By Maria Bregman
Reading is not only a source of pleasure, but also a way of expanding our horizons, learning new things, and engaging with different perspectives. In a year that has been marked by uncertainty, turmoil, and change, books can offer us solace, inspiration, and insight. Whether you are looking for a gripping story, a profound reflection, or a fresh voice, here are 12 books that will enrich your mind in 2024.
The Fraud by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is one of the most acclaimed and versatile writers of our time, and her first historical novel is a stunning, well-studied examination of Victorian colonial England. The Fraud revolves around a real-life trial of a man claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, thought to have died at sea, and heir to a huge fortune. The trial is seen through the eyes of Eliza Touchet, with interludes depicting the life of Andrew Bogle, an older formerly enslaved man who is acting as a witness in the trial. Smith combines boisterous narrative intelligence, ear for dialogue, and lightness of touch to create an exuberant and complex novel that explores identity, race, class, and power.
North Woods by Daniel Mason
Daniel Mason is a US author and doctor who has published six novels of historical fiction, each one exploring a different time and place. His latest novel, North Woods, is a virtuosic and form-bending experiment that spans four centuries of history through a house and its inhabitants on a small patch of New England land. The novel consists of 12 interlocking stories, each one focusing on a different character and a different genre, from Gothic horror to science fiction. Mason showcases his mastery of language, style, and imagination, as he weaves a rich and intricate tapestry of human lives, emotions, and secrets.
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
Paul Murray is an Irish writer best known for his acclaimed 2010 novel Skippy Dies, a tragicomic saga of adolescence and mortality. His latest novel, The Bee Sting, is another wildly entertaining, completely convincing, and deeply moving family saga, told with such deft management of time and mystery and perspective that it will keep you hooked until the end. The novel blends comedy and drama, as it centres around two well-to-do rural Irish families, whose unfolding calamities are paralleled in a slow-building ecological disaster. The novel is told from different family members’ points of view, each one revealing new insights and revelations. Murray is a master of irony, humor, and empathy, and The Bee Sting is a triumph of storytelling.
The Final Test by Louise O’Neill
Louise O’Neill is an Irish writer who has won several awards for her feminist and dystopian novels, such as Asking For It and Only Ever Yours. Her latest novel, The Final Test, is the winner of the Booker Prize 2023, and is set in a dystopian Ireland that is edging into authoritarian rule after the extreme right National Alliance party seizes control. Soon, civil liberties are curtailed, dissent is suppressed, and women are subjected to a mandatory fertility test that determines their fate. The novel follows the lives of four women who are affected by the test in different ways, and who must make difficult choices and sacrifices. O’Neill delivers a powerful and provocative novel that challenges the reader to question the status quo and to resist oppression.
The other eight books that made the list are:
- Drops of God by Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto, a thriller about French wine-tasting, based on a Japanese manga series.
- The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, a moving and hopeful story of a Syrian couple who flee their war-torn country and seek refuge in Britain.
- The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, a sequel to the Neapolitan novels, that follows the life of Lila after she disappears from Naples.
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, a fantasy novel that explores the concept of parallel lives and the power of choice.
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, a multi-generational saga that examines the themes of race, identity, and belonging through the lives of twin sisters who choose different paths.
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, a mesmerizing and haunting novel that connects the lives of various characters who are affected by a Ponzi scheme and a mysterious disappearance.
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the final installment of the Wolf Hall trilogy, that chronicles the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, the powerful advisor to Henry VIII.
- The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, a coming-of-age novel that explores the secrets, lies, and contradictions of adulthood through the eyes of a rebellious teenager in Naples.
These 12 books are not only the best of the year so far, but also the best of the art of reading. They will transport you to different worlds, challenge you to think differently, and enrich your mind with new knowledge, wisdom, and beauty. Don’t miss them.