Hello and happy new year! After a four-year tsunami of personal crap no novelist would get away with in a book, 2022 was a really eventful and positive year for me and I’m grateful and relieved to have made it to the next chapter. Among the highlights were a fantastic in-person launch party I didn’t think I’d get for the paperback of Scent, which went on to be longlisted for the Polari Prize in the summer. I also travelled a lot, caught up with friends and met some amazing new people. It was however a year in which the distractions of real life affected productivity: progress on my next novel has been slow (that’s being generous), I only read half as many books as usual and after eleven intense years of running this blog like clockwork, I’ve completely lost the habit and realise I can’t commit to it regularly any more.
The old me would be beating myself up over all this. I do not miss the old me at all.
A very big thank you to everyone who’s supported and appreciated the blog for all these years, especially my fabulous guest authors. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved and it’s given me all kinds of satisfaction and wonderful new connections. It’s not a sad goodbye because I’ll still post as and when; it’ll just be more of a personal blog about whatever I feel inspired to share. This end of year book post is something I’m sure will continue and there are bound to be writing posts – it is a Literary Sofa, after all. You can stay in touch (and see more selfies of me than you ever wanted to) on Instagram @isabelcostellowriter.
As always, this post is one of my favourites to compile and as always, every single book I’ve featured this year on the Sofa comes highly recommended. But only those that made the most deep and lasting personal impression make it onto this list, an unusual one in that more than half of the titles are non-fiction. Where fiction’s concerned, I’ve been hard to reach – to be honest, I’ve read a lot of ‘OK novels’ – but my overall Book of 2022 (see below) is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.
This is just a round-up – follow the links for my original, more detailed coverage.
TWO NOVELS ABOUT ARTISTS
I’ve been banging on for years about how much I love art and novels about artists but 2022 has produced two of the best. *MY BOOK OF 2022*, THE FLAMES by Sophie Haydock is set in Vienna in the early 1900s and brings to life the three female muses of artist Egon Schiele (whose work I don’t like). In addition to its literary, cultural and historic merits, this novel and its extraordinary sense of place inspired me to visit Vienna and fall in love; I did five museums and galleries in three days, was shocked to find that I still speak decent German and – wait for it – got the idea for a novel! You can read Sophie’s Writers on Location about Vienna here.
Artist Lynn Bushell’s novel Painted Ladies about the muses of Pierre Bonnard was my Book of 2018 and with new release THE LOVERS AND THE DUSTMAN about the complicated triangular love life of British artist Stanley Spencer, she managed to impress me again. Any novel combining art, queerness and unconventional relationships would have a headstart with me but this one had the bonus of being very funny. Real life and Netflix make me laugh all the time but it’s surprisingly rare for books to have that effect. Lynn contributed a brilliant guest post on being an artist writing about artists.
THREE NOVELS ABOUT FAMILY/COMMUNITY
It’s hardly surprising that I’m drawn to novels reflecting my own interests as a writer, family and other complicated relationships coming close to the top of that list. Two of my standouts, CROSSROADS by Jonathan Franzen and ANY OTHER FAMILY by Eleanor Brown, are by bestselling American authors and the other, AN OLIVE GROVE IN ENDS by Moses McKenzie, is by a young debut author from Bristol. All three made it onto my Summer Reads selection, utterly compelling, emotionally complex and populated by believable characters in testing situations. Loyalty, belonging and identity – family, religious and racial – are themes shared by all but they play out in very different ways.
Hard to introduce the next lot without sounding sappy, but the most life-changing thing I’ve learned over the last five tempestuous years is getting comfortable with my vulnerability and realising that it’s the key to deeper connection, change and self-acceptance. Letting it show makes it easier for others to do the same but it takes courage, which is why I have such respect for people willing to ‘go there’ in writing for the whole world to see. In various ways, that’s true of all six non-fiction titles below.
THREE POPULAR SOCIOLOGY/PSYCHOLOGY TITLES
BI – THE HIDDEN CULTURE, HISTORY AND SCIENCE OF BISEXUALITY – Julia Shaw. This would have been a ground-breaking addition to the conversation about bisexuality (usually just a bunch of damaging stereotypes) whenever it appeared; the fact that it came out this year was amazing timing for me. I discussed the subject and this book at length in the piece I wrote in September for Bi Visibility Day.
While they take different formats, the link between bestsellers MAYBE YOU SHOULD TALK TO SOMEONE by Lori Gottlieb and CONVERSATIONS ON LOVE by Natasha Lunn is clear from the titles alone: communication. Especially when it comes to the things we’re conditioned not to open up about. Both of these books lift the lid on many people’s experiences of love, friendship, parenthood, grief and whatever else life threw in their direction. I found them fascinating, moving and enlightening – and incredibly helpful given that my job involves creating believable human beings out of thin air.
THREE PRIME EXAMPLES OF LIFE-WRITING
Since I included Deborah Levy’s Living Autobiography on my October post about Reading in the Interest of Writing, I’ve read teh final volume REAL ESTATE, which only compounds my view of this series as having something exceptional to say about being human and being a writer. Also in that post was Tanya Shadrick’s THE CURE FOR SLEEP, an arrestingly brave and honest account of her ‘late-waking life’ and departure from social convention, both of which I relate to and see happening all around me. We need to see broader and more realistic reflections of women’s experience in the books that get published. DUPLICITY: MY MOTHERS’ SECRETS by Donna Freed was a late but instant addition to my favourite books of the year. I’m lucky to know fellow Muswell Press author and ebullient New Yorker Donna personally. Her touching memoir portrays adoption from both sides and is both an insight into middle-class American Jewish life and – when the story of her birth parents comes to light – an audacious and unlikely story that would make many thrillers look tame.
When I reached the end of this post, I went to announce what would be up next out of habit. I don’t know when or what it will be but I hope you’ll drop by and visit me on the Sofa to find out. If you’re signed up, you’ll get an email notification of new content.
Have a great 2023!