What a year it has been! For many, 2022 felt never-ending, and to Sri Lankans in particular, it has been an extremely bumpy ride. As power cuts became routine, hours were spent in fuel lines, and outings were limited, some of us turned to literature in search of company. There were several highlights in the world of literature this year, and this is a look at the top five fiction novels of 2022 according to Time, as well as books that won some of the biggest literary prizes.
Top five fiction
There were many great releases under the fiction category this year, with novels like Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart and Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro making it onto top 10 lists. According to Time, its top 10 picks for the year “reminded us to value our relationships with one another, no matter what form they take. These books emphasised how we are shaped by the people who surround us, as well as those who are no longer physically present, but whose memories we continue to carry”.
These are the top five titles in the list published by Time.
‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’ by Gabrielle Zevin
On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins – a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom.
These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favours, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, “Ichigo”. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even 25 years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.
‘The Hero of This Book’ by Elizabeth McCracken
Ten months after her mother’s death, the narrator of The Hero of This Book takes a trip to London. The city was a favourite of her mother’s, and as the narrator wanders the streets, she finds herself reflecting on her mother’s life and their relationship. Thoughts of the past meld with questions of the future: Back in New England, the family home is now up for sale, its considerable contents already winnowed.
‘The Book of Goose’ by Yiyun Li
Fabienne is dead. Her childhood best friend, Agnès, receives the news in America, far from the French countryside where the two girls were raised – the place that Fabienne helped Agnès escape 10 years ago. Now Agnès is free to tell her story.
As children in a war-ravaged backwater town, they’d built a private world, invisible to everyone but themselves – until Fabienne hatched the plan that would change everything, launching Agnès on an epic trajectory through fame, fortune, and terrible loss.
‘All This Could Be Different’ by Sarah Thankam Mathews
Graduating into the long maw of an American recession, Sneha is one of the fortunate ones. She’s moved to Milwaukee for an entry-level corporate job that, gruelling as it may be, is the key that unlocks every door: She can pick up the tab at dinner with her new friend Tig, get her college buddy Thom hired alongside her, and send money to her parents back in India. She begins dating women – soon developing a burning crush on Marina, a beguiling and beautiful dancer who always seems just out of reach.
But before long, trouble arrives. Painful secrets rear their heads; jobs go off the rails; evictions loom. Sneha struggles to be truly close and open with anybody, even as her friendships deepen, even as she throws herself headlong into a dizzying romance with Marina. It’s then that Tig begins to draw up a radical solution to their problems, hoping to save them all.
‘Vladimir’ by Julia May Jonas
“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me”
And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: A popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students.
The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extramarital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.
Biggest book prizes this year
This year has been a big one in terms of literary prizes for Sri Lankans, as we continue to celebrate Shehan Karunatilaka’s Booker Prize win for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Here is a look at the Booker Prize winner, as well as some of the other book prizes awarded this year.
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family by Joshua Cohen won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which is awarded for distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.
Plot: Corbin College, not quite upstate New York, winter 1959-1960: Ruben Blum, a Jewish historian – but not a historian of the Jews – is co-opted onto a hiring committee to review the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specialising in the Spanish Inquisition. When Benzion Netanyahu shows up for an interview, family unexpectedly in tow, Blum plays the reluctant host to guests who proceed to lay waste to his American complacencies. Mixing fiction with nonfiction, the campus novel with the lecture, The Netanyahus is a wildly inventive, genre-bending comedy of blending, identity, and politics that finds Joshua Cohen at the height of his powers.
National Book Award
The National Book Award recognises an outstanding work of literary fiction by a citizen of the US, and this year went to The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty.
Plot: An online obituary writer. A young mother with a dark secret. A woman waging a solo campaign against rodents – neighbours, separated only by the thin walls of a low-cost housing complex in the once bustling industrial centre of Vacca Vale, Indiana. Welcome to the Rabbit Hutch. Ethereally beautiful and formidably intelligent, Blandine shares her apartment with three teenage boys she neither likes nor understands, all, like her, now aged out of the state foster care system that has repeatedly failed them, all searching for meaning in their lives.
Women’s Prize for Fiction
Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2022, an award that recognises the best original full-length novel written in English and published in the UK by a female author of any nationality.
Plot: One year after the death of his beloved musician father, 13-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.
PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction honours the best published works of fiction by American permanent residents in a calendar year. The winner this year was The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine.
Plot: Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of 30 years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children. Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants’ displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them.
The Booker Prize is awarded for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the UK, and this year, the winning novel was The Seven Moon of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka.
Plot: Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida – war photographer, gambler, and closet queen – has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira Lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers, and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.