The best of international fiction 2021
Every year our staff vote for their favourite books and music of the past 12 months. Here are our top 10 international fiction books of the year, voted for by Readings’ staff, and displayed in no particular order.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
1944, in the ruined wine cellar of a Tuscan villa, as the Allied troops advance and bombs fall around them, two strangers meet and share an extraordinary evening together.Ulysses Temper is a young British soldier, Evelyn Skinner is a sexagenarian art historian and possible spy. These two unlikely people find kindred spirits in each other and Evelyn’s talk of truth and beauty plants a seed in Ulysses’ mind that will shape the trajectory of his life - and of those who love him - for the next four decades.
Second Place by Rachel Cusk
A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless- unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh-graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. With his mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett plans to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billy and head to California to start a new life. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s car. And they have a very different plan for Emmett’s future.
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined - what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind. Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet - or what she terms ‘the portal’. Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray. As real life and its stakes collide with the increasing absurdity of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband - and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Together they Recall their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
She moves along its bright pavements; she passes over its bridges, through its shops and pools and bars. Sometimes her steps take her to her grieving mother, sealed off in her own solitude. Sometimes they take her to the station, where the trains can spirit her away for a short while. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective will change forever.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
‘Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…’To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably-priced furniture, making a life for himself and his family. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his facade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger and bigger all the time.
Our St Kilda Shop also love:
The Family by Naomi Krupitsky
Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke
Blank Pages and Other Stories by Bernard MacLaverty
Where You Come From by Sasa Stanisic
Our Malvern shop also love:
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson
An Island by Karen Jennings
The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
Our Hawthorn shop also love:
Beautiful World Where Are You by Sally Rooney
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Magician by Colm Toíbín
- Bewilderment by Richard Powers
- Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
Our Doncaster shop also love:
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides