My Top 10 Books of 2021

Whenever I compile my annual top 10 list, I look back at my past posts and I noticed that the novels listed are a reflection of my state of mind at that year. In 2020 there are a lot of thick tomes due to the fact that I was in quarantine so I was able to invest in chunksters. Thematically a lot of the books contained grotesque happenings or stories about people who lived simpler lives. Once again this reflects the two states I was shifting between during 2020.

So what does the 2021 list offer? For starters the majority of the books are barley over the 250 page mark. This year brought about some major life changes and concentrating on the big fat novel could not happen. Thematically a lot of the books contain unrest, family ties, failed love and plain weirdness. – a perfect summary. All the books are 2021 publications and , like last year, there will be a list of non 2021 books. With the exception of the last two all the books would be ranked as 3.1 , 3.2 etc. Enough waffle let’s start.

10. Rónán Hession – Panenka

To say that I was looking forward to Rónán Hession’s second novel is an understatement. The second I received the book, I dropped everything and read it in a couple of hours. It was definitely not a disappointment.

I saw Panenka as a novel about trauma, the title character suffers from an incident which scars him and it proves to prevent him from living a ‘normal’ life. There are other side plots about the other protagonists in the book.

Once again Panenka is a warm book with no pretensions. When compared to Rónán Hession’s debut, Leonard and Hungry Paul one can see that the metaphors occur more, the writing is more stylised and the plot is not as episodic (don’t get me wrong I ADORE LAHP). Rónán Hession can prove to his readers that one can write a humane novel without ever descending into schmaltz. My review

9. Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun

I have said many times that Kazuo Ishiguro has the same plot, the inconsistency of memory, and gives it a different disguise with each novel. Saying that Klara and the Sun does shake the formula a tiny bit.

The narrator is an Artificial Friend (known as AF – yes I KNOW and don’t deny you all thought of the other meaning that abbreviation has) called Klara, who is finally purchased by Josie. Soon Josie’s mother asks Klara to mimic Josie in every single way. When the mother’s plan is revealed, Klara then has to make a choice.

Klara … is Ishiguro at his most subtle. At first the plot may seem rambly but when the big reveal appears and the plot’s depths become apparent, you will be amazed at the deft talent this author has. This may not be his best novel but it still shows that Ishiguro is a master at his craft. My review

8. Tyrone Grima – Frammenti

2021 was the year I rediscovered Maltese literature and there were a lot of treats but the one which resonated the most was Tyrone Grima’s Frammenti (Fragments) ; a metaphorical novel about isolation, memory, relationships and the quest to find oneself – all using a fourth wall breaking narrative.

The plot itself is simple: A man wakes up to find out that nearly everyone on the planet has disappeared. Thus accompanied by a girl Sophie, they go on a quest, like all literary journeys their is enlightenment but at a cost. A quietly profound novel. My review

7. James Clammer – Insignificance

Who would have known that one of my favourite novels from 2021 would be about a plumber suffering from an existential crisis?

The book focuses on Joseph Forbes, a plumber who has returned to work after a mental breakdown. Further on in the book we find out that Joseph’s son, Edward has gone to prison, while his wife Alison has become religious. As things have it Edward visits joseph and a series of events which may have drastic outcomes.

Faith, filial relationships and a Mahdi knife make up the core of Insignificance, which makes one wonder the validity of the title. As with all books from Galley Beggar Press, an excellent story is complimented by memorable prose. My review

6. Carmel Doohan – Seesaw

As someone who has been a school librarian for a decade and a half now, I have come across numerous identical twins, and I can guarantee that despite the fact that they look the same, it does not mean that they have the same character. In fact as they get older differences begin to show and yet that bond they have is stronger than the ones in an ‘average’ sibling relationship.

Such is one of the main concepts of Carmel Doohan’s Seesaw. The narrator has an identical twin sister and wants to assert her individuality. Through the use of short paragraphs and a disjointed timeline, the reader understands that despite wanting to separate from your clone, one cannot break the bond, no matter the circumstance or mental state. My review

5. Matt Cook – Life on other Planets

Without going into too much detail, in 2021 my 9 year relationship ended, thankfully my family were supportive during this difficult time and it did strengthen the ties I had with them.

Life on Other Planets emphasises on how one must stick with one’s family no matter how eccentric or toxic they are, after all they are family and the roots go deep. Despite the seriousness of the message, Matt Cook’s novel is humorous and , at times, a little bizarre as well. Trust me when the time comes to clear out a dead relative’s house (as that what happens in the book) you’ll realise why such a bond exists. My review

4. Kylie Whitehead – Absorbed

Technically Absorbed could be a horror novel of sorts, a couple have sex and suddenly the boyfriend is absorbed into the girlfriend but then as one continues, this turns out to be a novel about toxic relationships and mental health with a bit of witchcraft thrown in. A book stuffed with dark suspense and mounting tension. My review

3. Isabel Waidner – Sterling Karat Gold

Isabel Waidner has got to be one of the most brilliant writer out there. I always marvel at how they manage to take serious issues and give them a wacky bizarro make over. An Isabel Waidner book is playful and bonkers in the best possible way. Sterling Karat Gold is no exception.

The novel is about present day Britain: a place rife with transphobia, racism and insecurity, all told through our titular anti hero, a non binary immigrant. In between there’s a bullfight, a time travelling spaceship and a trial scene which pays a homage to Kafka. Sterling Karat Gold is a once in a lifetime reading experience ( or until the next Isabel Waidner novel is published, either way). My review

2. Bora Chung, Anotn Hur (translator) – Cursed Bunny

I’ve always found it hard to ‘get’ short stories, mainly due to the fact that I find them inconsistent. However Cursed Bunny is perfect. Every story hits hard and will leave an impact. heads in toilets, bleeding foxes , infants with superpowers. There is a TON of creativity here. Ranging from horror to fairy talesque, you will never forget any of the stories in this collection. My review

  1. Lynn Buckle – What Willow Says.

The second I finished What Willow Says, I was stunned. The writing is so beautiful, I was speechless. It’s a tender story full of warmth. As a plot it’s an interesting one:

A grandmother has to look after her mute granddaughter. Thus communication is difficult. They do have one thing in common and that’s nature, made even more interesting because the grandmother finds ways to fuse it with Irish mythology. At the same time she’s compiling a list of the species of trees one finds in Ireland.

Everything about the novel is great: the grandmother/granddaughter relationship, the use of Irish lore, the descriptions of nature. It just works in every single way. Poignant, touching and memorable. When a book affects like this, it HAS to be number one. My review

6 thoughts on “My Top 10 Books of 2021

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' December 8, 2021 / 6:31 am

    An intriguing top 10, so many that I’m not aware of, interesting that looking back over a whole year and seeing what kind if reading we have been drawn to and how it reflects the year. I’ve noticed that I read a lot more nonfiction in 2021 so I may do a separate fiction and nonfiction top reads.
    All the best for 2022 as you embrace the changes it brings.

    • The Bobosphere December 8, 2021 / 2:41 pm

      Thanks! same to you!

  2. Diana @ Thoughts on Papyrus December 14, 2021 / 1:21 pm

    I am very surprised that you describe Klara as Ishiguro’s subtlest work. I would say that it was his bluntest. And few innuendos that he did have in this story just missed their mark.

    • The Bobosphere December 14, 2021 / 1:28 pm

      Generally with an Ishiguro ( I only have Pale View of the Hills left to read), I can sort of guess what’s happening as he leaves blatant clues but in Klara, I felt that he stretched that element quite a bit, When the reveal happened I appreciated the fact that it took so long to go to that point.

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