Fiction » Best Fiction of 2022

Award-Winning Novels of 2022

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Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

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Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
by Cal Flyn

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Any end-of-year list is necessarily partial; no one person could hope to read every novel published in the English language in any given year. That's why prize lists are so useful for guiding the casual reader's literary diet. Here, our deputy editor Cal Flyn offers a brief round-up of the books that ruled victorious during the 2022 awards season.

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

by the author

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
by Cal Flyn

Read
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Judging panels will often read more than a hundred submissions before they settle upon the novels that make up their longlists, shortlists, and winners. Although literary preferences are subjective, and partly directed by the nature of the prize in question, we at Five Books feel these prize lists are very helpful for the casual reader looking for some guidance on what books are worth their limited reading time. We’ve compiled a brief overview of the fiction that won literary prizes in 2022 in case that might be of use to you.

 

British and Irish Literary Awards

The Booker Prize is the UK’s most prestigious literary award, bringing with it a prize pot of £50,000 and (almost invariably) a huge boost in sales. The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize was Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. I spoke to the chair of the judging panel, Neil Macgregor, back in September when he described it thus: “The hero of this book is already dead. In the afterlife, he’s given a chance to revisit moments and places from his life, which took place during the Sri Lankan Civil War, in which the hero—who was a photographer—was ultimately killed. It’s a fantasy of a dead figure coming back, revisiting and understanding what happened, and also watching what the significance of their own life was.”

Its sister prize, the International Booker Prize, seeks to award the best fiction translated into English over the previous year. It’s always, always worth paying attention to, because the shortlists highlight so many wonderful books from around the world that we might otherwise not come into contact with. I almost always discover my favourite books of the year via these shortlists. The winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize was Tomb of Sand, a novel by Geetanjali Shree, as translated by Daisy Rockwell. The chair of the judges Frank Wynne, a noted translator in his own right (see below), told me in June that this book was “an extraordinary piece of fiction, [and] also an extraordinary piece of metafiction” of Indian partition.

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Other prizes of note include the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which was won in 2022 by Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, a novel that gives voices to inanimate objects; the Goldsmiths Prize (for “fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”), which went to the collaborative novel Diego Garcia by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams—a clever portrait of literary friendship and an experiment in political fiction; and the James Tait Black Prize, the UK’s oldest literary prize, which went to Keith Ridgway’s A Shock, in which each chapter forms a series of interlocking stories about characters living in South London.

The International Dublin Literary Award, worth €100,000 is one of the world’s richest literary prizes, and is awarded to a novel published in the English language, or translated into English, that year. It was won this year by the French author Alice Zeniter for The Art of Losing, as translated by Frank Wynne. The novel follows three generations of an Algerian family from the 1950s to the present day.

 

North American Literary Awards

Joshua Cohen’s The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a genre-bending campus comedy about the Jewish-American experience which has attracted rave reviews. Writing in The Guardian, Leo Robson described it as “a comic historical fantasia” that reads “like an attempt, as delightful as it sounds, to cross-breed Roth’s The Ghost Writer and Nabokov’s Pale Fire.”

At the National Book Awards, Tess Gunty won the prize for fiction for her debut novel The Rabbit HutchThe ‘rabbit hutch’ of the title is an affordable housing block in post-industrial Indiana, where residents live on top of each other. It’s set over a single, sweltering week that will ultimately end in violence. The translated literature prize was won by Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses, a short story collection translated by Megan McDowell.

The National Book Critics Circle Awards are organised by some of America’s most respected arbiters of taste. In 2022, the NBCC fiction prize was won by the noted poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers for her first novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, a book that has won near-universal acclaim since its release in May. As Joshunda Sanders explained in The Boston Globe, it’s “a sweeping matriarchal epic that leads readers through a majestic tour of race, family, and love in America… the Great American Novel at its finest.”

In Canada, Sheila Heti won the Governor General’s Literary Award for her wildly imaginative Pure Colour, in which she contrasts the wonder and joy of creation with our daily experience of frustration and disappointment. She’s one of my favourite writers—erudite, funny, intelligent, unpretentious. This latest work is unmissable.

 

Australian and New Zealand Literary Awards

Jennifer Down won Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Award for Bodies of Light, which was praised for its “ethical precision” in its portrait of a young girl in care who is forced to reinvent herself again and again. Nicolas Rothwell has also just been announced the winner of the Australian Prime Minister’s award for his novel Red Heavenset in 1960s eastern Europe. At the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, Whiti Hereaka won the 2022 fiction prize for  Kurangaituku, a subversion of the traditional Māori story of Hatupatu—as seen through the eyes of the monster.

 

Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards

The 2022 Arthur C Clarke Award was won by Harry Josephine Giles for their remarkable, boundary-pushing novel-in-verse Deep Wheel Orcadia, set on a space station and told in the Orcadian dialect (alongside a creative English translation). I spoke to the chair of the judges, Andrew M. Butler earlier this year, who noted that “it’s the sort of book the prize exists to draw attention to for die-hard sci fi readers, and to make non-sci fi readers question their assumptions about the genre.” Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace (which was also shortlisted for the Clarke Award) won the Hugo Award for best novel this year; its the second novel in her Teixcalaan sequence—you might want to start with A Memory Called Empirewhich started the series and was also highly acclaimed.

P Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn won the 2022 Nebula Award for best novel, along with a bunch of other awards including the Locus Award for best first novel—it’s a fun, magical whodunnit set in an alternate, steampunk Cairo, and it has found a passionate fanbase. At the World Fantasy Awards, the best novel winner was The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, an epic high fantasy described by Shelley Parker-Chan as a “feminist masterpiece.”

 

Mystery, Horror and Crime Awards

Stephen Graham Jones won the Bram Stoker Award for My Heart is a Chainsaw (described by the publishers as “Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th“, which sounds fun); the Mystery Writers of America awarded the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Award to Five Decembers by James Kestrel, a 1940s noir with a brilliantly pulpy cover; and the International Thriller Writers garlanded S.A. Cosby for the second year running for Razorblade Tears, described to me by Tosca Lee earlier this year as “a moody Southern thriller with fast-paced action, the story of two men—one black, one white, both ex-cons—who team together to solve the murder of their sons, who were married to one another. It’s a gritty tale that looks into questions of race, poverty, and other bias through the lens of both violence and compassion.” In the UK, Ray Celestin won the 2022 Golden Dagger for his novel Sunset Swing.

 

Historical Fiction Prizes

Scottish author James Robertson won the 2022 Walter Scott Prize for his latest novel, News of the Dead. I spoke to judge Elizabeth Laird earlier this year, who said: “Behind the beguiling, interlinked narrative of three characters from different periods of history—an Iron Age hermit, a nineteenth-century literary conman, and a child thrown out into the world from war-torn Europe—is a profound appreciation of a landscape, the rocks, the rain, the streams, trees and mosses of the remote Scottish glen where these three lives are lived.” And in Australia and New Zealand, the $50,000 ARA Historical Novel Prize went to Thomas Keneally’s Corporal Hitler’s Pistol, described by The Guardian as “a compelling blend of historical crime thriller and intricate portrait of an Australian rural community.”

 

Romance Prizes

The UK’s Romantic Novelists Association highlights the best books in nearly a dozen romance sub-categories; we’ve heard great things about A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, which topped the fantasy romance category. The Romance Writers of America did not run their Vivian Awards this year.

 

Part of our best books of 2022 series.

December 13, 2022

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Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn is a writer, journalist and the deputy editor of Five Books. She writes for The Guardian and Granta, among others. Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, her nonfiction book about how nature rebounds in abandoned places, was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Ondaatje Prize and the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation. She was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2022.

She writes regular round-ups of the most notable new fiction, which can be found here. Her Five Books interviews with other authors are here. Follow her on Twitter: @calflyn.

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Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn is a writer, journalist and the deputy editor of Five Books. She writes for The Guardian and Granta, among others. Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape, her nonfiction book about how nature rebounds in abandoned places, was shortlisted for numerous awards including the Baillie Gifford Prize, the Ondaatje Prize and the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation. She was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year in 2022.

She writes regular round-ups of the most notable new fiction, which can be found here. Her Five Books interviews with other authors are here. Follow her on Twitter: @calflyn.