I read a lot of books in 2022. Due to time constraints (and sometimes having nothing to say) I did not review them all. Looking back over my reading year, here are the best books I read in 2022–not the best books published in 2022, but just the best ones I read in no particular order:
1. Remembrance of Things Past: Marcel Proust v1-3 I’ve no idea how many times I have read references to those famous madeleines. As a reader, you come across quotes or extracts, and sometimes those quotes are all too frequent. By that I mean the quotes become commonplace, and that’s certainly what happened to me. In spite of the fact I have owned these volumes since the 90s, I had no impulse to read Proust’s monumental masterpiece–not because it was long, but because in some weird way it had become familiar. Plus there are always so many other books.
But inspired by other bloggers, and a short story referencing the delay in reading Proust and which emphasized Time’s Wingèd Chariot, I knew further delay was out of the question. So 2022 was the year to get started. After finishing the first 3 volumes: I am glad I delayed Proust for years. I’m in a place now to appreciate his wisdom. And yes, these novels are amazing.
2. High Priest of California: Charles Willeford.
Used car salesman, Russell Haxby, just wants to get laid. He’s a practiced sleazy predator and soon picks up a woman, Alyce, in a cheap dance hall. Russell goes back to her place, and finds out she has a husband. Well, he can’t let this schmock get in his way can he? It’s a grimy, complicated journey to bed Alyce, but as always with Willeford, entertaining as hell.
3. This Sweet Sickness: Patricia Highsmith
Chemist David is in love with Annabelle. He takes a job he dislikes because it pays 25k a year and with that salary, he expects to marry Annabelle. When the novel opens, Annabelle has married another man, but David does not accept the marriage and fully expects her to come to her senses and leave her husband. BUT until that happens, he has created a different identity, bought a house in that name and spends weekends there alone fantasizing about his future life with Annabelle. Things begin to fall apart when David presses his suit, and he descends into madness.
4. My Phantoms/First Love : Gwendoline Riley
This author was new to me. When I started to compile the Best-of list, my first impulse was to add My Phantoms . But then I thought perhaps First Love was the better novel. They are thematically connected, and My Phantoms, in my final analysis is a more painful read but possesses firmer structure. So they both are on the list. I really liked the way the author describes the dominant (not necessarily correct) narrative of the lives of the mothers in both books.
5. The Miranda: Geoff Nicholson
In this novel, a therapist who conducted torture sessions ON and FOR the government, leaves his job and his marriage, buys a house and waits for his life to catch up to him. He spends his days walking circuits on the pathway in his back garden, and his plan to keep a low profile fails thanks to nosy neighbours, and a bunch of yobos. The Miranda contains Nicholson’s signature theme of obsession. Written with Nicholson’s usual light touch and wry humour.
6. Lucy by the Sea: Elizabeth Strout
During the first wave of the COVID pandemic, Lucy’s self-focused ex-husband William, whisks her off to Maine with the idea that they will sit out the worst of it, far from New York. Strout recreates the surreal days of watching the news and the New York death count, along with the idea that for many during COVID, life seemed to be on hold. I dislike William (Oh, William) so I didn’t buy for one minute that he was changing into the sort of human being who cared about anyone except himself.
7. Cheri and the End of Cheri: Colette
Two slim novels cover the life of Chéri, his relationship with the much-older former courtesan, Léa, and his arranged marriage to a young innocent girl. Fabulous.
8. O Caledonia: Elspeth Barker
This was the surprise book of the year. I love a good gothic tale and O Caledonia and its amazingly evocative images put me in a decaying Scottish castle with a dysfunctional family. We know right from the first page that something horrible has happened–the suspense comes from the why and the how.
9. An Old Man’s Love: Anthony Trollope.
Going back over 2022, I’m shocked, shocked (channeling Casablanca) to see that I only read TWO Trollopes this year… No doubt this tragedy occurred because I concentrated on Proust, but in 2023, there will be more Trollope. An Old Man’s Love was a reread. Coincidentally, just before starting this I read something about wards and wardships under the Tudors, so I was sensitive to the idea of ward-marriage coercion when I began the book. The plot is simple: Mary, a young orphaned girl is ‘taken in’ by Whittlestaff, an older man, a friend of her late father’s. After being disappointed in love, Whittlestaff is a confirmed bachelor, or he thinks he is, but he falls in love with Mary and proposes. She loved another, but that man, penniless, disappeared, but Mary thinks of him constantly. She doesn’t love Whittlestaff, but she is in a very awkward position. She can accept or refuse. But if she refuses, she can hardly stay in his house. Whittlestaff seems deliberately obtuse when it comes to Mary’s position. Under a great deal of pressure, Mary accepts, and then the man she loves returns. …
10. The Finishing School: Muriel Spark.
What a wicked sense of humour Spark has. The Finishing School is not some first rate boarding school but a second-rate shady venture run by a married couple, Nina and Rowland. Nina does most of the work because Rowland is supposed to be finishing his masterpiece. A very talented student says he’s a writing a novel, and this sparks a chain of wickedly funny events.
11. Of Human Bondage: W Somerset Maugham.
A powerhouse of a novel–the story of how a young man, orphaned and raised by his dreary, self-righteous uncle breaks finally breaks free of the crippling bonds of family, the burden of being born with a club foot, and the worst of all– a toxic relationship– love (obsession with a prostitute). Brilliant.
12.Bleak House: Dickens
Bleak House was a reread for me and as always with re-reads I am curious to see how the book held up and also if my attitudes towards it had altered in any way. This is the story of an orphaned girl who is employed by a middle-aged bachelor to assist with his wards, another pair of orphans. The whole plot spins on the legendary law case: Jarndyce vs Jarndyce–a case which has endured for decades. It has ruined many people and caused others to impale themselves on false hopes. The world here is full of opportunists ready to feed off the carcasses of anyone remotely involved in the lawsuit. Sub plots abound. There are many memorable characters here: Lady Dedlock, a woman with a horrible secret, bloodsucker Harold Skimpole, and Mrs Jellyby who neglects her own children abominably while throwing herself into efforts to raise money for children in Africa. Ahhh telescopic philanthropy at its best.