way now, because it becomes very clear within the first handful of pages, that this is book is weird. Wonderfully weird!
Yeong-hye was never seen as special by her husband. He saw her as average, easy and undemanding; making her perfect wife material. Then she changes, and he doesn’t know why. She doesn’t immediately tell him about the dreams that have haunted her sleep and forced her hand to reject meat and become vegetarian.
In South Korea, vegetarianism is incredibly rare, and when Yeong-hye starts to lose weight and appears to be defying her husband’s wishes, her family also turn against her.
Years later, she innocently becomes the focus of her brother-in-law’s obsession. He invites her to participate in his video art, leading to him taking advantage of her when her mental health deteriorates.
Separated into three timeframes, The Vegetarian is a dark, captivating tale of one woman’s mental health deterioration and the people closest to her. However, that description is a massive simplification of an incredible novel. The Vegetarian is unlike anything I’ve ever read before and I’m still thinking about it weeks later.
My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris
My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris stole my heart earlier this year and instantly became my favourite graphic novel of 2019.
Yes, it’s a story about a woman falling in love with a giant American black bear after a spate of disappointing boyfriends. If you can’t get your head around this, step away, you’re not ready for the wonder his book contains.
My Boyfriend is a Bear guides you through the highs and lows of dating a huge, hairy carnivore that weighs hundreds of pounds (even the awkward bonding bit with the cat and the times you have to sleep in separate beds). It’s equally cute to read as it is to admire the illustrations and if you’re looking for something that’s a pure delight, to distract you from the state of current events, this is it.
Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan
Things We Say in the Dark is Kirsty Logan’s latest short story collection, published by Harvill Secker.
Set against the backdrop of an author on a writing retreat in Iceland, Things We Say in the Dark is separated into three sections, ‘The House‘, ‘The Child‘ and ‘The Past‘. Kirsty Logan weaves together a collection of dark, feminist tales that range from horror to modern fairy tales. Fear of motherhood is an ongoing theme, and Logan perfectly portrays the darkest anxieties parents must have about their children.
One of my favourite stories, Girls are Always Hungry When all the Men are Bite-Size, sees a young male journalist visiting a medium and her daughter, looking to expose them as frauds. Instead of the women becoming the eventual victims, it’s the man who has no idea of the danger he’s in.
Every bite-sized story unnerves and highlights the horror within your own walls, rather than the unknown outside. If you want to read something genuinely original that will crawl under your skin, Things We Say in the Dark is for you.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
An evening phone call from her little sister leads Korede to clean up yet another murder scene. As it’s the third time Korede has received one of these calls, Korede is forced to face facts – her sister, Ayoola, is a serial killer.
Lucky for Ayoola, Korede is an excellent cleaner and will do anything she can to protect her little sister. However, she does occasionally need to offload the guilt she feels. Her work at the local hospital allows her the opportunity to this, in the shape of a coma patient. Asleep for years and no sign of family visits, she shares every secret with the man who never talks back.
My Sister, the Serial Killer is a wickedly funny, suspenseful and fast-paced novel that grabs you immediately. Where you’re a lover of literary fiction or someone who only reads a couple of books a year, this book is perfect.
There you have it, my top books of 2019. Did I miss anything you adored? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep an eye out for my next blog post on the books I’m really looking forward to in 2020.
If you liked reading my top books of 2019, check out my top podcasts of 2019.