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Best fiction of 2020

Best fiction of 2020

Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and Tsitsi Dangarembga completed landmark series, Martin Amis turned to autofiction and Elena Ferrante returned to Naples – plus a host of brilliant debuts

As the first lockdown descended in March, sales of Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and Camus’s La Peste soared, but there were uncanny echoes of Covid-19 to be found in this year’s novels too.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell’s tender, heartbreaking Hamnet (Tinder), which went on to win the Women’s prize, illuminates life and love in the shadow of death four centuries ago. Focused on Anne Hathaway rather than her playwright husband , it channels the family’s grief for son Hamnet, lost to the plague, with a timeless power. From public information slogans to individual fears, Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars (Picador), set in a Dublin maternity hospital during the 1918 flu pandemic, shows how little our responses have changed. Don DeLillo completed The Silence (Picador) just before the coronavirus hit; but this slim, austere vision of what it’s like to be in a room as screens go dark and disaster unfolds outside chimes with current fears.

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

Unfolding disaster was the theme of novels that spoke explicitly to the present moment, too: Jenny Offill’s Weather (Granta) assembles shards of anecdote and aphorism into a glittering mosaic that faces up to Trump’s America and climate collapse with wit, heart and moments of sheer terror. Naomi Booth’s Exit Management (Dead Ink) expertly dramatises the crisis in housing, jobs and community. Sarah Moss’s menacing Summerwater (Picador) is set over one rainy day in a Scottish holiday park: catastrophe lurks in the near future as we dip into the minds of various daydreaming, dissatisfied holidaymakers, in a sharp investigation into the meaning of community and otherness. Also deeply attuned to the anxieties of both Brexit and our long, slow post-industrial collapse is M John Harrison’s masterly The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again (Gollancz). An unsettling and multilayered narrative foregrounding two lost souls in a haunted, unheimlich England who don’t know how lost they are, it took the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction.

Summer (Hamish Hamilton) Ali Smith

Summer (Hamish Hamilton) completed Ali Smith’s rapid-response Seasonal quartet: four novels written over four years that have encompassed Brexit, climate change, corporate takeover and the refugee crisis along with the bracing consolations of art and nature. Reuniting characters from previous volumes and juxtaposing second world war internment with today’s migrant detention centres, Summer brought a much needed note of hope and resilience to the finale of a landmark series that explores how we live in and out of time.

This year saw the final volume, too, of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which has conjured a vanished age to such extraordinarily vivid life and cast profound insights about power, ambition and fate on to the present one. The Mirror & the Light (4th Estate) had to end on the executioner’s scaffold, but the reader is suspended in the unfolding present moment until the axe falls.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste - book cover

Another trilogy was completed in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable Body (Faber); written three decades on from her classic Nervous Conditions , it is a brutal, intimate reckoning with the psychological trauma of colonialism. Also shortlisted for the Booker, Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King (Canongate) is a beautifully crafted account of the female soldiers resisting Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and their own oppression in Ethiopian society. Lyrical, furious and meticulously researched, it is a necessary act of historical reclamation.

Marilynne Robinson turned her Gilead trilogy into a quartet with Jack (Virago), a romance across the race divide in segregated mid-century America which explores the redeeming, transcendent power of love and faith. Brit Bennett also anatomised racism in The Vanishing Half (Dialogue), a stunning family saga about passing for white and the hollowness of the American dream that won her comparisons to Toni Morrison.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

There were historical escapes from David Mitchell, in 1960s muso epic Utopia Avenue (Sceptre), and Jonathan Coe, with a bittersweet visit to one of Billy Wilder’s last film sets in Mr Wilder and Me (Viking). Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham (Doubleday) spun wistful alternative history, imagining what the world might have looked like if Hillary hadn’t married Bill, while Martin Amis drew on his own history for Inside Story (Cape), a baggy but fascinating autofiction combining cameos from Saul Bellow and Christopher Hitchens with tips on prose writing.

Andrew O’Hagan’s poignant Mayflies (Faber) explores the way all our lives recede too quickly into history, with a joyous nostalgiafest of young Scots chasing music and girls on a wild weekend in the 80s segueing into sober mid-life realisations and difficult decisions decades later. A brilliant portrayal of male friendship, it’s also the perfect gift for middle-aged alternative music fans.

The year began with an impressively assured debut from US author Kiley Reid; Such a Fun Age (Bloomsbury) is a razor-sharp take on white fragility and millennial uncertainty, beginning when a black nanny is accused of kidnapping her white charge. Also witty and fresh, Naoise Dolan’s deliciously dry Exciting Times (W&N) sees cynical Irish twentysomething Ava unsettled by genuine emotion while teaching in Hong Kong.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Two semi-autobiographical Scottish debuts from Picador showcased essential new voices: Douglas Stuart took the Booker prize for his moving, devastating Shuggie Bain , the tale of a boy’s desperate love for his alcoholic mother in the deprived, post-industrial 80s; while Graeme Armstrong’s The Young Team , set among teenage gangs in Lanarkshire, updated Trainspotting for a new generation.

Other notable first novels included Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (Dialogue), a fearless coming-of-age story about racial and sexual identity and masculinity focused on a young, black gay man who flees his Jehovah’s Witness community to become a sex worker. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton) coolly explores a toxic mother-daughter relationship in middle-class India, while Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (Daunt) weighs contradictory urges towards solitude and intimacy. The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams (William Heinemann), which continues the lexicographical playfulness of her short stories, is a singularly charming jeu d’esprit about two people a century apart doing the difficult, essential work of defining words and defining themselves.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

In translated fiction, Elena Ferrante returned to her emotional heartland, the psyche of the teenage girl, in The Lying Life of Adults (Europa, translated by Ann Goldstein). As Giovanna tackles parental hypocrisy, self-disgust and the disconnect between upper- and lower-class Naples, the novel builds into what feels like a portrait of the artist as a young woman. Originally conceived as a true crime story, Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Fitzcarraldo, translated by Sophie Hughes) is a savage, unstoppable chronicle of misogyny and murder in a small Mexican village. Another rawly compelling novel won the International Booker: young Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s The Discomfort of Evening (Faber, translated by Michele Hutchison ) focuses on a girl in a deeply religious family that is falling apart in the wake of her brother’s death.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut

Daniel Kehlmann’s darkly funny Tyll (Riverrun, translated by Ross Benjamin), a picaresque journey through early 17th-century Europe, follows the progress of a folkloric jester figure from village to court against the bloody backdrop of the thirty years’ war. In Samanta Schweblin’s fiendishly readable Little Eyes (Oneworld, translated by Megan McDowell), the new must-have tech gadget allows users to leapfrog into the lives of strangers – a sharp idea that became even more pertinent with the isolation and atomisation of lockdown. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut (Pushkin, translated by Adrian Nathan West), a “nonfiction novel” focused on the exceptional minds looking into the dark heart of maths and science in the 20th century, traces revelatory connections between discovery and destruction.

The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan

Some of the most exciting short stories of the year were to be found in Kathryn Scanlan’s The Dominant Animal (Daunt), with its fiercely sculpted sentences and unnervingly off-kilter scenarios. Cathy Sweeney’s Modern Times (W&N) has a comically surreal energy and verve, while in Reality and Other Stories (Faber) John Lanchester structures a collection of ghost stories around the most dangerous, intrusive, unknowable force in our lives – technology.

Two striking books unfolded in the fertile space between story collection and novel. In poet Frances Leviston’s The Voice in My Ear (Cape), 10 different protagonists, all called Claire, contend with the demands of the world and their difficult mothers; the stories glance off each other to build into a cubist portrait of contemporary womanhood. Maria Reva’s Good Citizens Need Not Fear (Virago), meanwhile, uses interlinked tales centred around a crumbling apartment block in Ukraine to convey the absurdity of post-Soviet life.

Finally, two novels that were a long time coming. From the 18th century to the 21st, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock (Cape) explores violence against women in three subtly linked time periods: a blazingly angry, darkly witty tour de force, Wyld’s third novel is bleak but bracing, and as ever, beautifully written.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Sixteen years after her bestselling debut Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell , Susanna Clarke returned with Piranesi (Bloomsbury), the story of a man trapped in a many-halled House with an Ocean surging within it, his only companion a mysterious Other. Written out of long illness, but published into a world in which every reader was struggling with confinement and thrown on their inner resources, Clarke’s fantastical parable of solitude, imagination, ambition and contentment is a spectacular piece of fiction, and the perfect reading accompaniment to a year like no other.

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Anarchism’s Failure

Greg afinogenov.

I n summer ​ 1876, Peter Kropotkin was given a pocket watch by a visiting relative. He was 33 years old, bore one of the Russian Empire’s oldest princely titles and had been a page de chambre to Tsar Alexander II. He was already famous in Russia for his scientific work on zoology and glaciation. Two years earlier, however, he had been arrested and imprisoned as a member of a...

The populists had emerged out of the nihilist milieu as its most committed revolutionaries, embracing an austere code of ethics. Like Kropotkin, they were motivated by modern science rather than Hegelian abstraction, and they wanted to move quickly from talk to action. But it wasn’t clear what that action should be.

Macron v. Millions

Jeremy harding.

P ensions ​ – and ‘the fiscal impact of ageing’ – have long troubled the EU. A European Commission paper published in 2016 noted with relief that ‘most EU member states’ were reforming their pension systems. France is one of them. During his first term in office Emmanuel Macron envisaged an ambitious reform plan, but Covid-19 put paid to it. Re-elected in...

The public and most of the press were suspicious of the reform from the start, simply because it meant revisiting the mystifying labyrinth of the pension system. Trade union actuaries and compute-your-pension calculators published in the French media have done sterling work, but nobody can say for sure what lies in store, except that many are liable to lose out.

Mothers’ Work

Sophie lewis.

F or one day ​, 24 October 1975, nine-tenths of the adult female population of Iceland went on strike. They withdrew their paid labour and stopped their unpaid work, putting down their babies and abandoning the housework. Kvennafrídagurinn , or ‘Women’s Day Off’, reversed the usual scenario in which wives, girlfriends, mothers and daughters supported unionised...

Mothering and other forms of intimate labour reproduce and sustain both capital and life; both workers and comrades; both patriarchal society and the possibility of liberation from it. In this sense, to say that life-preserving work (such as feeding, hoovering or wound-dressing) is ‘essential’ isn’t sufficient. The better question would be: essential for what?

Empires in Disguise

Tom stevenson.

E mpires ​ are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet in some ways the empires we knew are still with us. The great powers of the present were the great continental empires of the 18th and 19th centuries. The borders of Russia today are similar to those of the Russian empire in the 1750s. The territory of modern China largely resembles that of the Qing empire in 1760, the main difference...

If the size of empires increases in great bursts does it follow that there will be another sudden expansion? Will the world eventually be consolidated into just a few states, and finally a world state? According to Alasdair Roberts, the trend has been happening before our eyes.

The Big Con

Pankaj mishra.

The Indian businessman Gautam Adani has been revealed not only as a beneficiary of the new political and economic order devised by Modi to consolidate Hindu supremacism in India. The neglected details of his frictionless rise show how, after their calamitous romance with Russia’s oligarchy, Western politicians, journalists and bankers have facilitated the ascent of another hyper-nationalist elite with dubiously sourced wealth and an extreme aversion to the rule of law and civil liberties.

The neglected details of Gautam Adani’s frictionless rise show how, after their calamitous romance with Russia’s oligarchy, Western politicians, journalists and bankers have facilitated the ascent of another hyper-nationalist elite with dubiously sourced wealth and an extreme aversion to the rule of law and civil liberties.

Armada on the Rocks

Jessie childs.

S treedagh Strand ​ is a long curving beach in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. It lies in the shadow of Benbulben, a plateau formed by Ice Age glaciers that is full of the fossils of extinct marine creatures. Out to sea reefs produce mountainous waves. It’s a place where men and their machines seem small. On 21 September 1588, three ships from the Levant squadron of the...

The English had more ‘ship-smashing’ guns, more experienced gunners, better powder and more standardised shot. (The ‘Spanish’ Armada used pieces from foundries all over Europe, each with different regional pound standards.) The guns won the day. The weather did the rest.

T he government ​ is making it harder to vote. As of 4 May, when local elections take place in some parts of England, and in all British elections after that, everyone who votes at a polling station will have to show photographic proof that they are who they say they are. Some have made the comparison with voter suppression in the US, where Republicans impose onerous ID requirements to keep...

In the absence of a plausible explanation, the list of acceptable ID seems to be a clumsy effort to favour the older, Conservative-tending voter at the expense of the younger and more Labour-inclined. What stands out about the voter ID saga as a whole, however, is not its repressive aspect but its shoddiness, its carelessness.

What Spotify Wants

Daniel cohen.

Newspaper articles claimed that streaming, and Spotify in particular, had saved the music industry. Whether or not you share that view depends on what you understand the music industry to be.

For all Spotify’s talk of ‘discovery’, the thing it really cares about is what Mike, the chief scientist at Willow, calls ‘the hang-around factor’. If someone skips a song, or stops listening altogether, then something has gone wrong. You mustn’t bore the listener, but you mustn’t startle them either.

‘Biography of X’

Joanna biggs.

T he ​ problem with biography is that it’s impossible. Have you ever tried to write down the thoughts, the emotions, the memories that bubble up in a person over sixty seconds; where she is; what she’s wearing; what she can smell, taste and hear; who she’s with; what she’s saying; not to mention what contribution this 0.069 per cent of a day is making to the meaning of...

The​ problem with biography is that it’s impossible. Have you ever tried to write down the thoughts, the emotions, the memories that bubble up in a person over sixty seconds; where she is; what she’s wearing; what she can smell, taste and hear; who she’s with; what she’s saying; not to mention what contribution this 0.069 per cent of a day is making to the meaning of her life? C.M. Lucca, the writer created by Catherine Lacey to narrate  Biography of X , at least has the guts to admit the problem.

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Travels for the Mind

Read the world’s best writing – from some of the world’s best writers. Subscribe to the LRB today.

In Meret Oppenheim’s Shoes

Anahid nersessian.

M eret Oppenheim ​’s Ma Gouvernante , a pair of white leather pumps trussed up like a Sunday roast and served on a silver platter, is an allegory of other-womanhood. In 1933, three years before she exhibited Ma Gouvernante at her first solo show, Oppenheim began an affair with Max Ernst. She was 20, studying art in Paris; he was 44. His wife, the painter Marie-Berthe Aurenche, was 29....

If Meret Oppenheim’s sculpture reads as feminine, or as having to do with femininity, it is because women are associated with certain rituals and labours (pouring tea or ‘being mother’). Object is not about sexual roles but about the formal contrivances through which we experience them.

‘Wild Isles’

Thomas jones.

D avid Attenborough ​ was born in 1926, the same year as Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro and Elizabeth II. He began hosting Zoo Quest on BBC television in 1954; not quite seventy years later, his latest series, Wild Isles , has just finished airing (it’s still available on iPlayer, or Amazon Prime for those outside the UK). It’s as magnificent as anyone could hope for from a BBC nature...

Wild Isles doesn’t explicitly advocate for returning the water companies to public ownership (a policy backed by 69 per cent of the population but by neither of the leading political parties). But it does show people what is at stake: what may soon be lost and why it’s worth preserving.

‘Birnam Wood’

Clare bucknell.

E leanor Catton’s ​ characters enjoy playing other people. Mira Bunting, the twenty-something founder of Birnam Wood, an activist gardening collective, maintains a ‘rotation’ of aliases for undercover purposes. To glean information about a property listing in the small town of Thorndike in New Zealand, she transforms – via a fake email account – into Mrs June...

In Birnam Wood , Eleanor Catton’s characters keep fabricating their own versions of reality, but their inventions are boxed in: lies, casting after ordinary plausibility, tend to resemble one another as much as they resemble truth. 

Andrew Cockburn

O ne evening ​ in early March, I stood on Rustaveli Avenue in front of the floodlit Georgian parliament in the midst of a crowd that was swelling rapidly as ever more people, including families with children and dogs, joined the protest. The demonstration had originally been scheduled for two days later, when a new law backed by the ruling party, Georgian Dream, was due to be voted on: any...

The Ukrainian authorities ‘wanted Saakashvili to be in power’, so that he would ‘start a war against Russia and join Ukraine, involving Georgia in the war’. The opposition calls this scaremongering, but the message still resonates. As an American resident in Tbilisi pointed out, the government ‘is panicked that if Putin wins in Ukraine, they’re next. And if he loses, he’ll need a quick win somewhere, so they’d be next.’

Hannah Starkey

Emily labarge.

W omen looking ​ at women. Girls looking at girls, looking at girls looking at girls. Women and girls alone, in pairs, threes, fours. Women and girls looking at themselves, which is a version of looking at each other but also something different. Women and girls looking back – looking towards, away, in profile, two-thirds and three-quarter views. One could fall in love with looking at...

If only the everyday were so richly textured, bright, precious and considered. Hannah Starkey’s photographs suggest that, given time and the right conditions, transformative details might bring forth meaning we didn’t know was there.

Brain Spot Men

Gavin francis.

A couple ​ of years ago a patient I’ll call Joan came to my GP clinic to tell me that her right leg had stopped working. ‘Sometimes it’ll hold me upright,’ she said, ‘and sometimes it won’t.’ I took a look at her legs. Her thigh muscles on the right seemed to me a bit weaker than on the left, and her reflexes were unusually brisk; when I tapped her...

MRI scans render the brain as a series of transverse slices, like a stack of plates, from the top of the head to the base of the skull. At his follow-up appointment, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst was shown the scan of his own brain and it was pointed out to him that the white matter was speckled with little plaques. Neurologists are accustomed to breaking bad news. His doctor was brisk and businesslike: ‘I’m going to come right out with it,’ she said. ‘I think you have multiple sclerosis.’

The Abortion Plot

Clair wills.

What might it mean​ for the way we think about abortion if we take seriously the problem of what fictional narrative – novels and stories and films – says about it, or doesn’t say, what it makes impossible to say? Can we tell stories about abortion that don’t get snagged on gendered assumptions about human nature and moral feeling, that think in different psychological terms, or not in psychological terms at all?

What might it mean​ for the way we think about abortion if we take seriously the problem of what fictional narrative – novels and stories and films – says about it, or doesn’t say, what it makes impossible to say?

The Reaction Economy

William davies.

The quest for authentic joy or shock – or best of all, joy and shock at the same time – which drives reaction content endows the human face with a communicative magic that words cannot match. It is an infernal riddle of digital culture that ‘authenticity’ is constantly breeding its opposite: the ‘spontaneous’ event that proves to be no such thing, the ‘surprise’ that turns out to be staged, the emotional outburst that has been practised. TikTok is awash with apparently ‘authentic’ clips of humorous reactions (often based on pranks), the comments on which are preoccupied with whether or not the interaction is ‘real’. The human face, the standard for emotional truth, is also the basis for emojis and Facebook ‘reactions’, now an entire system of signification capable of conveying considerable meaning, but one from which the promise of authentic or immediate emotion has been lost. Any culture that lavishes praise on ‘authenticity’ to the extent that ours does will be beset by worries regarding ‘fakery’.

Am I even interested in the news, if I have no opportunity to react to it? Being in the digital public sphere without any means to react is a bit like being trapped in a shopping mall without any money.

Trans Narratives

Jacqueline rose.

Today, trans people – men, women, neither, both – are taking the public stage more than ever before. In the words of a Time magazine cover story in June last year, trans is ‘America’s next civil rights frontier’. Perhaps, even though it doesn’t always look this way on the ground, trans activists will also – just – be in a position to advance what so often seems impossible: a political movement that tells it how it uniquely is, without separating one struggle for equality and human dignity from all the rest.

Transition, however real, is achieved at least partly by means of fiction, that it is through story-making that transsexual people arrive at the resolution they seek. Sexual being – on the skin and in the bloodstream – reaches into the roots of who we are.

Making the Microchip

John lanchester.

P icture ​ the following age-old scene: a writer sitting at a kitchen table, pretending to work. Set it forty years ago. The Conservatives are in power and everything is broken, but our subject is the writer’s stuff. On the table is a typewriter; to one side is a radio, to another is a phone; also in the room are a fridge, an oven, a hob, a toaster, a set of car keys and a vacuum cleaner....

Before we get to the geopolitics, can we have a moment to inhabit the technological sublime? Microchips are some of the most extraordinary objects humanity has ever made.

From the blog

The fog in lima, valeria costa-kostritsky.

People say that the weather in Lima is horrible. As the 19th-century Peruvian poet Pedro Paz Soldán y Unanue put it:The weather in whose atmosphere  . . .

Freud’s Milton

Joe moshenska.

I felt rather embarrassed that, having spent some years thinking about connections between the two writers, I hadn’t thought to ask whether  . . .

Francisco Garcia

On the afternoon of 12 April a prisoner climbed onto the roof of Strangeways in Manchester. Joe Outlaw, aka Chris Attiller Hordosi, has been  . . .

On the Lumbar Extension Machine

Emily berry.

When I had a bad back, I used to go to a special gym for people with musculoskeletal pain. My father had been recommending it for years but of  . . .

Skiddy Corners

‘Real tennis’ is a good example of a retronym, a new name invented from an old one in order to adapt to technological advancement. Until  . . .

Everyone’s a China Hawk

The current US government has tried to tie its domestic political projects to a confrontation with China. As Scipio Nasica said of Rome’s relations  . . .

Shades of Grey in Bilbao

Juan navarro.

Bilbao is the only city I know where colours compete in the mind and the winners vary depending on who you ask. Older people would go for grey  . . .

Critical Support

The ‘special military operation’ is a bloody fiasco – that much is obvious. Terms such as ‘the Bakhmut meat grinder’ are now commonplace  . . .


World weather.

From June 2022 to June 2023, the LRB is collaborating with the World Weather Network, a constellation of weather stations set up by 28 arts organisations in oceans, deserts, mountains, farmland, rainforests,...

Writing about thinking up other worlds by Glen Newey, Terry Eagleton, Sheila Fitzpatrick, Susan Pedersen, David Trotter and Anthony Pagden.

Plainclothes in our Living Rooms

Writing about the police by Barbara Wootton, Daniel Trilling, Alice Spawls, Adam Reiss, Ronan Bennett, Thomas Jones, Paul Foot, Katrina Forrester, Melanie McFadyean, Matt Foot and Christopher Tayler.

Little Monstrosities

Writing about dog/human bonds by Hannah Rose Woods, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Iain Sinclair, Michael Burns, Anne Carson, Alison Light, Frank Cioffi, Amia Srinivasan and Jenny Turner.

LRB Winter Lectures 2010-2020

Judith Butler on who owns Kafka; Hilary Mantel on royal bodies; Andrew O’Hagan on Julian Assange; Mary Beard on women in power; Patricia Lockwood on the communal mind of the internet; Meehan Crist...

Analysis Gone Wrong

Unorthodox psychoanalytic encounters in the LRB archive by Wynne Godley, Sherry Turkle, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Nicholas Spice, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Jenny Diski, Brigid Brophy, Adam Phillips, D.J. Enright...

How shall we repaint the kitchen?

Writing about colour in the LRB archive by Ian Hacking, Anne Enright, John Kinsella, Alison Light, Julian Bell, David Garrioch, Emily LaBarge and Stephen Mulhall.

London Review of Crooks

Writing about how (not) to commit fraud by Walter Benjamin, Deborah Friedell, Daniel Soar, Vadim Nikitin, Steven Shapin, Pooja Bhatia, James Lasdun, Bee Wilson, John Lanchester and Robert Marshall-Andrews. 

The view from here and now

Writing about memory and history by Hilary Mantel, Thomas Nagel, Salman Rushdie, Eric Hobsbawm, Jorie Graham, Tom Crewe, Rosalind Mitchison, Adam Phillips and Steven Mithen.

Plato made it up

Writing about myth and the stories we tell ourselves by Margaret Anne Doody, Marina Warner, Mary Beard, Anne Carson, James Davidson, Tom Shippey, Joanna Kavenna, Lorna Sage and Michael Wood.

A Child Let Loose

Writing about children’s literature by Joan Aiken, Bee Wilson, Marina Warner, Wendy Doniger, Rosemary Hill, Jenny Turner, Marghanita Laski, Andrew O’Hagan, Jenny Diski and Gillian Avery.

Down among the Press Lords

Writing about the press by Andrew O’Hagan, Ross McKibbin, Jenny Diski, James Meek, Suzanne Moore, Mary-Kay Wilmers, Alan Rusbridger, Thomas Nagel and Raymond Williams.

Living by the Clock

Writing about time by David Cannadine, Perry Anderson, Angela Carter, Stanley Cavell, Barbara Everett, Edward Said, John Banville, Rebecca Solnit, David Wootton, Jenny Diski, Malcolm Bull, Andrew O’Hagan...

Writing about space by Carolin Crawford, Tim Radford, Nick Richardson, Jenny Diski, Anne Enright, Chris Lintott, James Hamilton-Paterson, Serafina Cuomo, Linsey McGoey, Thomas Jones, John Leslie, Rivka...

No Cheating!

Writing about cheating in sport and beyond by John Lanchester, Andrew McGettigan, James Romm, Hilary Mantel, David Runciman, Dinah Birch, Rebecca Solnit and Fiona Pitt-Kethley.

The Blue Pill

‘It doesn’t require a vast leap of psychoanalytic speculation,’ William Davies writes on the LRB blog, ‘to surmise that feelings may attach themselves to iconic public objects which are really...

The Red Pill

‘The phenomenological ego is a temporal matter,’ Fredric Jameson wrote in a piece about hyperspace from 2015, ‘and time itself one of its fundamental paradoxes.’ So take the red pill and spend...

The Queen and I

Writing about the queen, her family and the institution she inhabited, by William Empson, Gabriele Annan, Jonathan Meades, Andrew O’Hagan, Tom Nairn, Hilary Mantel, Tom Crewe, Linda Colley and Rosemary...

Making and breaking in the LRB archive by Adam Phillips, T.J. Clark, George Hyde, Jenny Diski, Sheila Heti, Barbara Everett, Ross McKibbin, Slavoj Žižek, Terry Eagleton and Patricia Lockwood.

Writing about drinking by Victor Mallet, Anne Carson, John Lanchester, Wendy Cope, Christopher Hitchens, Tom Jaine, Jenny Diski, Marina Warner, Clancy Martin and John Lloyd. 

Thomas Hardy's Medieval Mind

Mary wellesley and mark ford.

Two worlds collide in this Close Readings fusion episode in which Mary Wellesley talks to Mark Ford about the medieval in Thomas Hardy and the wider Victorian imagination. They discuss why Hardy liked to present himself as an Arthurian knight, his satirisation of the chivalric ideal in his novel  A Pair of Blue Eyes , and the way his training as an architect influenced his devotion to...

Two worlds collide in this Close Readings fusion episode in which Mary Wellesley talks to Mark Ford about the medieval in Thomas Hardy and the wider Victorian imagination. 

Sisters Come Second

Colm tóibín , andrew o’hagan and malin hay.

In his introduction to our twelfth LRB Collection,  Sisters Come Second , Colm Tóibín writes that most siblings dream of being only children. Malin Hay explores this idea with Colm and Andrew O’Hagan, both younger sons in big families. Their conversation considers the examples of the brothers Mann, Yeats, James and Windsor, and why, as Evelyn Waugh observed, when...

In his introduction to our twelfth LRB Collection,  Sisters Come Second , Colm Tóibín writes that most siblings dream of being only children. Malin Hay explores this idea with Colm and Andrew O’Hagan, both younger sons in big families. Their conversation considers the examples of the brothers Mann, Yeats, James and Windsor, and why, as Czesław Miłosz observed, when there’s a writer in the family, that family is finished. 

Mary Renault's Worldbuilding

Miranda carter and thomas jones.

Miranda Carter joins Tom to talk about the life and historical fiction of Mary Renault, whose popular and ingenious retellings of stories from Ancient Greece have never been out of print. They discuss her eventful life, which took her from Edwardian East London to apartheid South Africa, and her meticulous classical reconstructions.

Miranda Carter joins Tom to talk about the life and historical fiction of Mary Renault, whose popular and ingenious retellings of stories from Ancient Greece have never been out of print. They...

Wildfowling on Frampton Marsh

James meek and anthony wilks.

James Meek goes wildfowling with DeWayne Cross in November 2021, while researching his piece on housebuilding and floodplains in and around Boston, Lincolnshire.

Read the piece here: Underwater Living

Filmed and edited by Anthony Wilks.

Read the piece here: Underwater...

Modern-ish Poets (Live): The Waste Land

Mark ford and seamus perry.

Mark Ford and Seamus Perry return for the final episode in their Close Readings series, Modern-ish Poets , looking at 19th and 20th century poetry. On the centenary of the publication of Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ in book form, Mark and Seamus consider how revolutionary the poem was, the numerous meanings that have been drawn out of it, and its lasting influence.This is the...

Mark Ford and Seamus Perry return for the final episode in their Close Readings series, Modern-ish Poets , looking at 19th and 20th century poetry. On the centenary of the publication of...

The Lost Art of Paste-Up

Arranging and rearranging a magazine’s layout before it goes to press is all done on computers now. But in the years before desktop publishing software, the work of cutting and pasting required a sharp scalpel, a parallel-motion board and plenty of glue.

As the  London Review of Books  celebrates its 40th anniversary, we look back at what paste-up used to involve in the...

Arranging and rearranging a magazine’s layout before it goes to press is all done on computers now. But in the years before desktop publishing software, the work of cutting and pasting...

Eric Hobsbawm: The Consolations of History

In this feature-length documentary, Anthony Wilks traces the connections between the events of Hobsbawm’s life and the history he told, from his teenage years in Germany as Hitler came to power and his communist membership, to the jazz clubs of 1950s Soho and the makings of New Labour, taking in Italian bandits, Peruvian peasant movements and the development of nationalism in...

In this feature-length documentary, Anthony Wilks traces the connections between the events of Hobsbawm’s life and the history he told, from his teenage years in Germany as Hitler came...

From the Marx Brothers to the Manns: writing about siblings from the London Review of Books , featuring Stanley Cavell, Jenny Diski, Adam Phillips, Andrew O’Hagan and Penelope Fitzgerald.

Close Readings 2023

In our pioneering podcast subscription, two contributors explore an area of literature through a selection of key works. This year it’s Thomas Jones and Emily Wilson on classics, Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley on medieval literature and Seamus Perry and Mark Ford on long poems and short stories. Subscribe for £4.99 a month or £49.99 for the year.

Lynne Tillman & Michael Bracewell: Mothercare

Deborah levy & stephen grosz: august blue, christopher clark & katja hoyer: revolutionary spring.

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The 10 Best Books of 2020

The editors of The Times Book Review choose the best fiction and nonfiction titles this year.

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book reviews 2020 uk

A Children’s Bible

By lydia millet.

book reviews 2020 uk

In Millet’s latest novel, a bevy of kids and their middle-aged parents convene for the summer at a country house in America’s Northeast. While the grown-ups indulge (pills, benders, bed-hopping), the kids, disaffected teenagers and their parentally neglected younger siblings, look on with mounting disgust. But what begins as generational comedy soon takes a darker turn, as climate collapse and societal breakdown encroach. The ensuing chaos is underscored by scenes and symbols repurposed from the Bible — a man on a blowup raft among the reeds, animals rescued from a deluge into the back of a van, a baby born in a manger. With an unfailingly light touch, Millet delivers a wry fable about climate change, imbuing foundational myths with new meaning and, finally, hope.

Fiction | W.W. Norton & Company. $25.95. | Read the review | Listen: Lydia Millet on the podcast

Deacon King Kong

By james mcbride.

A mystery story, a crime novel, an urban farce, a sociological portrait of late-1960s Brooklyn: McBride’s novel contains multitudes. At its rollicking heart is Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, a.k.a. Sportcoat, veteran resident of the Causeway Housing Projects, widower, churchgoer, odd-jobber, home brew-tippler and, now, after inexplicably shooting an ear clean off a local drug dealer, a wanted man. The elastic plot expands to encompass rival drug crews, an Italian smuggler, buried treasure, church sisters and Sportcoat’s long-dead wife, still nagging from beyond the grave. McBride, the author of the National Book Award-winning novel “The Good Lord Bird” and the memoir “The Color of Water,” among other books, conducts his antic symphony with deep feeling, never losing sight of the suffering and inequity within the merriment.

Fiction | Riverhead Books. $28. | Read the review | Listen: James McBride on the podcast

By Maggie O’Farrell

A bold feat of imagination and empathy, this novel gives flesh and feeling to a historical mystery: how the death of Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son, Hamnet, in 1596, may have shaped his play “Hamlet,” written a few years later. O’Farrell, an Irish-born novelist, conjures with sensual vividness the world of the playwright’s hometown: the tang of new leather in his cantankerous father’s glove shop; the scent of apples in the storage shed where he first kisses Agnes, the farmer’s daughter and gifted healer who becomes his wife; and, not least, the devastation that befalls her when she cannot save her son from the plague. The novel is a portrait of unspeakable grief wreathed in great beauty.

Fiction | Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95. | Read the review

Homeland Elegies

By ayad akhtar.

At once personal and political, Akhtar’s second novel can read like a collection of pitch-perfect essays that give shape to a prismatic identity. We begin with Walt Whitman, with a soaring overture to America and a dream of national belonging — which the narrator methodically dismantles in the virtuosic chapters that follow. The lure and ruin of capital, the wounds of 9/11, the bitter pill of cultural rejection: Akhtar pulls no punches critiquing the country’s most dominant narratives. He returns frequently to the subject of his father, a Pakistani immigrant and onetime doctor to Donald Trump, seeking in his life the answer to a burning question: What, after all, does it take to be an American?

Fiction | Little, Brown & Company. $28. | Read the review | Listen: Ayad Akhtar on the podcast

The Vanishing Half

By brit bennett.

Beneath the polished surface and enthralling plotlines of Bennett’s second novel, after her much admired “The Mothers,” lies a provocative meditation on the possibilities and limits of self-definition. Alternating sections recount the separate fates of Stella and Desiree, twin sisters from a Black Louisiana town during Jim Crow, whose residents pride themselves on their light skin. When Stella decides to pass for white, the sisters’ lives diverge, only to intersect unexpectedly, years later. Bennett has constructed her novel with great care, populating it with characters, including a trans man and an actress, who invite us to consider how identity is both chosen and imposed, and the degree to which “passing” may describe a phenomenon more common than we think.

Fiction | Riverhead Books. $27. | Read the review | Read our profile

[ See all of our 10 Best Book lists . ]

Hidden Valley Road

By robert kolker.

Don and Mimi Galvin had the first of their 12 children in 1945. Intelligence and good looks ran in the family, but so, it turns out, did mental illness: By the mid-1970s, six of the 10 Galvin sons had developed schizophrenia. “For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted,” Kolker writes. His is a feat of narrative journalism but also a study in empathy; he unspools the stories of the Galvin siblings with enormous compassion while tracing the scientific advances in treating the illness.

Nonfiction | Doubleday. $29.95. | Read the review | Listen: Robert Kolker on the podcast

A Promised Land

By barack obama.

Presidential memoirs are meant to inform, to burnish reputations and, to a certain extent, to shape the course of history, and Obama’s is no exception. What sets it apart from his predecessors’ books is the remarkable degree of introspection. He invites the reader inside his head as he ponders life-or-death issues of national security, examining every detail of his decision-making; he describes what it’s like to endure the bruising legislative process and lays out his thinking on health care reform and the economic crisis. An easy, elegant writer, he studs his narrative with affectionate family anecdotes and thumbnail sketches of world leaders and colleagues. “A Promised Land” is the first of two volumes — it ends in 2011 — and it is as contemplative and measured as the former president himself.

Nonfiction | Crown. $45. | Read the review

Shakespeare in a Divided America

By james shapiro.

In his latest book, the author of “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?” and “1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare” has outdone himself. He takes two huge cultural hyper-objects — Shakespeare and America — and dissects the effects of their collision. Each chapter centers on a year with a different thematic focus. The first chapter, “1833: Miscegenation,” revolves around John Quincy Adams and his obsessive hatred of Desdemona. The last chapter, “2017: Left | Right,” where Shapiro truly soars, analyzes the notorious Central Park production of “Julius Caesar.” By this point it is clear that the real subject of the book is not Shakespeare plays, but us, the U.S.

Nonfiction | Penguin Press. $27. | Read the review

Uncanny Valley

By anna wiener.

Wiener’s stylish memoir is an uncommonly literary chronicle of tech-world disillusionment. Soured on her job as an underpaid assistant at a literary agency in New York, Wiener, then in her mid-20s, heads west, heeding the siren call of Bay Area start-ups aglow with optimism, vitality and cash. A series of unglamorous jobs — in various customer support positions — follow. But Wiener’s unobtrusive perch turns out to be a boon, providing an unparalleled vantage point from which to scrutinize her field. The result is a scrupulously observed and quietly damning exposé of the yawning gap between an industry’s public idealism and its internal iniquities.

Nonfiction | MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27. | Read the review | Listen: Anna Wiener on the podcast

By Margaret MacMillan

This is a short book but a rich one with a profound theme. MacMillan argues that war — fighting and killing — is so intimately bound up with what it means to be human that viewing it as an aberration misses the point. War has led to many of civilization’s great disasters but also to many of civilization’s greatest achievements. It’s all around us, influencing everything we see and do; it’s in our bones. MacMillan writes with impressive ease. Practically every page of her book is interesting and, despite the grimness of its argument, even entertaining.

Nonfiction | Random House. $30. | Read the review

[ Want more? Check out our list of 100 notable books of 2020 . ]

Illustration by Luis Mazon. Produced by Lauryn Stallings.

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Book reviews.

Here are the Books We Love: 400+ great 2022 reads recommended by NPR

Here are the Books We Love: 400+ great 2022 reads recommended by NPR

November 22, 2022 • Books We Love returns with 400+ new titles handpicked by NPR staff and trusted critics. Find 10 years of recommendations all in one place – that's more than 3,200 great reads.

In graphic memoir 'In Limbo,' a Korean American finds healing and humanity

In graphic memoir 'In Limbo,' a Korean American finds healing and humanity

May 1, 2023 • Deb J.J. Lee's debut YA graphic memoir focuses on the author's struggles with mental health and their relationships with their family and friends during their childhood and teenage years.

Toni Morrison's diary entries, early drafts and letters are on display at Princeton

Toni Morrison remains the sole Black female recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature. An exhibition at Princeton University, where Morrison was a professor, commemorates the 30th anniversary of her win. Morrison is pictured above in Paris in November 2010. Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Toni Morrison's diary entries, early drafts and letters are on display at Princeton

April 30, 2023 • Toni Morrison remains the sole Black female recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature. Princeton University, where Morrison was a professor, is commemorating the 30th anniversary of her win.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People,' dies at 88

Rabbi Harold Kushner, seen here on July 10, 2008, had a way with words that resonated with readers across the world and across religions. Ariel Kushner Haber hide caption

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People,' dies at 88

April 29, 2023 • Kushner, whose words provided solace to millions of readers about life's most difficult questions, died on Friday while in hospice care in Canton, Mass.

Dennis Lehane's 'Small Mercies' is a crime thriller that spotlights rampant racism

Dennis Lehane's 'Small Mercies' is a crime thriller that spotlights rampant racism

April 28, 2023 • While set in Boston's Southie in 1974, the story is incredibly timely. It's at once a crime novel, an unflinching look at racism, and a heart-wrenching tale about a mother who has lost everything.

'We Are A Haunting' is a stunningly original, beautiful novel of devotion

'We Are A Haunting' is a stunningly original, beautiful novel of devotion

April 27, 2023 • Tyriek White's debut novel is a triumph; it's a gorgeous book about loss and survival that gives and gives as it asks us what it means to be part of a family, of a community.

Writer Neil Gaiman debuts his first music album with an Australian string quartet

Writer Neil Gaiman (center) makes music with FourPlay (L-R: Peter Hollo, Shenton Gregory aka Shenzo Gregorio, Lara Goodridge and Tim Hollo) Chris Frape/Riot Act Media hide caption

Writer Neil Gaiman debuts his first music album with an Australian string quartet

April 27, 2023 • British writer and comic book author Neil Gaiman launches first studio music album with Australia's FourPlay String Quartet.

'The Skin and Its Girl' ponders truths, half-truths, and lies passed down in families

'The Skin and Its Girl' ponders truths, half-truths, and lies passed down in families

April 26, 2023 • Sarah Cypher's debut novel ponders how stories can unite or divide as narrator Betty considers a big decision with her great-aunt Nuha's own mysterious life — and the tales she told — in mind.

Dolly Parton talks about her new children's book — and standing up to bullies

Parton's inspiration is a small French bulldog named Billy. Courtesy of Dolly Parton hide caption

Dolly Parton talks about her new children's book — and standing up to bullies

April 26, 2023 • The music star talks about writing for children, standing up to bullies, and why her program to deliver books to children meant so much to her dad.

Book bans are getting everyone's attention — including Biden's. Here's why

Gender Queer was one of the most banned and restricted titles in American libraries in 2022. Rick Bowmer/AP hide caption

Main Character of the Day

Book bans are getting everyone's attention — including biden's. here's why.

April 25, 2023 • Everyone from the president of the United States to community organizers are paying attention to this obstinate trend.

Diet culture can hurt kids. This author advises parents to reclaim the word 'fat'

Shots - Health News

Diet culture can hurt kids. this author advises parents to reclaim the word 'fat'.

April 25, 2023 • Journalist Virginia Sole-Smith says efforts to fight childhood obesity have caused kids to absorb an onslaught of body-shaming messages. Her new book is Fat Talk.

'House of Cotton' is a bizarre, uncomfortable read — in the best way possible

'House of Cotton' is a bizarre, uncomfortable read — in the best way possible

April 25, 2023 • Monica Brashears debut novel is peculiar and slightly surreal. But it's also dazzling, full of surprises, and told with a voice that's unpredictable and — more importantly — one that lingers.

Rainn Wilson urges a spiritual revolution in his new book 'Soul Boom'

Rainn Wilson Kwaku Alston/Hachette Books hide caption

Rainn Wilson urges a spiritual revolution in his new book 'Soul Boom'

April 25, 2023 • In his book Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution , Rainn Wilson, three-time Emmy nominee for his role in The Office , says the U.S. needs an awakening.

Meet the 'financial hype woman' who wants you to talk about money

Berna Anat, author, podcaster, and financial hype woman. Karen Santos/Karen Santos hide caption

Meet the 'financial hype woman' who wants you to talk about money

April 24, 2023 • Her description of the world of money is "hella male, hella pale and hella stale."

Judy Blume was banned from the beginning, but says 'It never stopped me from writing'

Writer Judy Blume poses for a portrait at Books and Books, her non-profit bookstore in Key West, Fla., on March 26. Mary Martin/AP hide caption

Judy Blume was banned from the beginning, but says 'It never stopped me from writing'

April 24, 2023 • Known for her books about adolescence and all that comes with it, Judy Blume is widely beloved and widely banned. Her 1970 novel, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. has been adapted for the screen.

ALA: Number of unique book titles challenged jumped nearly 40% in 2022

Book News & Features

Ala: number of unique book titles challenged jumped nearly 40% in 2022.

April 24, 2023 • The number of reported challenges and attempted bans to books doubled in 2022 according to data released by the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom Monday.

Judy Blume has never been afraid to speak her mind

Judy Blume, author of "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," poses for a portrait at Books and Books, her non-profit bookstore in Key West, Florida. Mary Martin/AP hide caption

Judy Blume has never been afraid to speak her mind

April 21, 2023 • The iconic children's author has been tackling criticism and censorship long before the current trend sweeping American libraries.

'Sunshine' centers on a life-changing summer for author Jarrett J. Krosoczka

'Sunshine' centers on a life-changing summer for author Jarrett J. Krosoczka

April 21, 2023 • The 'Lunch Lady' and "Hey, Kiddo' author-illustrator's new graphic memoir takes us back to one week when he was a teen volunteering at a camp for children with cancer — and how it changed his life.

Broadway legend Chita Rivera dances through her life in a new memoir

Chita Rivera as Anita in the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story. AP hide caption

Broadway legend Chita Rivera dances through her life in a new memoir

April 21, 2023 • In Chita: A Memoir, Rivera recounts her career originating roles in major Broadway shows. Now 90, Rivera remembers West Side Story from the beginning: "I was there at the first flicker of the skirt!"

'Greek Lessons' is an intimate, vulnerable portrayal of two lonely people

'Greek Lessons' is an intimate, vulnerable portrayal of two lonely people

April 20, 2023 • Greek Lessons feels like a departure from Han Kang's other English-translated novels; tugging bit by bit at the heartstrings, readers are left speechless with both sadness and hope by the final pages.

Our favorite Judy Blume books

Judy Blume attends The 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS hide caption

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Our favorite judy blume books.

April 20, 2023 • Judy Blume has been a prominent author for more than 50 years and her books are incredibly beloved. She's written for kids and adults, and has faced controversy. Perhaps her most treasured book, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, is about to get its first film adaptation, and Blume is the subject of a new documentary. Today, we're talking about why we love Judy Blume, and recommend some of our favorite books.

Don't have the energy to clean today? Just tidy up these 5 things


Don't have the energy to clean today just tidy up these 5 things.

April 20, 2023 • Therapist and author KC Davis shares a framework to help you get a messy room back to functional quickly. She says that in any space, there are really only five things: trash, dishes, laundry, things that have a place, and things that don't have a place. We help you tackle them, one by one.

Writer Rachel Pollack, who reimagined the practice of tarot, dies at 77

Rachel Pollack authored more than 40 books across several genres, and helped transform tarot into a contemporary practice. Rubi Rose Photography hide caption

Writer Rachel Pollack, who reimagined the practice of tarot, dies at 77

April 19, 2023 • The science fiction and comic book writer helped make reading tarot cards part of a contemporary spiritual practice. She authored more than 40 books across several genres.

In 'The New Earth,' a family's pain echoes America's suffering

In 'The New Earth,' a family's pain echoes America's suffering

April 19, 2023 • Jess Row's new novel is about an American family that has imploded, one that's broken, possibly irretrievably. It's a stunning book, a high-wire balancing act that tries to do a lot — and succeeds.

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JK Rowling said that Joanna Cherry was completely right that trans ideology was like “modern McCarthyism”

Best books to read in 2020

The best books to read next year

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Whether you're already an avid reader, or you resolve to get through more books in the new year, these are the titles you need to know about...

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is back with a witty and dramatic story about the Caseys, a family who seem perfect on the surface but hold some big secrets between them. When one of them starts to spill the truth after suffering concussion, things start to unravel in hilarious ways.

Best books to read in 2020

Below The Big Blue Sky by Anna McPartlin

From the bestselling author of The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes comes this follow-up novel about death, family and finding laughter in the most difficult of places.

Released 16 April. PRE-ORDER HERE

Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain

It's June 2008 and twenty-one-year-old Adam Lattimer vanishes, presumed dead. The strain of his disappearance breaks his already fragile family.

Ten years later, after his mother has died and his siblings have scattered across the globe, Adam turns up unannounced at the family home. His siblings return reluctantly to Spanish Cove, but Adam's reappearance poses more questions than answers.

Released 30 January. PRE-ORDER HERE

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. From the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

Best books to read 2020

Released 9 January. PRE-ORDER HERE

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Nine-year-old Jai watches too many reality cop shows, thinks he’s smarter than his friend Pari (even though she always gets top marks) and considers himself to be a better boss than Faiz (even though Faiz is the one with a job). When a boy at school goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from episodes of Police Patrol to find him.

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

Fresh off the Empire Windrush in post-Blitz London, Lawrie Matthews has taken a room in south London lodgings, fallen in love with the girl next door and started to discover Soho's music halls by night. When he makes a terrible discovery one morning, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms and the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

Released 12 March. PRE-ORDER HERE

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hiram Walker is born into bondage on a Virginia plantation. But he is also born gifted with a mysterious power that he won't discover until he is almost a man, when he risks everything for a chance to escape. One fateful decision will carry him away from his makeshift plantation family - his adoptive mother, Thena, a woman of few words and many secrets, and his beloved, angry Sophia - and into the covert heart of the underground war on slavery.

Best books to read 2020

Released 6 February. PRE-ORDER HERE

Lift As You Climb by Viv Groskop

Described as a "confidence bible", this part self-help guide, part master class in survival skills for life and work examines what sisterhood looks like these days, asks what you can do to make things better for other women and considers how to do that without disadvantaging yourself.

Released 5 March. PRE-ORDER HERE

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

On the day Manhattan lawyer Dannie nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she's well on her way to fulfilling her life goals. That night she falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. It's the same date - December 15th - but 2025, five years in the future. She wakes up, and tells herself it's just a dream, until four-and-a-half years later, when she meets the man from her alternate reality again.

Released in 2020. PRE-ORDER HERE

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

Marcie's affair with Jason Maddox catapulted her into the world of the elite. Old money, old ties, old secrets. Marcie may have married into this world - but she'll never be part of it. Then Jason's boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London. Young, attractive, reckless - nobody can take their eyes off Keisha. Including Marcie's husband.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Best books to read 2020

Released 7 January. PRE-ORDER HERE

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Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Following two acclaimed, heavyweight (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) novels, 2016's The Underground Railroad, made into a TV series this year , and 2019's The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead's latest is a crime caper, set partly against the backdrop of race riots in 1960s Harlem. Its protagonist is Ray Carney, a young furniture-seller caught up in a jewel heist. London's Evening Standard praised the novel's entertainment value, writing, "A more purely enjoyable novel is unlikely to emerge this year." Harlem Shuffle also subverts the crime genre to explore ideas of property and theft, The Atlantic writes , "to expose the hypocrisies of the justice system, the false moral dictates set by capitalism, and the very fact that America itself was born of a theft that we are all complicit in." (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

In the Booker Prize-shortlisted A Passage North the narrator looks back at a lost love affair, and reflects on the mysterious death of his grandmother's carer, who had lost her young sons in the Sri Lankan civil war. Booker judge Horatia Harrod describes how the author "turns his poetic sensibility and profound, meticulous attentiveness to the business of living in the aftermath of trauma". She adds: "In hypnotic, incantatory style, Arudpragasam considers how we can find our way in the present while also reckoning with the past." The New York Times praises the novelist's "sentences of unusual beauty and clarity," adding that he is "gifted at atmospheric, sensory description that transports the reader." (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout

The third instalment in Strout's popular "Amgash" series, Oh William! finds the 63-year-old, newly-widowed writer Lucy Barton reconnecting with her first husband, with whom she shares two daughters. Through the novel's time-switching narrative, confessional asides and spare prose, Strout explores the nature of William and Lucy's bond, and much more besides, with "quiet virtuosity", writes The Guardian . "The intense pleasure of Strout's writing becomes the simple joy of learning more while – always – understanding less". (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed                                                              

The novel The Fortune Men explores a real-life case of a seaman, Mahmood Mattan, from British Somaliland – living in Wales – who was wrongfully convicted of murder, and then executed. Set in the multiracial community of 1950s Tiger Bay, Cardiff, the novel has been praised for evoking the past while also highlighting present-day injustice. The Guardian says: "In her determined, nuanced and compassionate exposure of injustice, Mohamed gives the terrible story of Mattan's life and death meaning and dignity". The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and judge Maya Jasanoff describes the book as "exhilaratingly global", adding: "Grippingly-paced, and full of complex, richly-drawn characters, the novel combines pointed social observation with a deep empathetic sensibility." (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

This is the second time Tóibín has fashioned a novel out of a celebrated author's life – his first, in 2004, was The Master, inspired by Henry James. With The Magician, Tóibín turns to the great German writer Thomas Mann, whose works include Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice. The New York Times called Tóibín's sweeping biographical tome "a symphonic and moving novel" that brings the rather austere author to vivid life, exploring his closeted sexual desires (he was married with six children but desired men) and a life lived in exile from Hitler's Germany. "In a quietly epic tale," the i writes , "Tóibín expertly captures the layers of a richly multiple self and surely reasserts his own status as one of our greatest living novelists." (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

At the age of 51, twins Jeanie and Julius still live with their mother Dot in isolated, rural poverty. Self-sufficient in their own small world, they have created a sanctuary of sorts. But when their mother dies suddenly, threats to the twins' livelihood emerge as the outside world starts to encroach on their seclusion, and a lifetime of secrets unravels. Fuller's "impressive" novel is full of a "fierce, angry energy" says The Guardian . Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, Unsettled Ground is "her strongest yet," according to The Times . "A powerful, beautiful novel that shows us our land as it really is: a place of shelter and cruelty, innocence and experience." (LB)

(Credit: Penguin)

(Credit: Penguin)

The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

The Inseparables is not exactly new, but a newly-discovered short novel from the iconic French feminist existentialist. It was published in English for the first time this year (it came out in France in 2020), nearly 60 years after de Beauvoir mentioned it in her 1963 memoir, Force of Circumstance. Its central narrative – on the relationship between two young girls – was drawn from de Beauvoir's own life (inspired by and in tribute to her great friend Élisabeth Lacoin or "Zaza", who died when she was 21) and has drawn comparisons with the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. Billed as "too intimate" to be published in her lifetime, in The Inseparables, writes The New Yorker , "the distinction between friends and lovers, straight love and queer love, pales before the difference between loving a friend who is alive and one who is dead." The FT writes : "More than an elegy to lost friendship, The Inseparables is a ravishing work of art." (RL)

(Credit: Penguin)

How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

Cherie Jones's debut novel was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, and is set on Baxter's Beach, Barbados. As a child, protagonist Lala has been told the story of the one-armed sister – a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. As an adult she lives with her husband Adan, and the story explores the aftermath of two mysterious crimes. Themes of class, loss, domestic violence and the legacy of trauma are undercurrents throughout. "Dazzling," says the New York Times Book Review . "In Jones's capable hands, tension builds without diversion." The Washington Post says: "The novel's a stunner. Jones's prose is supple, often luxuriant, but the structure of her novel is even more impressive… Here's the launch of a stellar literary career." (LB)

(Credit: Little Brown)

(Credit: Little Brown)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

In the follow-up to her last two highly acclaimed novels, Irish author Sally Rooney explores friendship, art, the price of fame and the meaning of life – all through the stories of two couples.  The Irish Times says: "Written with immense skill and illuminated by an endlessly incisive intelligence." Beautiful World, Where Are You is "a tour de force", says Anne Enright in the Guardian , and readers will relish the "ache and uncertainty of her characters' coming of age." The dialogue never falters, according to Enright, and the prose is "so clean, it reflects the readers' prejudices right back at them." (LB)

(Credit: Macmillan)

(Credit: Macmillan)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr follows up his 2014 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winner, All the Light We Cannot See, with this ambitious, epic novel. Spanning centuries and continents, it weaves in excerpts from a fictional ancient Greek text, the "Cloud Cuckoo Land" of the title, taking in the history and future of mankind and climate change along the way. It is above all, writes The Guardian , "a tribute to the magic of reading," which The New York Times called : "a wildly inventive novel that teems with life, straddles an enormous range of experience and learning, and embodies the storytelling gifts that it celebrates." (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Palmares by Gayl Jones

When her early novels were published, Gayl Jones was widely hailed by the likes of John Updike and James Baldwin. Then she went quiet. Now Jones's fifth novel – and her first in 22 years – has been published. Set in the late 1600s, it explores the re-enslavement of the last settlement of free black people in Brazil, and is also the story of one woman's quest, told in retrospect by narrator Almeyda. The story "moves to rhythms long forgotten," says the New York Times . It "chants in incantations highly forbidden. It is a story woven with extraordinary complexity, depth and skill." The Atlantic says: "With monumental sweep, it blends psychological acuity and linguistic invention." Gayl Jones "has set out to convey racial struggle in its deep-seated and disorientating complexity – Jones sees the whole where most only see pieces." (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa

Latin American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the Nobel among other prizes, and his latest book Harsh Times continues in the political vein of his previous work. Set mostly in Guatemala, it tells the story of the coup and the years of dictatorship that followed. The Scotsman says: "This is a splendidly rich and absorbing novel. It tells remarkable stories and it is, unlike much that may be classed as historical fiction, politically serious." According to the Guardian , Vargas Llosa's novel is "replete with his deep human sensibility". Harsh Times, it says, "swarms with life and a determination to tunnel down into the underlying truth of humanity". (LB)

(Credit: Macmillan)

Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

This unconventional biography of George Orwell is the latest from the essayist, author and activist Solnit, whose works include Men Explain Things to Me, Wanderlust and Recollections of My Non-Existence. Using some roses that Orwell planted in the garden of a house in Wallington, Hertfordshire in 1936 as a jumping off point, Solnit presents a complex portrait of Orwell the man, taking the reader down multiple paths that explore history, politics and environmentalism. Harpers called it "a captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker," while The New York Times writes that Solnit creates a frame "large enough to contain life's contradictions in a way that only the essay, that humble literary mouthpiece, can." (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In her memoir, musician and author Michelle Zauner recounts the loss of her mother and how she forged a new identity. The book started life as an essay in The New Yorker and was widely praised for its depiction of grief and growing up Korean-American. Touching on themes including endurance, family, mother-daughter relationships and the comfort of food, Crying in H Mart is described by The Observer as "a vibrant, soulful memoir that binds her own belated coming-of-age with her mother's untimely death". The Chicago Review of Books describes the memoir as "exquisitely detailed and wonderfully layered, both episodic in its individual essays and continuous in its exploration of grief". (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Set in suburban Chicago in December 1971, Franzen's Crossroads is the first of a planned trilogy, and explores the lives of the Hildebrandt family members – Russ, the associate pastor of a liberal church, his depressed wife Marion, and their three teenaged children. Franzen's novels are admired for their vivid characters and their clear-eyed take on the complexities of US life, and this novel is no exception. "Crossroads is classic Franzen fodder," says The New Yorker.  "A slice of suburban life ripe not for satire but for the far deadlier scrutiny that comes from taking it seriously." iNews describes Franzen's latest as "his best book yet," and adds: "How thrilling to be reminded that the novel can absorb and reward us like no other narrative art form, and how moving to see a writer reach such staggering new heights." (LB)

(Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

(Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Harris's debut novel – about two young black women working in the all-white office of an upmarket US publishing house – became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published in June. The Other Black Girl is a fast-paced, gripping read that mixes horror and satire with sci-fi and biting social commentary, and has been described as "Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada" by Cosmopolitan, "imaginative and audacious" by the Guardian and "an engrossing contemplation of the gap between success and authenticity" by the FT . Hulu is adapting the book , with Harris on board as co-writer. (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

In her fiction, award-winning British-Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi playfully reinvents genres and tropes – the realms of magic and the real world frequently merge. Her latest novel Peaces is set on a whimsically ramshackle train, the Lucky Day, and centres around five enigmatic individuals and two pet mongooses. As the complex trajectory of the characters' interaction gradually moves towards a denouement, secrets are revealed, and a puzzle falls into place. The New York Times said: "Oyeyemi is a master of leaps of thought and inference, of shifty velocity." While The New Republic says: "Like all of Oyeyemi's novels, Peaces goes to places in fiction that feel almost impossible." (LB)

(Credit: Faber)

(Credit: Faber)

The Promise by Damon Galgut

Novelist and playwright Damon Galgut's latest won the Booker Prize, and centres on the decline of The Swarts – a white South-African family living on a farm outside Pretoria in the 1980s. After the death of the family's matriarch Rachel, it follows the fortunes of its three children; the "promise" of the title relates to a forsaken vow made to their black servant, Salome and the grim legacy of apartheid. Writing in The Observer , Anthony Cummins predicted Booker Prize-glory for the twice-nominated Galgut, who he described as "heart-swellingly attentive to emotional intensity", while John Self wrote in The Times : "This is so obviously one of the best novels of the year... a book that answers the question 'what is a novel for?' With a simple: 'This!'" (RL)

(Credit: Europa Editions)

(Credit: Europa Editions)

The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney

Irish author Lisa McInerney won the Women's Prize for her novel The Glorious Heresies, the first in a trilogy about the criminal underworld of modern-day Cork. Her latest, The Rules of Revelation is the last instalment, and focuses on the habits and philosophical ruminations of drug dealer Ryan Cusack, the son of an alcoholic gangster. The result, says The Spectator is a novel that is "sardonic, sexy, witty, lanky with a winsome smirk, which breaks into a long-stride run for the pure pleasure of it – and it is a pleasure to observe". The Times also praises the author: "[Lisa McInerney has] high-voltage verve and an acute understanding of Ireland . . . [she is] a richly savage writer and an incisive chronicler of her home country." (LB)

(Credit: John Murray)

(Credit: John Murray)

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, this New York Times bestseller weaves together the stories of two women living decades and continents apart: Marian Graves, an intrepid pilot whose plane goes missing while she attempts to circle the globe, and Hadley Baxter, a scandal-racked Hollywood actress recently sacked from a Twilight-alike movie franchise, who is drawn to Graves's story. Great Circle, according to The New York Times , "grasps for and ultimately makes something extraordinary", while The Guardian found it "moving and surprising at every turn". (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

In Second Place, the narrator invites a famous artist to use her guest house in the grounds of her family home in the coastal countryside. But as the summer unfolds, his presence begins to interrupt the tranquillity of her household. The novel is a comedic study of gender and privilege, and an exploration of art, relationships and morality. The Guardian describes the novel as "exquisitely cruel", and Cusk as "our arch chronicler of the nullifying choice between suffocation and explosion". The New Statesman also praises the novel, comparing it favourably with her previous works: "Second Place feels more exposing than anything Cusk has written in recent years". (LB)

(Credit: Faber & Faber)

(Credit: Faber & Faber)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy

The third and final instalment of her genre-bending "living autobiography" trilogy, Levy follows Things I Don't Want to Know and The Cost of Living with another impressive and immersive blend of memoir, cultural analysis and feminist critique. In Real Estate, we find the writer approaching 60, travelling the world, reflecting on her past, the writers who have influenced her, and women's status in a patriarchal society. The Evening Standard called it "a beautifully-crafted and thought-provoking snapshot of a life," while the FT described it as "a manifesto for living and writing". (RL)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is the author of three novels, and their latest work, a memoir, is structured as a collection of letters addressed to friends and family – both biological and chosen – and fellow writers. The gradual unfolding of identity is at its centre, as the writer describes the experience of a non-binary life lived in parallel realities. The New York Times describes it as "an audacious sojourn through the terror and beauty of refusing to explain yourself". The memoir is "not for the faint-hearted" and has "gruesome" moments, says The Washington Post . There is a "pretentiousness" and "arrogance" about the book, but ultimately, says the Post, "Emezi delivers a sharp, raw, propulsive and always honest account of the trials they endure as a person 'categorised as other'." (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

In this new work of non-fiction, subtitled A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, the poet, scholar and Atlantic staff writer Smith visits nine key sites linked with the legacy of slavery in the US, from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia to Angola, a Louisiana penitentiary and former plantation where inmates work the land for next-to-no payment. Blending academic research with a vast array of in-person interviews, Smith's sweeping survey is "a reckoning with reckonings" and "an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves," wrote the New York Times . "The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real," wrote NPR . (RL)

(Credit: Little, Brown and Company)

(Credit: Little, Brown and Company)

Rememberings by Sinéad O'Connor

"A tremendous catalogue of female misbehaviour," is how The Guardian describes Irish musical artist Sinéad O'Connor's memoir Rememberings. "The writing is spare and conversational, and reveals O'Connor as self-deprecating, pragmatic and a sharp observer… It is full of heart, humour and remarkable generosity." In an episodic style, O'Connor candidly recounts her brutal childhood, rise to fame, and her experience of motherhood and mental health struggles. The New York Times said: "The naked and fearless emotions that made Sinead O'Connor such a riveting artist, shine through her words and self-awareness... in the end, she emerges as a survivor." (LB)

Mariner Books

Mariner Books

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

George Saunders, the acclaimed US novelist, short story writer and Booker prize-winning author of 2017's Lincoln in the Bardo, has been teaching creative writing at Syracuse University for the past 20 years. A condensation of Saunders' course on the 19th-Century Russian short-story in translation, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain takes the reader through seven stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol and Turgenev with a line-by-line analysis that is part writing seminar, part humorous and optimistic life philosophy. If that sounds like hard work, it's anything but. Vanity Fair describes the book as "generous, funny, and stunningly perceptive," while The Telegraph calls it "enormous fun to read". (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The acclaimed Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro's eighth novel – and his first since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. The narrator is Klara, an "Artificial Friend" who observes the world around her with an android mix of intelligence and naivety. When she is chosen by a family to live with them, she must adjust her thinking – and the novel's underlying theme of what it means to love is explored. The Observer says: "Ishiguro has written another masterpiece, a work that makes us feel afresh the beauty and fragility of our humanity". (LB)

Klara andsun crop

Klara andsun crop

Luster by Raven Leilani

The strange relationship between Edie, a struggling 23-year-old black artist, and a middle-aged white couple she moves in with is the focus of Luster, the striking debut novel from US writer Raven Leilani – released in the US in 2020, and in the UK in 2021. Described by The New Yorker as "a highly pleasurable interrogation of pleasure," Leilani skewers 21st-Century sexual, racial and office politics with a dry, dark and frequently absurd comic style. "Leilani's prose mesmerises; you go with her, wherever she decides to take you," says the Guardian , while Zadie Smith, Leilani's former tutor at NYU, calls Luster "brutal – and brilliant". (RL)

(Credit: Picador)

(Credit: Picador)

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Identity tells the true story of Owusu's peripatetic upbringing, as she moves across the globe – to Tanzania, England, Italy, Ethiopia and Uganda among others – with her diplomat father. The narrative sweeps forward and back in time, and the thematic structure echoes an earthquake, as each upheaval forces the ground beneath her to shudder. The New York Times calls it "a gorgeous and unsettling memoir". (LB)

(Credit: Sceptre)

(Credit: Sceptre)

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

Twelve pieces written between 1968 and 2000 by one of America's most revered and influential writers are brought together here for the first time. They include descriptions of trips to William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon castle and a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas, along with essays on Ernest Hemingway, Nancy Reagan and the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The volume also includes Didion's iconic 1975 Berkeley lecture 'Why I write', in which she explained: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means". This new collection, according to Vox , "works like a skeleton key to unlock Didion's continued significance in American culture." (RL)

(Credit: Knopf)

(Credit: Knopf)

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Nominated for the Women's Prize, Destransition, Baby tells the story of Reese, a 34-year-old trans woman who longs to be a mother, her ex-partner Amy – who has detransitioned and become Ames – and Ames's boss and girlfriend Katrina, who he has impregnated. The evolving dynamics between the three are explored as they ponder the idea of raising a baby as a trio. London's Evening Standard praises the book's "irreverent, zeitgeist-nailing quality", and describes it as "an exuberant novel of ideas, desire and life's messy ironies". (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr

Situated on an antebellum Mississippi plantation known as "Empty", Robert Jones Jr's debut centres on a group of enslaved people and slave owners, their stories interwoven with voices from the past. At its heart is a queer love story between Isaiah and Samuel that, according to the New York Times , is its "most tender and stunning achievement". In both its form and content, The Prophets is reminiscent of and inspired by the work of Toni Morrison, its narrative reaching back and forth, as The Guardian writes , "wedded to its period but also of our times, exploring the pressing questions that have plagued America since its founding". (RL)

(Credit: Riverrun)

(Credit: Riverrun)

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood's modern meditation is a genre-defying book that asks the question "is there life after the internet?". A woman who has become well-known for her social-media posts attempts to negotiate the new language of what she calls "the portal", and becomes increasingly overwhelmed. When real life comes crashing into her world, questions about love and human connection are raised. The New York Times Book Review describes it as "a book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, witty and, eventually, deeply moving". (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

In his third novel, US writer Rumaan Alam conjures up an apocalyptic novel with a twist, subverting genre expectations by never revealing the true nature of the disaster that unfolds. We follow a middle-class white family from their Brooklyn home to an idyllic holiday Airbnb on Long Island, whose owners – a rich black couple in their 60s – knock at the door late at night asking to shelter from a cataclysmic event in the city. What follows is a neatly plotted and cuttingly observed drama about race and class, interrogating how people really act in a crisis. Published in the US in 2020, and in the UK earlier this year, Leave the World Behind, described as "enthralling" by The New Yorker , could not be more relevant, creating, says The Irish Times , "an eerily believable world of apocalypse now". (RL)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

"A delectable exploration of physical and emotional hunger," is how The Washington Post describes Milk Fed. It tells the story of 24-year-old Rachel who works for a talent agency and measures out her days in calories consumed, as her mother had taught her growing up. When Rachel meets the overweight Miriam her desires both spiritual and sexual come to the fore. As The Washington Post puts it: "Broder's second novel combines her singular style with adventures of the calorie-and-climax-filled kind, sumptuous fillings surrounded by perfectly baked plot." (LB)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

With his debut Open Water – ostensibly a love story between a young photographer and a dancer – Azumah Nelson uses his central romance to explore themes of race, class and London life, while taking risks with form (the narrative is in the second-person, neither central character is named). It's a celebration of black artistic excellence, weaving in the photography of Roy DeCarava , Barry Jenkins, Solange and Kendrick Lamar; Zadie Smith even makes a cameo. It is described as a "bracing and nuanced exploration of black masculinity" by the i newspaper , while The Guardian praises Azumah Nelson's "elegance of style" and "exciting ambition". (RL)

(Credit: Penguin)

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

In 10 short stories set in contemporary China, Te-Ping Chen evokes the lives of various characters, from an anti-government blogger and her twin brother, a competitive gamer, to a call-centre worker and a young woman thwarted in her real ambition and working as a florist. The stories mix sharp social observation with magical realism. The LA Times describes the debut story collection as "wildly inventive" and "elegant". Chen's stories are "magistic and elemental, a reflection on how we all live, no matter where we live. The logic of her observations can be terrifying". (LB)

(Credit: Scribner)

(Credit: Scribner)

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

"Unceasingly cynical and compulsively readable" is how the Irish Times describes Fake Accounts, a debut novel by Lauren Oyler that explores themes of identity and authenticity in the internet age. The nameless narrator discovers that her boyfriend is an anonymous internet conspiracy theorist, the first in a series of twists that depict how truth can be shaped by lies. She flees to Berlin and embarks on her own manipulations and deceptions. It is, says The Guardian  "a dark comedy about a dark time, and a prismatically intelligent work of art". (LB)

(Credit: 4th Estate)

(Credit: 4th Estate)

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book reviews 2020 uk

Book reviews

Eavesdropping, power-games and sexual drama this novel was written for hbo.

Big Swiss, Jen Beagin’s third novel, features deceit, passion and cruel humour, and it’ll be right up Jodie Comer’s street

Big Swiss is Jen Beagin's third novel

Nobody knows how quantum computers work – but they might save mankind

Sci-fi tells us tech will wipe us out – but Michio Kaku’s Quantum Supremacy argues we should welcome its advances

Server saviour: IBM's System One quantum computer

Why even atheists get a kick out of a church crawl

In his superb travel book, Steeple Chasing, Peter Ross discovers that everyone is drawn to churches – even the irreligious

Worship in stone: St Laurence Church, Guestling

Tom Hanks’s novel is folksy and sharp – but has the same flaw as him

Eoin colfer’s vision of a drowning world is breathless fun, small worlds by caleb azumah nelson review: a lyrical love-story that comes with its own playlist, breakup review: a riveting account of a country and a marriage falling apart, the left adore noam chomsky – but this book shows him at his worst.

A new book of interviews, Illegitimate Authority, shows flashes of the old fighter’s intellect, but largely serves up lazy idées fixes

Noam Chomsky remains one of the Left's most lauded figures

Anthony Seldon’s book on Boris Johnson doesn’t tell the whole story

This account of Johnson’s reign is flashy but shallow – the interviewees bask in hindsight and the criticisms of the ex-PM are standard fare

Boris Johnson, then Prime Minister, outside 10 Downing Street in late 2019

A violent, drunken, hallucinatory window into post-Soviet fiction

Intense and near-nauseating, Aleksandr Skorobogatov’s slim novel Russian Gothic is part-Gogol, part-Nabokov and thoroughly magnificent

The Belarusian novelist Aleksandr Skorobogatov, pictured in Antwerp in 2022

A sly and sensual début novel about passion across the age-gap

Thirst for Salt remembers a romance by the Australian coast

Imagine a romantic reality TV show – with a violent monster on the loose

The antidote to vapid hollywood memoirs laura dern and diane ladd’s brutal book.

Titans of Tinseltown: Ladd and Dern in TV comedy drama Enlightened

Trying to understand how watches work? Clock on…

Fish, tobacco and bureaucrats: a mad, marvellous history of central europe.

With nationalists to the east and reformers to the west, Central Europe was always a frail idea – as Martyn Rady’s epic account proves

Micromanager: Empress Maria Theresa implemented laws about the blowing of trumpets, pictured with her family by Martin van Meytens, 1754

Were pirates really free-wheeling criminals – or progressive pioneers?

With their elected leaders and strict rules on drink, Rebecca Simon’s The Pirates’ Code argues that freebooters valued discipline not chaos

Shiver me timbers: the BBC's pirate comedy Our Flag Means Death

How to Grow a Dragon: a snappy new rhyming tale for children

Switching unicorns for dragons in the picture book series’s latest, Morrisroe once again melds a suspenseful plot and fun rhyming couplets

Cosily domestic: Steven Lenton's illustrations bring the fantastical elements to earth

Deborah Levy’s new novel is almost perfect – but not quite

In August Blue, a traumatised pianist hunts – or is hunted by? – her apparent doppelgänger, and it’s all done in luscious, if knowing, style

Deborah Levy's August Blue is set in Greece

The secrets of the Berlin brothel run by Nazi spies

Forced into working with the SS, Kitty Schmidt's remarkable life is investigated in a new book by Nigel Jones, Urs Brunner, Julia Schrammel

Kitty's Salon by Nigel Jones, Urs Brunner, Julia Schrammel, book review

Is this Mao-era China’s most hilarious black comedy?

Wang Xiaobo’s Golden Age sees its protagonist, like its author, sent for ‘re-education’ – and a very funny, farcical sexual awakening

Rural workers in China gather to read Mao's Little Red Book by his portrait in 1969

A dark début spy novel that splices John le Carré and Mick Herron

Dom Nicholls’s Mile One Point Six brings plenty of intrigue and pace to its tale of a dastardly plot at the heart of British intelligence

Dom Nicholls's debut novel exposes a plot at the heart of the British establishment

Soldiers’ sex lives show the Second World War in a very different light

Gay servicemen, a trans soldier and a pacifist poet-turned-RAF airman are among the forgotten heroes in Luke Turner’s new book Men at War

An RAF crew with their American Douglas Boston light bomber, circa 1943

Why dam-busting genius Barnes Wallis couldn’t get his other ideas off the ground

The war hero's most famous invention was dismissed as ‘tripe’ – but Richard Morris’s new biography, Dam Buster, celebrates his genius

 Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb, c1968

The mysterious writer who fooled Scorsese, mastered pronouns and taught Britain how to drink vodka

The TLS’s anonymous diarist poked fun at the literary world for 23 years. A new book, NB by JC, collects his funniest and sharpest columns

Martin Scorsese

The notorious hotel Stalin filled with spies, women and drunk journalists

Alan Philps’s book explores the fascinating Hotel Metropol, set up by Stalin to ensnare unwitting hacks – until some occupants rebelled

The Hotel Metropol in Moscow, pictured in 1924

The despairing, savage brilliance of Schubert’s late piano trios

Pianist Lars Vogt, violinist Christian Tetzlaff and cellist Tanja Tetzlaff capture Schubert's violent extremes in a new CD of his late trios

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt

Greek Lessons by Han Kang: a romance lost in translation

A mute South Korean poet tries to recover her speech by learning Ancient Greek, in a disjointed novel from the author of The Vegetarian

Han Kang, author of The Vegetarian and Greek Lessons

Is your manager an unwitting Nazi?

In his book Free to Obey, French historian Johann Chapoutot draws a direct line between modern business management and Nazi ideas

Wilhelm Stuckart (standing) leads a meeting of civil servants in occupied Prague in 1939

Charles Darwin’s good name is under siege – but this book has other ideas

Roland Chambers avoids making the naturalist a villain in this enchanting, empathetic novel told from the perspective of a giant tortoise

Strange creatures abound in The Rage of the Sea Witch

The link between French revolutionaries, Italian rebels – and Brexiteers

Christopher Clark’s magnificent new book, Revolutionary Spring, lays out the forces behind the European upheavals of 1848–9

Lamartine Rejects the Red Flag... (c1848) by Henri Félix Philippoteaux

A biography of the King with highly suspect ‘revelations’

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The best science and tech books of 2020

The best science and tech books of 2020

It's been a year for glumly refreshing live blogs and breaking news websites. But we have managed to get some reading done too. Here, our writers and editors have picked out our favourite books released in 2020 across the broad range of areas that WIRED covers.

Uncanny Valley, by Anna Wiener

In this memoir, New Yorker tech correspondent Anna Wiener recounts her experiences as a millennial diving into San Francisco’s tech startup scene. Disillusioned with her job in publishing, Wiener moves from New York to Silicon Valley, with its promises of building a better future for all – and a more exciting present for those in its club. The book follows her experiences working for multiple startups, with skewering descriptions of a sector that, while ahead technologically, seems in other ways to be wildly out of touch. Covering issues such as sexism, surveillance and San Francisco’s homeless crisis, it reveals a world that hides a pit of moral quandaries beneath its shiny facade. Victoria Turk

Price: £16.99 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

How To Make the World Add Up, by Tim Harford

The Covid-19 pandemic may have made armchair epidemiologists of us all, but it has also underscored how important statistics are in our everyday lives; what numbers can tell us about how the world is changing, and what happens when we don't have access to the data we need. Financial Times journalist and host of the BBC's More or Less Tim Harford explains how to decipher the numbers that surround and befuddle us by applying ten simple rules. Rather than simply rebuffing statistical trickery, Harford's book implores us to look past the bluster – and our own biases – to really figure out what data can tell us, and where the limits of its usefulness might be. This is required reading before hitting send on any tweet mentioning R numbers or false positives. Matt Reynolds

Price: £10 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win, by Maria Konnikova

Maria Konnikova pressed pause on her work as a journalist for The New Yorker and The New York Times and gave herself a year to make it as a poker pro. Armed with the mentorship of American poker champion Erik Seidel and a cast of other professionals, Konnikova set her sights on the biggest stage the game has to offer: the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The Biggest Bluff is a poker book that’s not really about poker. It’s about getting to grips with uncertainty and learning to take control of your own decision-making processes in order to handle the game of life with a little more confidence. MR

Price: £13.60 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

The Lonely Century, by Noreena Hertz

In this timely book, economist Hertz explores the loneliness epidemic that was sweeping the world even before the coronavirus took hold. She looks at the ways tech that’s meant to bring us together is driving us apart, the impact isolation is having on our health, and the bizarre ‘loneliness economy’ that’s springing up to fulfil the needs of people desperate for human contact, from lifelike sex dolls to a service offering cuddles for cash. The book is a fascinating look at a key societal question: in an age where technology means we’re more connected than ever, why do we feel so alone? Amit Katwala

Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, by Matt Burgess

Netflix may dominate our television consumption today, but its future was never certain: the ubiquitous online video giant could have never survived the rise of streaming. This story takes us back to its more humble beginnings, when Netflix decided to take on bricks and mortar video rental king Blockbuster in the 90s, with an ambitious mail rental video service. In a tale with more twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti, WIRED’s very own Matt Burgess dissects the life and choices of famously elusive Netflix founder Reed Hastings, the man behind the successful media empire. Natasha Bernal

Price: £10.65 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, by Pragya Agarwal

‘Unconscious bias’ has become a buzzword in the modern office, but what does it actually mean? How does it work, what are the effects, and can we do anything about it? Behavioural scientist Pragya Agarwal digs into the research, taking us through the many ways bias can manifest, from stereotyped assumptions to confirmation bias and status quo bias, and how these can all result in prejudice and inequality. She highlights in particular the intersectional nature of our biases, and how this can compound privilege or disadvantage for different groups. There are no easy solutions on offer here, but Agarwal urges that only when we become more attuned to our own unconscious biases can we begin to make conscious changes to our behaviour. VT

Price: £12.99 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

What Tech Calls Thinking, by Adrian Daub

Where do concepts like “disruption” “content” and “dropping out” come from? And beyond the unthinking way they are thrown around in Silicon Valley, what do they really mean? Daub tries to historically anchor the most common concepts used in Silicon Valley in their philosophical origins. A professor of comparative literature and German studies at Stanford, Daub is an elegant and clear writer, good at breaking down the jargon of the philosophers he says have so profoundly influenced the industry WIRED covers. Will Bedingfield

Price: £10 | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery

The Precipice, by Toby Ord

Were it not for SARS-CoV-2, The Precipice would likely have remained a book read only by the far-sighted futurists, the rationalists, and the transhumanists (plus, I’d wager, blogger and former government aide Dominic Cummings). But as things turned out, this clinical, no-holds-barred dissection of existential risks – i.e. all the ways humankind could perish or self-destruct – has acquired an urgent and vaguely prophetic character. Ord, a philosopher at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, lists all risks, assesses their likelihood and potential to kill us all off, and suggests strategies to mitigate each of them. Asteroids, nukes, and climate change all get honourable mentions. So do pandemics, even if Ord is mostly worried about artificially engineered ones. The big bugaboo, however, is unaligned artificial intelligence – machines or algorithms that go rogue, or simply embrace an idea of the good that does not entail our survival. In a year in which our everyday lives were upended by the unexpected (or rather the expected yet neglected), The Precipice is a good way to put everything in perspective: much worse things could easily happen – and they likely will. Gian Volpicelli

Price: £17 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

Banking On It: How I Disrupted an Industry, by Anne Boden

At last, one of the greatest secrets of the London fintech scene is out. The reason behind the major fallout between the founders of Starling Bank and Monzo, two of the UK's major neobanks, has for years been the cause of much speculation. In her bombshell book, Starling Bank founder Anne Boden breaks ranks to rip into her major rival and former partner Tom Blomfield, with a portrait of biblical-level betrayal, break-ins and sabotage. Though it packs in loads of drama, Boden also exposes exactly what it's like to be an older, female entrepreneur in an industry where the odds were stacked against her — and how she succeeded. NB

Price: £14 | Amazon | Waterstones | Bookshop

This Is Not Normal, by William Davies

This essay collection is an excellent window into the four years running up to the pandemic. Britain, Davies says, is suffering from “the abandoning of liberal economic rationality, the declining authority of empirical facts, the mainstreaming of nationalism, the hatred of ‘liberal elites’, the effects of big data and real-time media on our politics, the new mould of celebrity leaders, the crisis of democratic representation.” It’s a depressing state of affairs that Davies documents smartly. Pick up his magnum opus Nervous States at the same time. WB

Price: £12 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Bookshop

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10 best novels of 2020: From ‘Shuggie Bain’ to ‘The Mirror and the Light’

From novels destined to be classics to booker prize nominated fiction, there’s something for everyone in our round-up, article bookmarked.

Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile

<p>We’ve chosen tomes by Kiley Reid, Douglas Stuart and Richard Osman</p>

We’ve chosen tomes by Kiley Reid, Douglas Stuart and Richard Osman

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With pubs, restaurants and cinemas closed for a large part of 2020, many of us turned to reading in our spare time.

A survey published by The Reading Agency found that nearly a third of the population read more than ever during the first lockdown, with seven out of 10 choosing fiction.

Crime and classic literature proved particularly popular and books about fictional epidemics, such as The Plague by Albert Camus and The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe saw a boost in sales too.

So what other types of fiction did we snap up this year? All sorts, it seems.

Waterstones’ bestselling hardback novel of 2020 (as of 17 December) was Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club , followed by The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, The Sentinel by Lee Child and his younger brother Andrew, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin, Troy by Stephen Fry and Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.


But whatever your literary tastes, there’s no doubt that 2020 has been a vintage year for new hardback fiction. From The Lying Life of Adults , Elena Ferrante’s first novel since her dazzling Neapolitan Quartet , to Douglas Stuart’s brilliant Shuggie Bain , there’s been something for all tastes. Choosing fiction is highly subjective but here’s our own cream of the 2020 crop.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart, published by Picador

Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize-winning debut novel has been garlanded with praise – and rightly so. Shuggie Bain took Stuart 10 years to write and was turned down by more than 30 publishers but it’s an exceptional book that will stand the test of time. Margaret Busby, chair of the Booker judges, said the book is “destined to be a classic – a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values.” Set in Glasgow, it’s the heartbreaking tale of Agnes Bain, a proud, beautiful mother-of-three and her youngest son Shuggie, who desperately tries to save her as she descends into alcoholism.

Price comparison


‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid, published by Bloomsbury Circus

Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, Kiley Reid’s debut novel tells the story of Emira, a young black babysitter who’s apprehended at a supermarket for “kidnapping” Briar, the white child she’s looking after. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to put things right. It’s a smart, funny and beautifully written page-turner that explores the themes of race and privilege in contemporary Philadelphia. It was voted the debut novel of 2020 in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

‘The Lying Life of Adults’ by Elena Ferrante, published by Europa Editions

Fans queued round the block when Elena Ferrante’s first novel since her Neapolitan Quartet ( My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child ) was published in Italy in 2019. UK readers had to wait till 2020 to get their hands on The Lying Life of Adults – but it was well worth it. Ferrante’s coming-of-age tale of a young girl growing up in Naples and trying to make sense of her complicated family is insightful and compelling. If you loved the Neapolitan Quartet you’ll love this too.

‘Small Pleasures’ by Clare Chambers, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

It’s 1957 and Jean Swinney is single, nearing 40 and living an uneventful life in the suburbs with her demanding mother. Jean works for a local newspaper and when a young Swiss woman writes in claiming that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth Jean sets out to discover if the story is a miracle or a fraud. Clare Chambers’s first novel in 10 years is an exquisitely written, compassionate read and grabs the reader’s attention from the very first page.

‘Strange Flowers’ by Donal Ryan, published by Doubleday

Donal Ryan’s first novel, The Spinning Heart , won the Guardian First Book Award in 2013 and he’s been longlisted twice for the Booker Prize. Strange Flowers is his  fifth novel – the tender story of three generations living in rural Ireland. It starts in 1973, when 20-year-old Moll Gladney catches an early morning bus from her home and vanishes without trace. Her parents search for their daughter but fear they’ll never see her again. However, five years later Moll returns home, followed by a man who transforms her family’s life forever. An outstanding read.

‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman, published by Viking

Pointless host Richard Osman got the idea for his debut novel a few years ago, when he visited a retirement community “full of extraordinary people with extraordinary stories”. This story of four unlikely friends who meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders roared into the bestseller lists in September and has stayed there ever since. Joyce, Ibrahim, Ron and the formidable Elizabeth are all pushing 80 and soon find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Smart and absorbing, with the promise of more books to come in the series.

‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, published by Canongate

Matt Haig is best known for nonfiction titles like Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet but he’s also written six highly acclaimed novels for adults and children’s books too. His latest features 35-year-old Nora Seed, who views her life as one of misery and regret. But when Nora finds herself in the Midnight Library, a shadowy place between life and death, she discovers she can undo her past regrets and plan her perfect life. A highly original, thought-provoking novel, it was voted the novel of 2020 in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Tinder Press

The 2020 winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction focuses on Hamnet, the son of William Shakespeare. Eleven-year-old Hamnet died of the plague in 1596 and a few years later his father wrote Hamlet . Hamnet is a book that O’Farrell, the author of books like The Distance Between Us and The Hand that First Held Mine , has wanted to write for more than 30 years. “I’ve always felt Hamnet’s story has been eclipsed, his short life relegated to a literary footnote,” she says. “He gets very little mention in any of his father’s biographies.” This wonderfully evocative novel is a joy to read.

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel, published by 4th Estate

The third part of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son from Putney who rose to become Henry VIII’s feared right-hand man and fixer. It brings to a close the series Mantel began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies , both of which won the Booker Prize. Mantel brings the Tudor court magnificently to life in this dazzling masterpiece of a novel, which Mantel describes as “the greatest challenge of my writing life, and the most rewarding”.

‘The Girl with the Louding Voice’ by Abi Daré, published by Sceptre

Fourteen-year-old Adunni, the spirited heroine of The Girl with the Louding Voice , has ambitions to become a teacher but after the death of her adored mother her father forces her into an abusive marriage with a local taxi driver who already has two wives and four children. When tragedy strikes she flees her husband and is sold as a domestic slave to a wealthy household in Lagos, only to suffer unspeakable cruelty all over again. Abi Daré grew up in Nigeria and was inspired to write her debut novel by her memories of the impoverished housemaids who worked for middle-class families in Lagos.

The verdict: Novels of 2020

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is destined to be a classic, a novel that stayed in our heads long after we finished reading. It’s a tough call but Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan , the tender story of three generations living in rural Ireland, is our runner-up.

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Best Book Review Blogs of 2023

Curated with love by Reedsy

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The Best Chromebooks for 2023

Mostly under $500, web-centric chromebooks are competent computers that can save you money. here's how to buy the right chromebook, backed by deep reviews of today's top models..

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Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2022)

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Acer Chromebook 514 (CB514-2HT-K0FZ)

PROS Solid construction Better performance than most inexpensive Chromebooks Great battery life Padded carrying sleeve included

CONS Slower than Intel Core-based Chromebooks

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PROS Includes a stylus Includes multiple USB-C ports Lightweight Excellent performance

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Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition

PROS Repairable, upgradable, and customizable design Excellent ChromeOS performance Highly accessible components and internals Sustainable materials and packaging

CONS Shorter battery life than top competitors Pricey for a Chromebook

Plenty of laptops , from budget to deluxe, are available in all shapes and sizes. But what if you spend most of your computing time online, surfing the web or answering emails or creating documents in Google Workspace or Microsoft Office Online? What if you'd rather spend a few hundred dollars than $1,000 or more? A Chromebook could be right for you.

Chromebooks don't offer libraries of powerful programs like Windows laptops or MacBooks , but their web-centric operation—most of what they do happens in the Google Chrome browser—and low prices make them ideal for streaming and social media and online productivity (though they do let you work on documents offline). Wildly popular in K-12 classrooms, they've also made inroads in corporate offices for their easy manageability. We've listed some of our favorite Chromebooks for 2023 in different categories below. Check them out, then keep reading for guidance on choosing the right model for you.

Most Chromebooks lack the powerful hardware of gaming laptops or mobile workstations , but most don't need it. Because you'll be visiting websites and running apps within ChromeOS, which is basically a souped-up version of the Chrome browser, the technical barrier to entry is low. This also frees you from downloading and installing traditional software; if you can't do something from a standard webpage, chances are you'll be able to from one of the thousands of apps and  extensions  available to ChromeOS users.

With just a few clicks, your Chromebook can have almost as much functionality as a budget Windows laptop, and most recent Chromebooks also let you install any app designed for the Android mobile OS. (Older or deeply discounted Chromebooks may lack Android support; you can check this list for the model you're considering.) This means both the browser-based and Android versions of Microsoft Office  are available if you want an alternative to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2022) 2-in-1

One primary benefit of running web-based software is security. For all intents and purposes, Chromebooks are immune to the viruses and other malware that often plague Windows systems. ChromeOS updates also take just seconds to complete, rather than the minutes or hours you may have to wait for  macOS  and  Windows  to do their update thing. And although easy access to an always-on internet connection is a must for Chromebooks, you can perform most standard tasks offline and sync up later, so you needn't stop work if there's a Wi-Fi connectivity glitch.

Acer Chromebook 514

IT management is also easier on ChromeOS. Schools have long taken advantage of Chromebooks' easy-to-use fleet management tools, but business users got a huge boost when Intel launched vPro Enterprise for Chrome . Intel-powered Chromebooks can now enjoy the same security and management tools offered on other business laptops, without the hassle of Windows. If ChromeOS has been looking like a good fit for your business, it just got even better.

What Are Good Specs for a Chromebook?

When shopping for a Chromebook, you'll note less hardware variety than with Windows machines. These are the most important specs and factors to be aware of.

Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition with open chassis

Screen Resolution

The usual native display resolution on a Chromebook will be 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, otherwise known as full HD or 1080p, but cheaper Chromebooks may have lower resolution while deluxe models may have higher. For most midsize Chromebooks with screens from 13 to 15 inches, 1080p is just fine. Entry-level models' resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels can look coarse and is only really suited for laptops with screens smaller than 12 inches diagonally. Try to avoid this resolution on any 13-inch or larger screen, or at least try to eyeball the display in person before you buy.

A low-end CPU like an Intel Celeron or Pentium or AMD A-Series will serve if all you do is browse with a tab or two open. Chromebooks based on Intel Core or AMD Ryzen processors will allow for more able multitasking, though they'll also be more expensive. Note that AMD offers a handful of C-series Ryzen mobile processors designed specially for Chromebooks.

For $300, a Windows laptop with an Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of memory will be unpleasantly sluggish for everyday use under Windows, but a Chromebook with the same specs should be fine for basic tasks. If you tend to be a multitasker, though, consider a Core or a Ryzen chip and 8GB of memory.

Most of your files on a Chromebook will be stored in the cloud, so many Chromebooks include only a small serving (32GB or 64GB) of eMMC flash-memory storage on which to save your local creations. Look for an SD card slot if you think you'll want to save more documents and files on the device. A growing number of Chromebooks have 128GB or larger solid-state drives (SSDs), which are much faster as well as roomier than eMMC flash.


Most Chromebook connections are wireless, as you'll use the machine almost exclusively when attached to Wi-Fi. Wired Ethernet ports are rare, but support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi is ubiquitous, with 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 found in upscale and corporate Chromebooks.

If you'll need to give presentations from your Chromebook, an HDMI monitor port is usually more convenient than carrying a USB-C DisplayPort adapter. Also look for a USB port or two if you'll want to attach a mouse, a flash drive, or another peripheral.

Acer Chromebook 516 GE

Entertainment isn't a big concern for classroom users, but gaming on Chromebooks is finally a reality. Not only are there several ways to play on Chromebooks of all kinds, the latest game-ready models are built to take advantage of cloud services like Nvidia GeForce Now,  Microsoft's  Xbox cloud gaming , and  Amazon Luna . The first batch of purpose-built gaming Chromebooks has just hit the market, so keep an eye on the best Chromebooks for gaming for our latest reviews.

Are Touch-Screen and Tablet Chromebooks Worth It?

Today's Chromebooks have stepped up from basic, bare-bones laptops to elegant computers with surprisingly rich capabilities. A few sport carbon-fiber chassis or lightweight magnesium alloy frames. Others not only swap out flash storage for a speedy SSD but boast a bright, 1080p or higher-resolution in-plane switching (IPS) display with sharp text, vivid colors, and wide viewing angles. Top models have premium styling that rivals any high-end Windows notebook.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3 Chromebook tablet

That includes touch screens (ChromeOS is now optimized for touch input), which are especially handy when you're tapping away at Android apps designed for touch. And while most Chromebooks are traditional clamshell laptops, a growing number are 2-in-1 convertibles whose screens flip and fold into laptop, tablet, and kiosk or presentation modes, just like Lenovo's Yoga and HP's x360 systems. A handful of Chromebooks are detachables with kickstands and removable keyboards, comparable to Windows tablets . These days, a budget Windows laptop and a similarly priced Chromebook can look far more alike than you might expect.

HP Chromebook x2 (2021)

What's the Best Chromebook for You?

Whether you're a Facebook or Instagram addict or you just need a machine for checking email and working in Google apps, Chromebooks are easy to use, convenient to take on the go, and relatively inexpensive. If you think a Chromebook could be right for you, check out the detailed spec chart and reviews below for the top-rated models we've tested. If you're on a tight budget but definitely need Windows, our lists of the  best cheap laptops  and the  best laptops for college students  are worth a look, too. And for more general buying advice, check out our comprehensive guide with today's  top laptop picks , regardless of price.

Where To Buy

802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)3.2None 11:1013.56082.4Intel Core i5-1135G7IPSGoogle Chrome OS2,256 by 1,504Chromebook, Convertible 2-in-1Intel Iris Xe Graphics0.67 by 11.8 by 9.3 inchesSSD256
802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth2.87None 11:07146082.6MediaTek Kompanio 828IPSChrome OS1920 by 1080ChromebookARM Mali-G57 MC50.66 by 12.7 by 8.9 incheseMMC Flash Memory64
802.11ac, Bluetooth2.5None 6:23126042.2MediaTek Kompanio 820LCDChrome OS1366 by 912Convertible 2-in-1, BudgetArm Mali-G570.7 by 10.6 by 8.5 incheseMMC Flash Memory64
802.11ac2.09None 6:0110.956042.55Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2IPSChrome OS2000 by 1200Chromebook, Detachable 2-in-1Qualcomm Adreno GPU10.15 by 6.47 by 0.31 incheseMMC Flash Memory64
Bluetooth, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)3.09None 12:5214608Intel Core i5-1235UIPSChrome OS1920 by 1200ChromebookIntel Iris Xe Graphics0.71 by 12.3 by 8.8 inchesSSD256
Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth2.8None 10:3213.5608Intel Core i5-1245UIPSGoogle Chrome OS2,256 by 1,504Chromebook, Business, Convertible 2-in-1Intel Iris Xe Graphics0.65 by 11.6 by 8.7 inchesSSD256
802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.24.1None12:0616608Intel Core i3-1215UIPSChrome OS1920 by 1200ChromebookIntel UHD Graphics0.79 by 14.3 by 10 incheseMMC Flash Memory128
Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.23.75None9:41161208Intel Core i5-1240PIPSGoogle Chrome OS2560 by 1600ChromebookIntel Iris Xe Graphics0.84 by 14 by 9.8 inchesSSD256
802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)3.09None 11:49146083Intel Core i3-1115G4IPSGoogle Chrome OS1,920 by 1,080ChromebookIntel UHD Graphics0.76 by 12.7 by 8.7 inchesSSD128
802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6), Bluetooth 5.22.9None 8:4413.5608Intel Core i5-1240PIPSChrome OS2256 by 1504ChromebookIntel Iris Xe Graphics0.62 by 11.7 by 9 inchesSSD256

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