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Jessie Burton Recommends Her Top 5 Reads of 2019

Posted on 19th November 2019 by Mark Skinner

Jessie Burton's The Confession is one of the stand-out novels of 2019 and joins 2014's Waterstones Book of the Year-winning The Miniaturist as a twenty-first-century classic. Here, Jessie shares her favourite reads of the past twelve months.   

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley

I’m a huge fan of Hadley’s style – her unassuming, devastating precision over human flaws, her inter-generational understanding and her handling of matters of the heart. Whilst you could say that Late in the Day examines the minutiae of adultery, erotic entanglements and the prosaic phenomenon of ageing, this is also a beautifully crafted novel about how an older woman chooses to live inside her present days.

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Neatly navigating the relationship between two couples as they weather the impact of a sudden tragedy, Tessa Hadley has created a superbly nuanced portrait of friendship and marriage. Echoing the quiet, penetrating observation of Anita Brookner, Hadley writes with subtlety and great skill about the interplay between society, class, history and the passions that shape our everyday experience.
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Hormonal by Eleanor Morgan

A book so overdue in terms of the discourse on female physical health and mental wellbeing. Morgan takes us through a medical and cultural history of feminine pain – under-researched, minimized, ignored or actively silenced – over the centuries right up to the current day. In a time where talking about your mental health is getting easier, there’s still a lot of shame wrapped round the complexity of periods, menopause and endometriosis. This book refuses to keep quiet about how damaging it can be for girls and women when they are left misinformed and patronised over their own bodies.

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Vitally important and refreshingly candid, Morgan’s urgent, accessible book breaks countless nonsensical taboos about female health. From periods to endometriosis, Hormonal discusses physical conditions alongside an intelligent debate about mental issues, to provide a genuinely revolutionary approach to addressing women’s health.
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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

I read this novel with a joyous glee – it’s wonderful. Vivid, funny, wry, painful, sexy, sad and truthful – how many more adjectives can I throw at this book? Spanning two centuries, Evaristo channels the varied voices of twelve women – mostly black women, every one of them unique – whirling the reader through an addictive account of their ups and downs. Friendship, sexuality, work, family, gender, post-colonial Britain, racism – somehow Evaristo blends all these huge themes into a perfect, patchwork meditation on what it means to love, to lose, and most importantly: to live.

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Teeming with life and crackling with energy - a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood. Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
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Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

I really enjoyed this debut collection of short stories. A lot of them felt like sly celebrations of the psychic power and magic inherent in young, unanchored women, but also a warning about the rage and danger that lies beneath their freewheeling beauty. One or two were truly chilling, but all of them were relentlessly strange and thought-provoking.

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Saturated in a kind of gothic magic realism, Salt Slow’s short stories are haunting meditations on the plasticity of the human form and the way that the uncanny can impinge on everyday life. The debut collection from an award winning writer, this is a book that will haunt and delight in equal measure.
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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Patchett is a genius: there’s nothing else to it. This novel is an astonishing achievement –propulsive yet sophisticated, an extraordinary sentence-by-sentence reading experience with a masterful control of plot, pace and enchanting characters. It’s a glowing gem of a book with an unforgettable sibling dynamic at the heart of it. I could say it’s about a family that breaks up and gets back together again over an ancestral house that’s caused them nothing but trouble, but that does not do it justice. Only reading it will.

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Rich in metaphor and flawless in tone, The Dutch House sees one of the world’s finest living novelists at the top of her game. Shimmering with melancholy, this extraordinary book takes a scalpel to family dynamics and the irretrievable loss of youthful pride. A novel of jewel-like beauty and emotional insight.

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On my Christmas list this year is Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino, a timely and brilliant collection of personal essays which covers among many things, the highs and lows of growing up and living with the internet; how social media and capitalism intersects with feminism; reality TV; womanhood, and weddings. I’d also like to see in my stocking In The Cut by Susanna Moore, a re-issued erotic thriller set in New York in the 1990s.

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