The Best Fiction Books to Read in 2023
Unlike school curriculums, news outlets and even non-fiction bestsellers, fiction books are a unique combination of life lessons through stories that do not seem like real life at all. Yet, Neil Gaiman, an English author, rightly observed that people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen, are wrong.
The power of a novel lies in its ability to teach history, and humanity, provide hope and reassure one in love and kindness like no other works of literature could. Besides, fiction is never restricted to covering current events only or reflecting on realities of human nature, but experiments with eras, fantasy worlds and dystopian futures, allowing readers both: escapism and refinement of what life really is about.
The best fiction book does exactly that: makes one laugh, think and occasionally cry. Some of those volumes warn of the consequences of disregarding racial and climate issues, while other books reflect on events of the past covering topics of marriage, reconciliation, time travel and more. Today we selected ultimate page-turners that were mentioned in The New York Times, Washington Post, CBC Canada, The New Yorker, and Goodreads bestselling lists.
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li (also the author of Must I Go, Where Reasons End, Kinder Than Solitude and other fiction books, and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Windham-Campbell Prize) uncovers a beguiling tale set in a postwar rural province in France. It reveals the story of Agnes who receives disturbing news of her friend’s death. Returning back from America to the French countryside, Agnes tells a story of her friend who long time ago helped her escape.
Covering the private world of two children, this epic story unravels fame, fortune and loss, as well as disturbing intimacy and obsession, with exploitation and strength of will.
As one reader noted, she did not want to put The Book of Goose down: a very haunting and unforgettable novel.
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Abdulrazak Gurnah is the Nobel Prize winner (Literature 2021), and his recent story Afterlives is set in modern Tanzania. It covers a love tale of two young runaways during the East African campaign of 1914-18 and the society’s violent remake.
Overall the story focuses on Afiya, an orphan, whose brother leaves her with abusive caregivers (to fight for Germany’s Schutztruppe) only to find her given away upon his return. At the same time Hamza, an escaped servant, joins troops serving the German Empire, entering a brutal fight for the continent that belongs to Europeans.
Told through the eyes of two main characters, among many others, Afterlives brings up issues of monumental absurdities of empire, the costs and rewards of the war and longing for closeness.
Marigold and Rose by Louise Glück
When poets get their hands and minds on writing prose, something captivatingly beautiful appears. Louise Glück’s, another Nobel-winning author (poetry), first work of narrative prose is a book of thoughts of twin baby girls. Named after flowers, Marigold and Rose are different and unique in their own ways: the former is small and quiet, and the latter is loud and protective.
Gluck explores differences that bind the girls together. Drawing inspiration from her family, the author meditates on halves and wholes, inheritance, time’s passage, the power of words, and the power of love.
As one attentive reader noted, Marigold and Rose Louise Glück’s astonishing chronicle of the first year in the life of twin girls. Imagine a fairy tale that is also a multigenerational saga; a piece for two hands that is also a symphony; a poem that is also, in the spirit of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, an incandescent act of autobiography.
Another reviewer noted that you will find such elements as Father and Mother, Grandmother and Other Grandmother, bath time and naptime―but more than that, Marigold and Rose is an investigation of the great mystery of language and of time itself, of what is and what has been and what will be.
Louise Glück masterly confines sadness and joy, pondering on small daily miracles, creating a story that is transcendent: prepare to shed tears and do not withhold laughter and smiles.
Lessons by Ian McEwan
By the time Lessons came out Ian McEwan published seventeen novels and two collections of short stories, including those for the big screen such as Atonement, Enduring Love, The Children Act and On Chesil Beach. Just like previous works, Lessons is a masterpiece that is epic and intimate in its captivating covering of one man’s life across generations and historical upheavals. It is a novel about love, loss, ambition, and resolution.
Eleven-year-old Roland Baines’s life turns upside down when he gets separated from his mother, and sent to a boarding school. The story happens with post-Second World War as a background.
Later on, the story continues with Roland losing his wife. Left alone with a baby son, he is forced to confront the reality of his anxiety. Along with tragic historic events such as the Chernobyl radiation, Roland is searching for answers deep in his family history.
He struggles with the reality of climate change, the pandemic and personal tragedies, and finds love as the only redemptive source.
As one reviewer noted, he found it very hard to put this book down, as she continually wanted to know what happened next! The characters are entirely convincing and getting to know them provided much the pleasure.
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout writes with wit, yet hides something much more profound underneath a simple entertaining love story. Lucy by the Sea begins right when the pandemic begins. The main character’s ex-husband takes her away from the city and relocates them to a house perched on a cliff over a rocky shore in Maine. As one reader noted, this book doesn’t just mention the pandemic as a background event, but features this awful period as the main character, forming every decision and action taken by Lucy and her ex-husband William.
It is obvious that isolation awakens irritation in each other, and revisit the tension of their marriage. However, Strout does not allow her characters to lose hope and guides the story with kindness which is a core of the human relationship.
Lucy by the Sea is filled with empathy and emotion. Human beings are feared of being isolated, and that is one of the main points of this novel.
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (winner of the 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction) is a collection of eight linked stories about three men living in Miami. One of them fled Jamaica in the nineteen-seventies with his wife. Another one, their elder son is a promising guitarist. And the third one, the younger son is bookish and ironic.
After Topper and Santa flew from Jamaica to Miami, as a struggling immigrant family they realized that America is not the promised land. That is issue number one.
They push through Hurricane Andrew, the 2008 recession, and live in a house that seems cursed.
Disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck is the issue number two. However dismal it might sound, vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery’s novel unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in the world of capitalism. And yet, the author strives to present the life of an immigrant in America as it is, gruesome and hopeful. “Those stories are masterfully constructed with heart and humour,” noted a reviewer.
The Taste of Hunger by Barbara Joan Scott
Written by a Canadian author, Barbara Joan Scott, The Taste of Hunger is a devastating story of forced marriage and the turbulence of the chain of events such union started.
The story is set in Saskatchewan in the late 1920s and coves 15-year-old Olena forced into a marriage with Taras, a man twice her age. The heroine despises her life, which reflects in her rebellious decisions against her husband and her family.
The Taste of Hunger is a family saga that reveals the lifestyle of Ukrainian immigrants and ends with redemption and forgiveness.
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole
Lee Cole, a writer from New York released a book on a topic so many of us choose as soon as yellow leaves start falling down. A campus novel, Groundskeeping tells the story of two young writers at Kentucky’s Ashby College.
Owen works as a groundskeeper in exchange for free creative writing classes. Alma is a prestigious writer in residence. She is a daughter of Bosnian immigrants, on her path to American Dream. Owen comes from a Trump-loving family. Quite different, they find themselves in love with each other, struggling to navigate through growing pains of their own becomings. It is a bitter-sweet story, full of hurting truth many relationships seem to clash with: political views that affect one’s life to the core, including the amorous side of it.
A reader noted that it is exquisitely written; expertly crafted; dazzling in its precision, restraint, and depth of feeling, Groundskeeping is a novel of haunting power and grace from a prodigiously gifted young writer.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by Oprah Daily, Today, Marie Claire, The Washington Post and others, Book Lovers by Emily Henry reflects on two rivals and one summer.
Nora Stephens, one of the two main characters, lives with and among books. She is a successful literary agent who, however, is not a book heroine. She is far from a dreamy girl from romance novels, not a sweetheart and neither a spunky one.
Meanwhile, Charlie is nobody’s hero. He is a downcast editor, with whom Nora clashes in a series of coincidences when she decides to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina.
It reads, “Maybe love shouldn’t be built on a foundation of compromises, but maybe it can’t exist without them either. Not the kind that forces two people into shapes they don’t fit in, but the kind that loosens their grips always leaves room to grow.”
Violeta by Isabel Allende
“An immersive saga about a passion-filled life,” according to People about Violeta by Isabel Allende.
Violeta Del Valle’s life spans one hundred years and bears witness to upheavals, events and dramas of the twentieth century.
The main character was born on a stormy day in 1920, the first daughter in a family with five sons. From the start, her life witnessed the Great War consequences, the Spanish flu and the Great Depression. All those events transform the lives of her family. Violeta’s parents lose everything and are forced to find refuge in a remote part of the country.
The story is told in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others. It reflects on times of devastating heartbreak, affairs, poverty and wealth, tragedy and joy.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Lessons in Chemistry is The New York Times’ bestseller and a must-read debut novel by Bonnie Garmus. Lessons in Chemistry is both an apologetic and inspiring story, based in 1960s California, about a scientist whose career rises when she attends a famous TV cooking show.
The main heroine, Elizabeth is a unique woman, the only one among the male team at Hastings Research Institute. She seeks appreciation of her mind, but her looks, and acknowledgement of her worth. Yet, even when she meets fame at the TV show the world around her is not as cheering as she would expect. Elizabeth Zott does not only teach women to cook, but also to stand up for their own choices, and change their status quo.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Sequoia Nagamatsu creates a profoundly prescient story that follows a few characters linked over a hundred years while humanity battles to rebuild after a climate catastrophe. (If you are a fan of Cloud Atlas you will love this book.)
It is 2030 when a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle. He is planning to continue the work of his deceased daughter. The Batagaika Crater is where researchers are studying long-buried secrets of the Earth, hoping to find revelation in melting permafrost. The story also reflects on the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus. The researchers believe that once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth. It would affect generations to come forcing humanity to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy.
Besides, How High We Go in the Dark reveals storylines of a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son, a widowed painter and her teenage granddaughter in search of a new home planet and others.
Sequoia Nagamatsu crafts a novel that takes readers towards the resilience of the human spirit and the connection that ties us all together in the universe.
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Time after time we must be reminded of what we have to feel appreciation. This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub tells the story of Alice whose life is “not terrible”. She has a job, an apartment and a lover.
Yet, one day she wakes up and finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. Then her father appears. He is charming and full of energy. They reunite for that birthday celebration for Alice to take a new perspective on some past events, her present life and acquire new meaning of who she is.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades
Nadira, Gabby, Naz, Trish, Angelique, and countless others, are “if you really want to know, we are the colour of 7-Eleven root beer. The colour of sand at Rockaway Beach when it blisters the bottoms of our feet. Colour of soil.”
They live in Queens, New York, one of the city’s most vibrant and eclectic boroughs, and on pages of Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades. Each one of them attempts to reconcile their immigrant background with American culture.
They become friends and fall in love.
They explore, sing Mariah Carey at the tops of their lungs, and try to stay obedient to their mothers.
Yet, as they grow up their paths diverge and while some stay where their roots are, others take a chance elsewhere.
This debut novel illustrates a collective portrait of childhood and adulthood, an exploration of female friendship and a powerful image of women of colour.
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