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Introducing 2023’s Standout Reads

In spite of many trials and tribulations, I have once again triumphed over my annual 100-book challenge, surpassing it in 2023 by reading a staggering 114 books spanning various genres and authors. Pinpointing favourites is challenging, so instead after some contemplation I have opted to curate a short list of some of the most popular books of the last year. 

We kick off with the much-anticipated memoir Spare (January 2023) by Prince Harry, the first book I read last year. Marketed as a tell-all account of a real prince exploring the inner workings of the Royal Family, and his eventual estrangement from the institution, Spare promised a riveting journey. Prince Harry reflects on coping with the public loss of his mother, Princess Diana, his struggles as the ‘spare’ heir, his military service, and his battles with substance addiction. 

While I commend Harry’s candour and sympathise with his struggles, I found the structural organisation of Spare somewhat overwhelming. There are definitely some endearing moments, such as his meeting Meghan, but at points, the memoir veers into oversharing. Some of his personal anecdotes, including the infamous ‘oscillating penis’ scene, felt uncomfortably detailed, while others were simply mundane, like how he hallucinated that a bin was talking to him while on psychedelics. I had hoped for more insights into his experiences as a royal figure, rather than the predominant focus on his military service, which personally didn’t captivate me as much. Despite these criticisms, it’s a unique glimpse into an extraordinary life, and I hope Prince Harry found solace in sharing his story in Spare.

Onto the realm of fiction, we have Yellowface (May 2023) by Oxford alumnus R.F Kuang. This literary gem unfolds after the untimely death of Athena Liu, a prominent Chinese-American author. June Hayward, former classmate of Athena’s, cleverly seizes the opportunity presented by her frenemy’s demise, appropriating Liu’s original manuscript that delved into the lives of Chi

nese labourers during World War I. In a bold move, June resorts to the controversial use of ‘yellowface’ to pass the book off as her own, and her overnight stardom is coupled with an escalating sense of paranoia. As an Asian woman, I was eager to delve into the buzz surrounding Yellowface, a satirical take on racial diversity in the publishing industry.

Yellowface lived up to my expectations of a riveting literary thriller. The novel boasts great pacing, immersing readers in June’s gradual descent into madness. Beyond being a critique of the publishing industry, Kuang skillfully weaves her personal experiences into the narrative. The novel serves as a platform for discourse on societal attitudes, particularly on Twitter, towards successful women of colour. The incorporation of ‘yellowface’ as a narrative device certainly adds depth to the exploration of cultural appropriation, making it a thought-provoking read. While I found the Twitter discourse a tad repetitive and distractive, Kuang’s storytelling prowess shines through, blending elements of satire, suspense, and social commentary. As a formidable contender in 2023’s fiction releases, Yellowface is a must-read for those seeking both entertainment and introspection.

Last, but certainly not least, is the 2023 Booker Prize Winner: Prophet Song (August 2023) by Paul Lynch. The Booker Prize last year had some incredibly strong contenders, with three out of the six shortlisted being written by people named Paul, but this dystopian novel from Lynch is certainly deserving of its top spot. As a dystopian Ireland slides into totalitarian rule, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack is shocked to hear her trade unionist husband is being interrogated by the police. When her husband vanishes, Eilish is left having to hold up the fort on her own while caught within this treacherous, unpredictable nightmare. Lynch’s descriptions are reminiscent of totalitarian governments all around the world, exposing the lived reality of many. 

Although this is an unconventional read for me – I don’t tend to read much political fiction – I was swept into the harrowing psyche of Eilish and her utter desperation to save her family, no matter what. It took some getting used to Lynch’s writing style, which at times felt a little too intellectual for me, but overall I am glad to have read a book that platforms such an important narrative, making Prophet Song one of 2023’s best reads. 

2023 was truly a year of amazing writing, and I am so grateful to have explored such a wide variety of literature and non-fiction. It only makes me more thrilled to discover what 2024 has to offer!

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