Books of the Year

Members of THE WHITE REVIEW editorial team, esteemed contributors, and friends of the magazine reveal the books they’ve been reading and revisiting in 2018.





I really enjoyed LIMBO (Fitzcarraldo) by Dan Fox, WHEN WORDS FAIL: A LIFE WITH MUSIC, WAR AND PEACE (Granta) by Ed Vulliamy, and Bob Gilbert’s GHOST TREES: NATURE AND PEOPLE IN A LONDON PARISH (Saraband).


In fiction, I really admired the miniaturist beauty of Carys Davies’ WEST (Granta). This year I also revisited Bohumil Hrabal’s TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE (Abacus), a splendid little novel that packs more into its 98 pages than most books twice its length.



JULIA ARMFIELD, winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018


My reading year has been characterised by sudden explosions in the midst of long dry spells. Without question the most powerful of these was Elaine Castillo’s AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART (Atlantic) – a gorgeous and gratifyingly huge novel about home and finding a home, replete with food and music and spiky tenderness. There was also May-Lan Tan’s short story collection THINGS TO MAKE AND BREAK (Sceptre), which I have recommended to almost everyone I know for its deadpan brilliance, its stories teeming with doubles. Lastly, there was Camilla Grudova’s THE DOLL’S ALPHABET (Fitzcarraldo), one of the most purely original collections I’ve read, filled with strange and squirmy imagery, monsters and sewing machines and things with many, many legs.



JULIA BELL, writer and Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck


The non-fiction books I really loved this year: Olivia Sudjuc’s EXPOSURE – a timely piece from new publishers Peninsula Press which explores among other things, why being published is much more difficult for women, and how we are often judged by a completely different set of standards. In a neat pocket sized edition from a press to watch.


The very much missed Mark Fisher’s blog has just been published by Repeater Books as K-PUNK: THE COLLECTED AND UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS OF MARK FISHER (2004-2016). This book is balm for the soul for anyone pissed off with the mess we’re in. Clear-sighted, funny, and astute and at over 800 pages, satisfyingly hefty. You won’t look like Scrooge if you gift this book. I have already bought several copies.


THE SECOND BODY by Daisy Hildyard (Fitzcarraldo) considers the relationship between human and animal bodies – a journey that takes her to butchers’ shops and abattoirs and environmental criminologists. It feels urgent and true and is written in taut, compelling prose.



JOANNA BIGGS, editor at The London Review of Books


Nearly everyone who gives their books of the year looks like an idiot doing it: if I recommend the cool books everyone else does, it’s pointless; if I recommend the books my friends wrote or published this year, even if they made me laugh or cry or puke with envy, I’m logrolling; if I recommend Lawrence or Lispector or Proust, I bring you no news and moreover I’m pretentious (plus I finished A la Recherche last year); and as I get to write and commission reviews, it’s not as if my opinion isn’t already out there. But I am often idiotic, and there was a book last year that accompanied me in the bath & when sleepless & made me feel less alone & more wise & that was Dolly Alderton’s book, EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT LOVE (Fig Tree). It’s too popular to be cool, I’ve only ever emailed the writer a fan letter, it’s hardly meant to last like Proust. I can’t even quote from it to show you what I mean, because I’ve already given it to a friend, and haven’t got it back. But I liked nothing so much all year.





MILKMAN (Faber) by Anna Burns was the most stylish Booker winner of the decade. Lorrie Moore’s essay collection SEE WHAT CAN BE DONE (Faber) provided a fix for someone who googles her once a week to see if she’s written any more fiction; connected with this I became obsessed with Mary Gaitskill and read all her three collections, BAD BEHAVIOUR (Poseidon), BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO (Simon and Schuster) and DON’T CRY (Serpent’s Tail); thought Rebecca Schiff’s THE BED MOVED (Vintage) was a compressed work of genius; and decided my favourite proof of 2018, in this lineage of short story masters whose laughter is usually on the verge of a howl, was SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME by Nicole Flattery (which is out early in the new year from Bloomsbury). Patrick Langley’s ARKADY (Fitzcarraldo) was a haunting and brilliant debut.


My favourite American novel this year was ASYMMETRY (Granta) by Lisa Halliday, inspired by the author’s affair with my writing hero, Philip Roth: a moving book to read in the year of his death. I reread two of his masterpieces to remember him, MY LIFE AS A MAN and PATRIMONY.





I have particularly enjoyed Peninsula Press’s pocket size essays — Will Harris’s MIXED-RACE SUPERMAN and Olivia Sudjic’s EXPOSURE. The subjects they tackle differ considerably. Harris ponders Keanu Reeves, Obama, and the myths orbiting the mixed-race body, while Sudjic considers authorhood, the perceptions of women, and autofiction. But both seem to ask the reader to look at the world with more careful eyes.


I’ve been re-reading Muriel Spark. This project was aided by Ali Smith’s IN THE SPIRIT OF SPARK (Polygon)Reading Smith alongside Spark is a bit like being in a book club with the smartest person you know. If you’ve never read Spark, I recommend starting with GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS (Polygon). The Schiaparelli dress floating through war-exhausted London has stayed with me for years.


New novels: Sharlene Teo’s PONTIGuy Gunaratne’s IN OUR MAD AND FURIOUS CITY (Tinder Press), and Sophie Mackintosh’s THE WATER CURE (Hamish Hamilton) were particular favourites.





The book that has accompanied me like a talisman through a year coloured by news of sexual violence and the abuse of power has been Sophie Collins’s SMALL WHITE MONKEYS (BookWorks), an exploration of trauma and self-expression. THREADS (Clinic)a collaboration between Sandeep Parmar, Bhanu Kapil and Nisha Ramayya, is also a text I’ve returned to again and again, both as a reader and as a teacher, and the conversations I’ve had with my undergraduates have taught me as much as the book itself. Staying with universities, DECOLONISING THE UNIVERSITY by Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nisancioglu should be read by everyone, regardless of their interest in higher education: it’s a crucial consideration of whiteness, ‘free speech’, and our relationship to history. Boilerhouse Press is one of the most exciting poetry publishers around, and this year I really loved Sophie Robinson’s RABBIT , Samantha Walton’s SELF HEALand Nat Raha’s OF SIRENS, BODY, & FAULTLINES; political, moving, urgent lyric that deserves a big audience.





My books of the year are Kate Kilalea’s OK, MR. FIELD (Faber), Rachel Cusk’s KUDOS (Faber) and Lena Andersson’s ACTS OF INFIDELITY (Picador), translated by Saskia Vogel. I also discovered the work of Dubravka Ugrešić and have just received Mireille Gansel’s TRANSLATION AS TRANSHUMANCE (Les Fugitives).Translated into English by Ros Schwartz, Gansel’s book has proved immediately involving.



BEN EASTHAM, founding editor of THE WHITE REVIEW


The young protagonists of Patrick Langley’s ARKADY (Fitzcarraldo) flee an unfriendly city in the faint hope, gleaned from books, that there are better ways of living together. It will chime with any bibliophile living in London. From a position of privilege, cities in crisis are often said to provide fertile ground for artists, and pasticheurs have recently positioned themselves – cynically – as inheritors of the legacy of a romanticised version of New York’s late-1970s scene. Reissues of David Wojnarowicz’s WATERFRONT JOURNALS (Peninsula) and Constance DeJong’s MODERN LOVE (Ugly Duckling Presse) are reminders of what the real thing looks like. Two important works of art historical scholarship reimagine the relationship between art and society, past and present: POST ZANG TUMB TUUM (Fondazione Prada) is a paradigm-shifting study of vanguard Italian art and fascism, while HELLO WORLD (Hirmer Verlag) asks what western museums might look like if they abandoned Eurocentric narratives founded on white supremacy. Meanwhile Tobie Matthews’s GREETINGS FROM THE BARRICADES (Four Corners Books), a study of Russian revolutionary postcards, offers an unexpected illustration of how new communication technologies can upend societies. The year’s scandals confirmed another historical constant: that the abuse of power is at once shocking and everyday, specific and universal. Anna Burns’s MILKMAN (Faber), like Langley’s ARKADY, transmutes the lived experience of a hostile society into the nameless and timeless zone of fiction.





Mary Ann Caws and Michel Delville’s UNDOING ART (Quodlibet) and Kate Briggs’s THIS LITTLE ART (Fitzcarraldo) both got me thinking about art-making, transmission, disruption. Deborah Levy’s THE COST OF LIVING (Hamish Hamilton) is a masterclass in first-person writing. And how could I not include Amy Gentry’s BOYS FOR PELE (Bloomsbury Academic), part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series of music writing devoted to entire albums. Gentry’s wicked close reading of my favorite Tori Amos album is the kind of criticism that makes you both elated and envious. Then there were the motherhood books in a year in which I became a mother for the first time – the stand-outs, for me, were Jessie Greengrass’s SIGHT (John Murray) and Anna Prushinskaya’s A WOMAN IS A WOMAN UNTIL SHE IS A MOTHER (MG Press).





I loved Sam Byers’s novel of ideas PERFIDIOUS ALBION (Faber) – brilliantly ironic, hilarious and profound. Annie Ernaux’s THE YEARS  (Fitzcarraldo) is a beautiful book about the insanity of linear time, and furthermore the insanity of everything we are meant to regard as sane. Laurence Scott’s PICNIC COMMA LIGHTNING (William Heinemann) is intensely moving on how we reconcile ourselves (or not) to the death of those we love, and Nick Harkaway’s GNOMON (William Heinemann) is an audacious, dreamlike quest, as if the author woke inspired and totally avoided the person from Porlock…


I’ve also hugely enjoyed THE STUDY CIRCLE by Haroun Khan (Dead Ink), IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH by Rūdolfs Blaumanis (Momentum Booksshort) and THE WIFE’S TALE by Aida Edemariam (Fourth Estate).


For those seeking answers to questions incl. ‘What exactly is this current hell?’ I’d recommend Stig Abell’s HOW BRITAIN REALLY WORKS (John Murray), Eliane Glaser’s ANTI-POLITICS (Repeater Books) and Martin Gurri’s THE REVOLT OF THE PUBLIC AND THE CRISIS OF AUTHORITY IN THE NEW MILLENIUM (recently reissued by Stripe Press). All excellent, if disturbing. As Arnold Kling wrote: ‘Martin Gurri saw it coming.’ But can he see what’s coming next…?



ALICE HATTRICK, writer and critic


Annie Ernaux’s THE YEARS (Fitzcarraldo) was my favourite book this year. I also loved Deborah Levy’s THE COST OF LIVING (Penguin) for her narration of the peculiar circumstances of grief as it mixes up with work and family life; Natalia Ginzburg’s short stories in THE LITTLE VIRTUES (Daunt Books) that together constitute a kind of autobiography worked across time, circumstance and place; and Porochista Khakpur’s SICK: A MEMOIR (HarperCollins), a generous account of a life with a little-understood chronic illness. I fell further in love with Alice James’s diaries and Virginia Woolf’s letters, and was thrilled/horrified to find I identify more than ever with Kate Zambreno’s HEROINES (Semiotext(e)), having lived inside of BOOK OF MUTTER last summer. After months of carrying it around, I refuse to finish Derek Jarman’s MODERN NATURE (Vintage Classics), not wanting to be without it.





This year I read about plants and music. BRAIDING SWEETGRASS (Milkweed Editions) by Robin Wall Kimmerer continues to stay with me. She made me think about witch hazel, cattails, ponds, and tree bark as living things that we are in relationship to. MY ABANDONMENT (John Murray) by Peter Rock and ANNIHILATION (Fourth Estate) by Jeff Vandermeer are novels where the forest and the swamp are characters in themselves. Less about plants and more about the land and what we’ve done to it, Octavia Butler’s PARABLE OF THE SOWER (Little Brown), with world-building that was prescient when published in 1993, now reads like a document of our current time. Yoko Tawada’s THE EMISSARY (W. W. Norton), which was published in English this year, builds its world in the debris of our current one. Of the music books, I loved Robin D. G. Kelley’s THELONIOUS MONK: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL (The Free Press) and THE MYSTICISM OF SOUND AND MUSIC (Shambhala Publicationsby Hazrat Inayat Khan. My favourite was THEY CAN’T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US (Melville House) by Hanif Abdurraqib. Not about music or plants, but other things entirely, I loved Fleur Jaeggy’s I AM THE BROTHER OF XX (And Other Stories).





‘Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages’, writes Sarah Manguso in 300 ARGUMENTS (Picador), a work where brief texts form a dynamic conversation, each aphorism changing those that surround it. Looking back on favourites of the year can have a similar – albeit unplanned – effect, books separated by months coming together in mutually enriching dialogue. I’d like to imagine certain heroines meeting up for a lunch that goes on forever, Szu of Sharlene Teo’s PONTI (Picador) laughing with Selin from Elif Batuman’s THE IDIOT (Vintage), as Alison from Mary Gaitskill’s VERONICA (Serpent’s Tail) relates kaleidoscopic stories of her past and the narrator of Ottessa Moshfegh’s MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION (Jonathan Cape) listens sleepily. To borrow a phrase used by Olivia Sudjic in her sharp, elegant essay EXPOSURE (Peninsula Press)these are new personal ‘talismans’, enchanting works that speak to me – and to each other.



CALEB KLACES, lecturer and poet


ABANDON by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha, was published in 2017, but I came to it this year, along with its brilliant UK publisher, Tilted Axis. It’s a novel about a mother, Ishwari, and her chronically ill child, Roo. All through the book, a strange author-voice – in that responsible tone people adopt when enjoying the delivery of bad news – reminds you again and again that what you are reading is fiction. But when I finished that author-voice’s book, after watching the ‘I’ watch its own characters burn, I felt abandoned. Since then, I have been trying to work out how to catch up.





My favorite books this year were Keith Gessen’s A TERRIBLE COUNTRY (Fitzcarraldo) and Sheila Heti’s MOTHERHOOD (Harvill Secker). Both books are brave and funny reckonings with impossible situations and both grapple with ethical questions in a human and transparent way. Gessen’s narrator returns to the Moscow of his early childhood to take care of his elderly grandmother. He tries to understand what Russia has become, and his place may be in it, but every good intention that he has is doomed to fail. Similarly, Sheila Heti’s meditation on motherhood spans half a decade. Torn between wanting and not wanting to have a child, the narrator torments herself only to eventually realise that the decision is already being made by time. Heti dramatises a question lived by nearly every first-world person. At the same time, she demonstrates the contradictions between freedom and the tyranny of choice and how impossible it is for anyone to ever make the ‘right’ decision.





‘And yet, in a sense, I would like to remain a cut below literature.’ This line, by Annie Ernaux, from A WOMAN’S STORY (Seven Stories Press), has stayed with me all year, ringing some alarm. I came to the French writer, as many English-language readers outside France have, through Alison Strayer’s translation of Ernaux’s THE YEARS (Fitzcarraldo). Singular, incomparable — all the words apply. What else? Rachel Cusk’s KUDOS (Faber), was stunning. Ernaux, Cusk: this year I’ve been less interested in realism than in the kind of elliptical and yet sober documentary impulse that somehow infuses both the autofiction and the parable. Marguerite Duras’s DESTROY, SHE SAID: A NOVEL (Grove), might fall under this, as might Mohsin Hamid’s EXIT WEST (Hamish Hamilton), both of which I’ve kept near. Emily Wilson’s deft translation of THE ODYSSEY (Norton), the first into English by a woman, might be read with Anne Carson’s seminal essay ‘The Gender of Sound’. Two books (on the poetic ecologies of settler society) that I look forward to: Sarah Dowling’s just released TRANSLINGUAL POETICS: WRITING PERSONHOOD UNDER SETTLER COLONIALISM (University of Iowa Press) — figuring work by Layli Long Soldier, Myung Mi Kim, and Cecilia Vicuña — and Lyra Kilston’s SUN SEEKERS: THE CURE OF CALIFORNIA (Atelier Editions).





A performance: Danez Smith and Kayo Chingonyi reading at the London Review Bookshop in January set the tone for the rest of my reading year, resetting my expectations of contemporary poetry and showing how an engagement with politics can be completely thrilling. Smith and Chingonyi’s readings were electric, drawing both tears and laughter from the audience.


Is anyone having as much fun writing fiction as Ottessa Moshfegh? In a world where people think there’s something wrong with you if you’re not overworked and underslept, it felt radical to read a book celebrating excessive sleep and laziness. MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION (Jonathan Cape) is an anarchic retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale as well as a perfectly structured and very funny novel.


Both Sheila Heti’s MOTHERHOOD (Harvill Secker) and Annie Ernaux’s THE YEARS (Fitzcarraldo) brilliantly examined how a single life might fit into and distinguish itself against a larger narrative of a family or an entire culture – and both writers found original forms to tell their ambitious, inventive stories. They provide no answers, only impressive ways of asking wise questions.



LUCY MERCER, winner of The White Review Poet’s Prize 2017


I’ve spent the year trying to write critical theory, and Rita Felski’s THE LIMITS OF CRITIQUE (University of Chicago Press) as well as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s TOUCHING FEELING: AFFECT, PEDAGOGY, PERFORMATIVITY (Duke University Press) have shone bright stars into my heart. Both books fuelled a sense that theory should move the reader into a receptive state of unknowing. I also loved the beautifully printed reissue of Nell Dunn’s TALKING TO WOMEN (Silver Press) – interviews with women of a similar age in the 1960s. I felt intense relief hearing these voices talking so directly about motherhood, among other things, and was fascinated too by differences between past and present. I’m also glad that Repeater Books has published K-PUNK: THE COLLECTED AND UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS OF MARK FISHER (2004-2016). Mark was a brilliant and unique thinker, everyone should read his work.





This August I went to Istanbul to research John Berger’s biography. I stayed with a filmmaker friend, Gülen, in her rooftop flat overlooking the Golden Horn. The medieval Genoese Galata tower was at the foot of my bed. On the shelf, there was a copy of John Ash’s TWO BOOKS: THE ANATOLIKON/TO THE CITY (Carcanet). The dedication to Gülen directed her to ‘The Wait’, a poem where she and the speaker


are waiting in the coffee house by the Genoese tower.

No-one appears, at least no one we are waiting for.


A few pages later, ‘Biography’ seemed to be teasing me about the idea of thinking or traveling your way into someone else’s head. It starts:


Disconsolate, on that early August morning

when first he heard the news, he may

have taken a walk in the park by the river,

looking for the last time at the things he loved.





SHY RADICALS (Book Works) by Hamja Ahsan – a work of speculative activism that might actually change they way you think, also way more imaginative and actionable that any of that so-called theory that you read. Sick of extroverts controlling the agenda? Educate yourself about extrovert supremacy.


ABBODIES (Sad Press) by Nicky Melville – entertaining, timely and significant personal political poem about the author’s ‘weird’ Abba fixation, br*xit, bodies on the line, ‘Scottish jokes for Scottish folks’, aliens, Ghostbusters, buzzards, etc. Conveniently ignored by every poetry journal in England.


NYT (Gauss) by Aurelia Guo – a simultaneously ruthless and evasive text by an uncategorisable writer, this free PDF is intimate, impersonal, visionary and pitiless.


‘Loser sons of successful fathers / Drinking coca cola from a plastic bottle in the grey sand in a black thong’





In the order in which I read them: Jenny Offill’s first novel, LAST THINGS (Bloomsbury), made me both more and less impatient for her next. I loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s YOU THINK IT, I’LL SAY IT (Random House) and Sheila Heti’s MOTHERHOOD (Harvill Secker), two extremely different examinations of the difficulty of figuring out who you are and what you want. One of the funniest books I read this year, and also one of the saddest, was THE WRONG HEAVEN (W&N) by Amy Bonnaffons, a collection in which — among other transformations and visitations —  women sick of their constrained bodies and minds turn into horses and Alanis Morissette’s ‘One Hand In My Pocket’ lodges itself in a woman’s head so firmly that she spends every lunch break singing it alone in a karaoke bar. I’m still feeling unsettled by the gruesome and subversive stories in Intan Paramaditha’s APPLE AND KNIFE (Vintage), which merge contemporary Indonesia with the worlds of fairy tale and horror.



DEBORAH SMITH, Publisher at Tilted Axis Press


This year I fell hard for poetry. Vahni Capildeo’s VENUS AS A BEAR (Carcanet) is playful and cerebral in equal measure, while Ottilie Mulzet’s translations of Szilárd Borbély continue to demonstrate her astonishing skill and sensitivity. And ENGLAND: POEMS FROM A SCHOOL (Picador) should be on the curriculum, on public transport, excerpted in every newspaper.


Staying in the US I discovered June Jordan, whose essay on Black English should be required reading for anyone thinking about translation, and whose work provides a vital roadmap for balancing the inward nature of language-work with the urgent call to activism.


Sheila Heti’s MOTHERHOOD (Harvill Secker) is the book I want all my friends to read to save me having to explain my cyclically erratic mental weather and terminal lack of interest in babiesYoko Tawada’s THE LAST CHILDREN OF TOKYO (Portobello), in Margaret Mitsutani’s translation, deserves all the prizes going. Brilliant, heartbreaking, sui generis.





There has been too much brilliant poetry published in this mess of a year to list it all; but I was wholly thrilled and excited by AK Blakemore’s FONDUE (Offord Road Books); Danez Smith’s DON’T CALL US DEAD (Chatto and Windus); Amy Key’s ISN’T FOREVER (Bloodaxe); Helen Charman’s SUPPORT, SUPPORT (Offord Road Books); Vahni Capildeo’s VENUS AS A BEAR (Carcanet), Wayne Holloway Smith’s I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE WENDING (Test Centre); Hieu Minh Nguyen’s NOT HERE (Coffee House Press); Sophie Robinson’s RABBIT (Boiler House Press); Francesca Lisette’s SUB ROSA (Boiler House Press); Alex McDonald’s KNOWING THIS HAS CHANGED MY ENDING (Offord Road Books); Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s WAITRESS IN FALL (Carcanet), translated by Vala Thorodds; and Sophie Collins’s WHO IS MARY SUE? (Faber). I was awed by THREADS (Clinic) by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil, which shows what’s possible when lyric essay meets poetry meets scholarship — creating something powerfully felt and wholly new. In fiction, I became utterly obsessed with the needle-sharp DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD (Fitzcarraldo) by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, as well as loving Rachel Cusk’s fierce, addictive KUDOS (Faber ); gut-punch novels by Sophie Mackintosh and Sally Rooney; and whip-smart non-fiction by Will Harris and Timothy Morton. I also read ‘Merry Christmas from Hegel’, from Anne Carson’s FLOAT (Jonathan Cape), over and over again, to keep me going.



FRANCESCA WADE, co-editor of The White Review


Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected (Persephone) is a 1918 novel about a gay conscientious objector and his refusal to fight in the First World War; originally published by a pacifist who had already spent months in prison for distributing anti-war materials, it was censored on publication as ‘likely to prejudice the recruiting, training, and discipline of persons in his Majesty’s forces’. Reading it today, the main character’s horror at a divided Europe – roads and railways torn up, racism and homophobia rife, entrenched gender roles perpetuating a culture of state violence – retain their pungency and power. And two authors we published in The White Review this year, whose long-form work was as stunning as their shorter pieces, both deeply political in very different ways: I loved Johanna Hedva’s On Hell (Sator Press) and Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile, translated by Melanie Mauthner (Archipelago).





On poetry: I recommend two of Faber’s spring debuts, Hannah Sullivan’s sweeping, cinematic THREE POEMS, and Sophie Collins’s WHO IS MARY SUE?, a genuinely original collection which advances the form. I was also stunned by Terrance Hayes’s sonically-exhilarating AMERICAN SONNETS FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN. And to pick just one of many brilliant pamphlets published this year: Imogen Cassels’ rich, formally-inventive ARCADES (Sad Press). 


On fiction, please read Mercè Rodoreda’s DEATH IN SPRING, translated by Martha Tennant (Viking) a haunting and visionary novel on ritual and oppression, set in a rural Catalan village – reading it was like having a very beautiful nightmare (wisteria, resin, bees; pitchforks, faceless men, moonless nights). My favourite novel this year – one of the most enjoyable, quietly moving books I’ve ever read – was Olga Tokarczuk’s DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo).


Please also read WHITE GIRLS, Hilton Als’s essay collection on class, race, sexuality and high/low culture, recently published in the UK by Penguin for the first time. 





Nell Dunn’s reissued TALKING TO WOMEN (Silver Press) beautifully reaffirmed ‘the radical necessity of giving and having voice’, as put in Ali Smith’s foreword, and this spirit unites the books that most resonated with me this year. THREADS by Bhanu Khapil, Sandeep Parmar and Nisha Ramayya (Clinic), an exceptional lyric essay on decolonial or resistance poetics, offered a multifaceted portrait of POC art practice within the context of a ‘national culture that has not addressed its legacy of violence’ that felt vital and inspiring. In REVOLTING PROSTITUTES (Verso), Molly Smith and Juno Mac deliver a razor sharp, witty and brilliantly researched case for sex workers’ struggles as both a crucial labour battle and as essential to any decent feminist politics. In poetry, Terrance Hayes’s AMERICAN SONNETS FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN (Penguin) stood out in a year of riches. Hayes wrote these seventy astonishing sonnets in the 200 days after Trump’s election and they form a bereft, furious, wry, interrogative diary-like sequence that floored me.




March 2019

Dreaming Reasonably: on Jenny George

Rachael Allen


March 2019

In Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror film The Descent, a group of women go spelunking and become trapped deep underground...


March 2017

A Table is a Table

Peter Bichsel

TR. Lydia Davis


March 2017

I want to tell a story about an old man, a man who no longer says a word, has...


November 2016

The Miserablist

Anne Boyer


November 2016

This vision was strongly nebulous, an indeterminate but bold reaction only because it was so much like one of...


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