best books of 2023 so far

Best Books I’ve Read So Far This Year

At the halfway point of 2023, here are the highlights of my reading year so far, including a Saudi Arabian novel, a history of Algeria and an Australian masterpiece.

At the halfway point of 2023, here are the highlights of my reading year so far, including a Saudi Arabian novel, a history of Algeria and an Australian masterpiece.

I haven’t been doing my usual monthly reading roundups this year, so here’s a summary of the best books I’ve read so far in 2023.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

I read this book recently, and it instantly became the best book I’d read this year, and one of the best books I’ve read for a very long time. It’s a story of lost love, missed opportunities, the brutality of war, small moments of unexpected humanity and compassion in the midst of barbarism and suffering… Loads of huge themes, all handled masterfully. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Flanagan himself, while driving for thousands of kilometres on deserted roads in Western Australia, and the bleakness and beauty of the prose moved me to tears on several occasions.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

This innovative Sri Lankan novel starts off with the death of Maali Almeida and then follows Maali into the afterlife, where he has seven moons to work out who killed him and help his loved ones to find the photographs that will reveal the truth. It’s a wonderfully creative novel that explores themes of sexuality, mortality, love, friendship, political corruption and much more. The structure and execution reminded me of the Turkish novel 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak, which was one of my best books of 2019.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’ve written here about the urgent need for us all to write about climate change in better ways, ways that overcome catastrophism and inertia and provoke serious conversations about how we can overcome this crisis. This is a novel that avoids far-future post-apocalyptic hellscapes and instead deals with the horror that is to come in just the next few decades. But while remaining clear-eyed about the inevitable suffering that we have already locked in by our stupidity and greed up to this point, it also provides a realistic tale of a pathway towards collective survival. At times, the story and characters get a bit lost amid the detailed ideas and theories, but Robinson has tackled huge, urgent topics head on, and I applaud him for it. There’s loads in here to think about. It’s a wake-up call and a prescription for possible action, and we’ll need more books like this if we are to survive much beyond this century.

A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne

A Savage War of Peace	by Alistair Horne

I spent three weeks travelling around Algeria earlier this year, and I wanted to understand the history of the country. This book gave me all the understanding I could have wanted, and a lot more besides. Did you know that more than a million Algerians died in the war to gain independence from France in the 1950s and 60s? More than a million. I didn’t know that, and I think that if a European country kills a million people in the middle of the 20th century, it should be common knowledge. This book tells the whole tragic story in all its brutal, barbaric, senseless detail. It was very, very tough to read, but as a comprehensive account of an important moment in history, it was a thoroughly impressive achievement.

Spare by Prince Harry

Spare by Prince Harry

Yeah, I’m surprised too. I’m sure I’m not the target audience for this book because (a) I never read celebrity autobiographies and (b) I have zero interest in the Royal Family unless we’re talking about abolition or reparations, neither of which are covered in this book. And yet I found Spare to be a well-written and compelling account of Prince Harry’s life so far, giving me an insight into all the pressures of life as a prince, the toxicity of the media, and the strain of life in a toxic family.

Because I don’t really pay attention to the Royals, a lot of what I read was completely new to me. Although I had a vague idea of how intrusive and mendacious the British media and paparazzi can be, I was shocked by the details and by the level of vitriol, which increased exponentially after Meghan came on the scene and threatened to upstage the rest of the family. The odd thing is that Spare doesn’t match most of the accounts of it in the media. Although the book does criticise other members of the family, it’s not the all-out attack on William and Charles that it’s often presented as. Instead, it’s primarily an attack on abhorrent media practices, and I found it to be a very compelling one.

The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia

The Consequences of Love	by Sulaiman Addonia

I also travelled to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the year, and I loved this novel set in the city in the 1980s. It’s the story of an illicit love affair between Naser and a veiled woman he only knows as Fiore. The affair could mean death for both of them if discovered by the brutal morality police who stalk the city and send the guilty off for a public beheading, but neither of them can stop.

That’s It!

It was hard to pick just a few books out of the dozens I’ve read, but I didn’t want this post to be too long. There are lots of other excellent books I’ve discovered this year, such as Danny Boy by Barry Walsh (review here), Crossing by Pajtim Statovci, The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon, I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McGurdy, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

Have you read any of these books? What are your favourite reads of the year so far? Let me know in the comments below.

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There are 8 comments

  1. Thanks for the round up, Andrew. I’ve not read any of these but have Seven Moons on my list.
    One of my favourites so far this year is the novel The Country of Others by Leila Slimani, set in post WW2 Morrocco.
    Also Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, set just outside Belfast during The Toubles.
    Last but not least All Our Yesterdays by Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg, a family history set also during WW2. She’s a new writer for me and I loved the voice in this novel.

    1. Hi Mandy, good to hear from you! Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll look those up. I hope you get to Seven Moons – I loved it and would be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. I’ve been lucky with my reading this year, many wonderful books so far. One of them is a book I’d recommend to you since you appreciated Horne’s history the war in Algeria–Alice Zeniter’s The Art of Losing. Three others that have been excellent are: A Change of Time by Ida Jessen, The Fawn by Magda Szabó, and The Censor’s Notebook by Liliana Corobca.

  3. Glad you have been doing such good reading! I think Narrow Road is a most excellent book as well. The writing is so spare but it’s effective and moving. Oh and Ministry for the Future! What did you think of Robinson’s solutions? He kind of took a page from Malm with the Black Ops arm of things and I still have mixed feelings about that since it was only after planes started blowing up that things really started to move toward action. And no doubt the media is playing up the criticism of family in Harry’s book because why would they talk about how horrible they are as the media?

    1. Yeah, I thought it was interesting how a lot of reviews called Robinson’s book “hopeful”, I guess because it actually lays out a detailed and fairly plausible pathway to survival, but to me it’s not a hopeful book at all—it’s very bleak. It starts with millions of people boiling to death in extreme agony in an Indian heatwave, and even that’s not enough to provoke serious change. As you point out, it takes violent direct action to provoke any real movement towards survival.

      I’d love to say he’s wrong, but to be honest, considering where we are at the moment and the way politicians and business leaders have time and again shown themselves willing to sacrifice the future of the entire planet for the sake of slightly higher quarterly profits, I can’t fault his approach.

      Of course, our future is not dictated by our past, and there have been loads of times in history when either mass movements or very well-organised vanguard movements have created completely unexpected change. So I’m still hopeful of something better than what Robinson lays out for us. But considering where we are right now, I do understand why reviewers called his book hopeful. There are much worse outcomes heading our way if we continue on our current path.

      1. The idea that climate change is icaused by humans and can be reversed by humans is not a scientifically proven fact.

        1. Hi Anonymous, Wow, I used to run into that argument a lot in the 1990s, but I haven’t heard it for years now. Thanks for the nostalgia trip!

          Seriously, though, you may want to read the latest IPCC report, a summary of the scientific consensus on climate change. Even if you don’t read the whole thing, just check out the very first sentence of the summary for policymakers: “Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming.”

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