Winner of the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize, The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura is currently cresting the wave of novels by en vogue female Japanese writers. Set in an unnamed city in Japan, it tells the story of a narrator who refers to herself as the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan. Leading an isolated life, her only diversion appears to be a fascination with a neighbourhood local, the aforementioned Woman in the Purple Skirt. What initially appears to the reader as no more than an odd girl crush, becomes much darker, as our becardiganed storyteller decides to play puppet master with Purple Skirt’s life.
So here we are, at the end of another unusual year. I’m guessing many of you have sought solace in books as I have, although, at times I’ve found it challenging to concentrate and engage with books. The good news is that when the floodgates of publishing opened post-lockdown (take two), the quality of books published really picked up and recently we’ve enjoyed some fabulous novels which bodes well for Christmas and beyond. So here they are, our best reads this year.
We here at Bookstoker wish you all the best for a happy holiday season!
Like many others, I absolutely the bestselling All The Light We Cannot See, so I was excited to read a new novel by the same author was out. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, is a complex and ambitious novel of epic proportions. It contains multiple storylines and timelines that span many centuries. At first, I found this constant jumping between stories and worlds distracted me from the beauty of Doerr’s prose. I found myself preferring one storyline to another and felt irritated when I was forced out of one world and into another. I started racing through the sections I didn’t like so much in order to join my favourites again.
Deliciously Quirky Children’s Book
Bookstoker’s Best Booker Prize winners of the past 10 years
Can’t tell you how excited I am about the choice of Damon Galgut’s The Promise as this year’s Booker Prize winner. It’s an exceptional book, written by a hugely talented author. The story of the disintegration of the South-African Swart family will stay with you for a long time. Read our review here.
On the week Mark Zuckerberg announced his plan for a metaverse, attending the deliciously analog Letters Live at Royal Albert Hall was like balm to the soul. Letters Live, inspired by the best-selling book series Letters of Note, is a live, bi-annual (more or less) event in which famous actors read letters dealing with anything from a customer complaint to Virgin Airlines (which made it all the way to Richard Branson for its hilarity), a sublime love letter, to a heart-wrenching post-humous letter written by a 19 year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan and many more. A packed Royal Albert Hall (with an encouraging number of 20yr olds!) was treated to readings by Benedict Cumberbatch, Gillian Anderson, Toby Jones, Matt Lucas and many more, interspersed by music performances. Exquisite!
While you wait for the next one, visit the Letters Live archive.
A curious and exhilarating affair, Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett is my stand-out read of the year to date. In this extraordinary novel, Bennett takes the voice of an unnamed female narrator, leading the reader on a stream of consciousness trip from her school days to the present. The twist is that her life is viewed through the prism of the books she’s read and how they have informed her as a woman, a reader and ultimately a writer. It’s intense as hell but the reward is a read touched with brilliance and originality.
At seventeen, Marie is kicked out of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court in France and exiled to a godforsaken abbey in the English countryside. Deemed too ugly to marry, Marie, an orphaned ‘bastard’ with royal blood, is stowed away for life. There’s far more to Marie than meets the eye, however, and soon enough, she has turned the poverty-stricken abbey into a powerhouse. The question is: how does Eleanor feel about that? And, anyway, are women really meant to achieve this much? If a story about nuns in a 12th century abbey sounds dull to you, think again; Matrix by Lauren Groff is an absolutely riveting read.
Leo Gazzara is hovering on the brink of both turning thirty and plunging into an existential crisis. Keen to avoid respectability, his days are spent avoiding hard work, his nights indulging in the hedonistic thrills of city life. Originally published in 1970, Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich is an Italian cult classic. Here translated into English for the first time, it captures those heady days when Rome was the capital of glamour. A boozy, smoky and intoxicating novel, it tells the story of the year Leo’s dolce vita turned sour.