Great Novels of the 2010s
The end of a decade can make you think about the best offering from those previous 10 years. This is by no means the “best” books of the 2010s, but a selection of books that struck me in a way that I found unique. They cover different topics and different genres, including historical fiction, apocalyptic tales, and mythology, but all feel both classic and timely.
Circe by Madeline Miller
A beautiful and captivating story inspired by Greek mythology, this book tells the tale of Circe, daughter of Helios, god of the sun. She is banished to a deserted island by Zeus, king of the gods, for her unique and threatening skills. There, she learns to find her own way and interacts with some of the most famous characters in mythology. If this type of storytelling is not of particular interest to you (as it is not necessarily for me), please don’t be put off, as this book is as gripping and timely as you could hope for. Although the particulars of the story may be mythological, the emotions and scenarios that are explored are universal and stunningly rendered. Love for one’s children, the idea of self-discovery, and the complexities of aging are dealt with in such gorgeous detail that myth feels like a diary and the emotional payoff of the book is incredible.
Severance by Ling Ma
A fascinating and excellent twist on the apocalyptic novel that has been so popular over the last decade, Severance tells the story of a world after a deadly disease outbreak largely by focusing on the time leading up to the outbreak. The author describes the weeks and months leading up to the point of no return by focusing on Candace, a young woman in New York City. She leads a somewhat familiar life, at turns aimless and focused, while news spreads of some sort of sickness present in Asia. The book is not about the virus, it is about the people whose lives continue in some sort of normalcy while the situation around them becomes anything but normal. If you liked books such as Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Zone One by Colson Whitehead, Severance might be a wonderful one to read next.
Lincoln in The Bardo by George Saunders
The first novel by one of the most accomplished short fiction writers of his generation is a fanciful and emotional journey unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Ostensibly the story of the death of young Willie Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s son, it is told through numerous narrator “spirits” present at the crypt in which the young boy is interred. Part ghost story, part history, part book about grieving, it is a truly special book. Additionally, if you enjoy audiobook versions of novels, the Lincoln in the Bardo audiobook features many wonderful actors reading various parts, including Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle and Ben Stiller.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
A moving historical journey with just a touch of magic, The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora and the horrors that she goes through in the American South of the 1800s. She moves around the country in a “real” railroad under the ground, in order to try and escape the conditions she finds herself in. Whitehead is one of the most versatile authors currently writing, switching from autobiographical fiction to horror to historical fiction, but this one might be his best. His writing style is direct and elegant, and the characters he creates stick with you long after the book has been completed.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
An ostensibly small story about huge topics, Normal People focuses on two young people in Ireland, Connor and Marianne. They are separated by class, as Connor’s mother works for Marianne’s family. Regardless of this fact, they share a connection, one which goes through many transformations as they finish high school and progress through college, and further with their lives. This book really shines in its dialogue, which is both incredibly realistic and impossibly beautiful. Sally Rooney is one of the most exciting young writers in the English language, and Normal People represents a brilliant example of her talent.