The 14 best books of the year so far 2022

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu is a working single mother in the near future who makes the mistake of leaving her child alone at home for a couple of hours one afternoon. Authorities are summoned by the neighbors, and her daughter Harriet is taken from her. Frida is given the choice to either lose her child permanently, or to spend a year at a state-run re-education camp for mothers where inmates must care for eerily lifelike robot children, equipped with surveillance cameras. Calling this novel “dystopian” does not feel quite right, says Wired. “Near-dystopian, maybe? Ever-so-slightly speculative? This closeness to reality is what turns the book’s emotional gut punch into a full knockout wallop.” The School for Good Mothers is, says the New York Times, “a chilling debut”. (LB)

The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson

The Hanrahan family gathers for a weekend as the patriarch Ray – artist and notorious egoist – prepares for a new exhibition of his art. Ray’s three grown-up children and steadfast wife, Lucia, all have their own choices to make. This fifth novel by Mendelson has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize, and has been highly praised. The Guardian points to the author’s “succinct specificity of detail,” and “a precision of observation that made me laugh frequently and smile when I wasn’t laughing”. According to the Spectator, Mendelson excels at “vivid, drily hilarious tales about messy families”. The Exhibitionist is “a glorious ride. Mendelson observes the minutiae of human behavior like a comic anthropologist.” (LB)

Free Love by Tessa Hadley

Described by The Guardian in 2015 as “one of this country’s great contemporary novelists,” British writer and academic Hadley has been quietly producing works of subtly powerful prose for two decades. Like her recent novels, The Past (2015) and Late in the Day (2019), Free Love – Hadley’s eighth – explores intimate relationships, sexuality, memory and grief, through an apparently ordinary-looking suburban family. But, Hadley writes, “under the placid surface of suburbia, something was unhinged.” Set amid the culture clash of the late 1960s, the novel interrogates the counterculture’s idealistic vision of sexual freedom, in, writes the i newspaper, “a complex tale of personal awakening and a snapshot of a moment in time when the survivors of war were suddenly painted as relics by a new generation determined not to live under their dour and hesitant shadow. ” NPR writes, “Free Love is a fresh, moving evocation of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” (RL)

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

A debut novel, Black Cake tells the backstory of an African-American family of Caribbean origin, and two siblings who are reunited after eight years of estrangement at their mother’s funeral where they discover their unusual inheritance. The plot is driven by an omniscient narrator, dialogue and flashbacks. It is, says the New York Times, full of “family secrets, big lies, great loves, bright colors and strong smells”. The themes of race, identity and family love are all incorporated, says the Independent, “but the fun is in the reading… Black Cake is a satisfying literary meal, heralding the arrival of a new novelist to watch.” (LB)

Auē by Becky Manawatu

Told through several viewpoints, Auē tells the story of Māori siblings who have lost their parents, with each sibling telling their tale, and later their mother, Aroha, also telling hers from the afterlife. The novel has already won two awards in New Zealand, and is now gaining wider praise. “The plot reveals are masterful,” says The Guardian. “Auē has done well because it is expertly crafted, but also because it has something indefinable: enthralling, puzzling, gripping and familiar, yet otherworldly.” (LB)

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