Favourite reads of 2019

My favourite reads in – though as ever, not necessarily from – 2019.

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
Faber & Faber, 2018

Two families across two centuries navigate radically changing times – from the controversial new theories of Darwin to the social change necessary to tackle climate breakdown – and what it really means to be with or without shelter. Another masterpiece in social dynamics from Kingsolver. 

The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau
Bloomsbury, 2016

Amidst a mass dyout of bees, an Australian family face the possible end of their livelihood, while old secrets surface and threaten to break apart the fragile family unit. Juchau’s meditation on a fading world feels ever more poignant in light of the current, catastrophic bushfire crisis in Australia.

Zero Bomb – M. T. Hill
Titan, 2019

This fragmented novel set in a terrifyingly plausible near future explores the impact of new automation technologies which lie just around the corner. Simmering with foreboding, the tension ratchets throughout to a thrilling climax.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak
Viking, 2019

In the ten minutes after her death, the woman known to her friends as Tequila Leila recalls her most vivid memories from a troubled and turbulent life. Coalescing around mind, body and soul, Shafak’s latest novel is a beautiful paean to those who are let down by society and the redemptive power of friendship. 

Wilding – Isabella Tree
Picador, 2018

Tree’s account of the hugely successful rewilding project at Knepp in Sussex is a fascinating, inspirational journey – with unexpected outcomes from breeding turtle doves to the return of the nightingale. A blueprint for how new approaches to conservation could restore our brutally depleted countryside. 

Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich
Penguin Modern Classics, first published 1997

This extraordinary, haunting, deeply humane work gives voice to the ordinary people affected by the Chernobyl disaster. The testimonies recounted here were the inspiration behind many of the threads in this year’s superb television dramatisation. 


The Heavens – Sandra Newman

Granta, 2019

Kate falls asleep in twenty-first century New York and wakes in plague-stricken Elizabethan England, but with each return to New York her world changes a little more. This luminous, shifting, skilful novel is a superbly clever take on time travel (is it or isn’t it?) from the ever inventive Newman. 

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? – Temi Oh
Simon & Schuster, 2019

A gorgeously written coming-of-age tale follows a group of young people who have trained since children as they embark on a twenty year journey to lead the first mission to another planet, and gradually come to terms with the reality of their decision.

The Wych Elm – Tana French
Viking, 2019

After a devastating attack leaves him injured and with partial memory loss, Toby returns to his ancestral family home to look after his dying uncle. The idyll is broken when a skull is found in the garden. Gloriously twisty psychological thriller with a deliciously unreliable narrator. 

Bridge 108 – Anne Charnock
47 North, 2020

I was lucky to read an advance copy of the new novel from Arthur C. Clarke winner Anne Charnock. Set in the near-future England of Charnock’s first novel (A Calculated Life), Bridge 108 explores the consequences of an influx of climate breakdown immigrants from southern Europe. A tapestry of voices resonate around trafficked youngster Caleb as he battles to make a new life for himself in this superbly rendered world.

Happy new year all, and here’s to 2020 reading!