My books of the year for 2022

Summary: For what it is worth, particularly if you are looking for gift or reading ideas, these are my top 10 reads for 2022, with links to longer reviews, in chronological reading order:

The Devil that Danced on the Water, by Aminitta Forna: Forna’s remarkable memoir of Sierra Leone and her father, a former finance minister for Sierra Leone, judicially assassinated by the country’s corrupt government.

Shadow Cast by Mountains, by Patrick Howse: a powerful collection of poetry by an Irish journalist who has seen the horrific face of war up close.

The Sunken Road, by Ciaran McMenamin: a very fine novel of war, alternating between the Western Front in France, and the Battle of Beleeks and Pettigo in 1922.

Country, by Michael Hughes: a brilliantly original retelling of the Iliad, transposed to the mountains of South Armagh during the Troubles.

Do Not Disturb: the story of a political murder and an African regime gone bad, by Michael Wrong: Wrong’s furious expose of the violence and corruption at the heart of the UK government’s favourite dictatorship, modern Rwanda.

Great Hatred; the assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson MP, by Ronan McGreevy: not only a gripping account of the assassination, but a insightful history of the Irish diaspora in London and the London IRA’s involvement in the struggle for Irish Freedom.

Fake Law, by the Secret Barrister: a justly angry account of how the very concept of rule of law is under assault in the contemporary UK by its corrupt and venal government.

Apeirogon, by Colum McCann – a desperately sad perspective on the illegal occupation of Palestine viewed through the eyes of two bereaved friends, one Palestinian, the other Israeli.

Act of Oblivion, by Robert Harris – a fine historical thriller set in the aftermath of the English Civil war, that shows how the maxim of an eye for an eye tends to leave everyone blind.

Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan – an intense, exquisite meditation on the heroism of an ordinary man in the Ireland of 1985.

Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

Summary: already a modern classic

In the middle 1980s, Bill Furlong is a fuel merchant in the town of New Ross in the South-East of Ireland. He is doing alright in difficult financial times. But on the verge of middle age, this father of five daughters is beset with the usual worries, about money, about the future of this daughters, about getting them into the good school in town. Perhaps, he feels these worries more keenly than others because, this is the only family he has, his mother having died when he was a child and never knowing his father.

In the run up to Christmas, Furlong’s work brings him all sorts of places, including to the laundry that the nuns run, where they take care of girls who have become pregnant out of wedlock. This was a fate Bill’s mother avoided because of the kindness of her employer, a Protestant woman farmer who made sure this didn’t happen.

Small Things Like These is a very small book about an enormous thing. It is a beautifully written and intensely moving story of an ordinary man in an ordinary place, finding the courage to do something properly heroic. There are books fifty times the length of this one that have less to say, less memorably.

This book is sure to achieve the status of a modern classic and justly so. It is an outstanding piece of work, utterly exquisite.

The Man Who Died Twice, by Richard Osman

Summary: Highly entertaining soft-core Brexity fantasy

The second book in Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series, The Man Who Died Twice returns to the genteel environs of its predecessor.

Like many second books in series, from Denis Lehane to JK Rowling, one can feel Osman getting into his stride, having established his universe and now able to concentrate more on the evolving story rather than scene-setting.

The Man Who Died Twice is a more overtly right-wing work than its predecessor. In it roughish-diamond coppers think nothing of fitting up suspects they just know are guilty, and the book’s pensioner heroes take the law into their own hands with the casual disdain for due process of the most knuckle headed of authoritarians.

Doubtless this will play well with the Daily Mail readers who are a core demographic in this book’s audience. But even so, it would have been nice if Osman showed the slightest knowledge of the brutal realities of child slavery in “county lines” and the operation of the British drugs economy if he is going to include such things in his books.

But that would probably upset the soft-core fantasy for Brexity readers. Instead this is a world with few complexities and no bad language, in which foreigns know their place, and plucky have-a-go British heroes with bulldog spirit always triumph over the baddies and are home in time for cocoa.

In spite of its politics, The Man Who Died Twice is a highly entertaining affair, with plenty of good jokes and a twisty plot. Even without the unicorns, it’s a vision of sunlit uplands that is as close as the English are ever going to get to the Brexit they thought they voted for. So it’s hard to grudge them their fairytales, particularly when they are as elegantly written as this.