Our resident Fiction Editor Millie Walton recommends the best books to buy as gifts (whether for yourself or for others) this Christmas.
Featuring Bernardine Evaristo, Nella Larsen, and John Berger, CF has your 2020 Christmas reading list covered.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel Girl, Woman, Other has been one of the most talked about books of 2020, and deservedly so. Through a collection of effervescent, amusing and often, deeply moving stories told by twelve singular characters (mostly, black women), Evaristo leads the reader on a journey across Britain, and through time. It’s an absorbing and important read that you’ll struggle to put down.
Confabulations by John Berger
Whilst John Berger is perhaps best known for his highly influential artbook Ways of Seeing (another great Christmas present for art lovers), he was also a novelist, poet, painter, and philosopher. Confabulations, the last book published before his death in 2017, is a collection of resonating essays and drawings that meditates on language in relation to storytelling, art, culture, history, and modern politics: “Language is a body, a living creature… and this creature’s home is the inarticulate as well as the articulate”. Written in precise, illuminating, accessible prose, it’s an essential, timeless book.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen’s Passing was first published in 1929 to widespread critical acclaim, establishing Larsen as a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance despite the fact that she only published two books in her lifetime. Set in New York in the 1920s, the story is about a woman called Clare Kendry whose white husband is unaware of her African-American heritage owing to her light skin. Her childhood friend Irene, who is also light-skinned, has remained within the black community but refuses to acknowledge how society’s inherent racism is threatening her family’s happiness. When the two friends are reunited in a chance encounter, they begin to confront the lies that they’ve built their lives around. A beautiful, collectable edition of the novel was published by Penguin earlier this year.
Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Glück
Whilst it might sound like a classic Christmas tale, Faithful and Virtuous Night is, in fact, a book of poetry by American poet Louise Glück who was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature for ‘her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.’ If you’re not yet familiar with her writing, this collection is a good place to start. The poems are at times direct, at others fanciful, largely centring around the idea of old age as a kind of second childhood, merging past, and present, the actual and the invented.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
The Heart’s Invisible Furies (what a title!) is often considered one of John Boyne’s best for its compelling, albeit nightmarish, portrait of post-war Ireland and its people. The novel opens in a small village in Cork, Ireland in 1945, during a mass in which the priest, rather than giving a sermon, denounces a 16-year-old woman, recently discovered to be pregnant. The scene is narrated by the child inside the womb, who grows up to become Cyril Avery, the book’s protagonist. We follow Cyril as he struggles to claim a sense of identity and belonging.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
The winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, Shuggie Bain is the extraordinary debut novel by Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart. Set in 1980s Glasgow, Agnes Bain, her second husband, and her three children are living crammed together in a council flat. After her two children leave home, young teenage Shuggie is left the sole carer of his alcoholic, disintegrating mother, who he can’t help but love unconditionally. As a tale of poverty, addiction, and abuse, it’s inevitably a harrowing read but it’s also a deeply insightful and heartbreaking portrayal of the relationship between a child and a substance-abusing parent.