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Best books of 2022: The indie releases you may have missed

Catch up with the best under-the-radar reads of the year.

Best books of 2022

“The ending is an unforgettable, Oscar-worthy knockout” Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra. Illustration: Chris Bentham

The Big Issue is committed to supporting independent publishers and great books which often don’t get the awards or critical attention they deserve. This is our shortlist of the best independently published books of 2022.

The best independently published books of 2022

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra (Granta)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra (Granta) 

For lovers of Zambra’s previous work (Multiple Choice, Bonsai) Chilean Poet initially raised some misgivings. This is a comparably conventional novel for a writer long celebrated for
his bold experimentation and anti-establishment instincts.  

Thankfully Zambra is neither an indie sell-out nor a middle-aged spent force; rather he is a Picasso-esque eccentric who proves himself a master regardless of context or competition. Chilean Poet begins beautifully, with a series of scenes from a teenage romance both tenderly wrought and laugh-out-loud funny. The delight in bodies and skin and teeth and tongues; the perpetual rhythm of beating-heart anticipation and anti-climax, exulted passion and cynical ennui, panic and serenity: Zambra, with startling clarity, remembers it all.  

As the novel follows its young protagonists from gawky adolescence to adulthood it loses its breathlessness and wisely matures, exploring the challenges of being an under-pressure Chilean poet alongside the love between a stepfather and son; Zambra’s portrayal of little Vicente will strike a nostalgic pang in anyone who has ever enjoyed an intimate relationship with a six-year-old boy (he himself has a four-year-old son). So exquisite is the writing and so excellent the jokes, I could easily compose this review entirely of direct quotes, sentences of extraordinary craft and beauty. The combination of poignancy and belly laughs reminded me at different times of George Saunders, Jojo Rabbit writer/director Taika Waititi and early Woody Allen. It is, in short, a complete joy. And the
ending is an unforgettable Oscar-worthy knockout.  

The Age of Uncertainty by Tobias Hürter (Scribe)

The Age of Uncertainty by Tobias Hürter (Scribe) 

Hürter’s remarkable book explores the lives of those who achieved some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the last 100 years, including Marie Curie, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Albert Einstein. But this is far from a straightforward introduction to great scientists and their work. Instead, Hurter treats his subjects like the cast in a nail-bitingly enthralling drama, in which the fizzing dynamics between his flawed protagonists – mavericks, explorers, celebrities and geeks – hurry along a revolutionary upending of Newtonian physics. A stark reminder that epic thrillers aren’t always found in the fiction section.  

The Impostor by Silvina Ocampo (Serpent’s Tale) - best books of 2022

The Impostor by Silvina Ocampo (Serpent’s Tale)  

This Argentinian short story writer, who died in 1993, has become a revered name in South American literary circles. Literary giants like Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino long championed her strange and alluring work. It is an indictment of the English-speaking publishing world that it so often takes decades (and the tenacity of lesser funded indie publishers) to bring such talents to wider western attention. Thanks to Serpent’s Tail, we are finally privy to the writer whose stories, said Borges “have no equal in our literature”. 

The Impostor is a collection of glorious and genuinely unsettling stories which will delight fans of the surreal. There are shades of César Aira and Murakami in Ocampo’s tales, which reveal their dark hearts and twisted bodies like a macabre striptease, slowly luring their unguarded audiences. Like all the best surrealists, she also has a strong, “deliciously cruel” (Ocampo’s words) sense of humour. I was mesmerised by these brilliantly strange, funny stories, and crave more.  

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books)

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books) 

The Booker Prize judges don’t always get it right, but this year they made the excellent decision to give the award to a truly unique, beautifully written artful satire which also works as a breathlessly exciting whodunnit. Set in Karunatilaka’s native Sri Lanka during its turbulent civil war, this centres on war photographer Maali Almeida, who finds himself in the afterlife while his dismembered body parts sink in a nearby lake. He has ‘seven moons’ (a week) to find out which of Colombo’s underworld killers has done away with him, while also leading his closest loved (and distinctly still alive) ones to a set of socially explosive photographs. The inventive plot is as thrilling page by page as the synopsis suggests, and the godforsaken, gambling addicted, secretly gay Almeida is a terrific lead. But even more rewarding is Karunatilaka’s exuberant style – funny, surreal, and full of surprises. 

Wired for Music by Adriana Barton (Greystone)

Wired for Music by Adriana Barton (Greystone) 

This is a fascinating investigation into the physical and mental effects of music by Barton, a science/health journalist turned musicologist. Personally scarred, literally and emotionally, by her 25 years as a cellist (she began at age four), she is inspired to conduct an extraordinarily thorough and wide-ranging study of music’s place in societies across the world, from cutting-edge tech science labs to tribal African villages. Through her pain­staking comparisons and contrasts, she draws compelling conclusions about music’s transformative impact on neurological health, physiological balance, depression, memory and even bodily pain. Happily, as well as the authority Barton brings to the subject there is also in this book a passion for the strange magic of great music. Rhythm, harmony, melody, major and minor – the endorphins they create in human beings and the connections they bring between diverse communities across the globe are all studied with diligence. But there is also a wonderful satisfaction in feeling that connection between ourselves and the author, as her love for music glows below every line she writes. A worthy inclusion in our best books of 2022.

Liberation Day by George Saunders (Bloomsbury) - best books of 2022

Liberation Day by George Saunders (Bloomsbury) 

Saunders has been teaching the craft of the short story, based on the Russian masters, at Syracuse University for 20 years. Last year’s collection of essays, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, invited readers into his classroom, providing detailed analysis of seven Russian stories in Saunders’ inimitable style: funny, forensic, enthusiastic and generously spirited. Liberation Day is a welcome new addition to his own oeuvre, into which A Swim provided such insight regarding his literary aspirations. 

The stories cover diverse ground, all with a futuristic, fantastical or sci-fi bent. Perhaps there is no better way to consider the increasingly alien world we live in. But whether set in a distant dystopia or within a state-addled brain, questioning the individual’s place among contrived or natural communities remains Saunders’ priority. With his customary combination of playfulness and searing intelligence, he raises important questions about the way we live now, and what new fears and sorrows stalk us.  

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty (Oneworld) - best books of 2022

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty (Oneworld) 

Every now and again a debut novel comes along which is so accomplished you almost suspect the writer’s name is a pseudonym for a mischievous literary veteran. Sure-footed, richly imagined and highly original, you could say The Rabbit Hutch is 2022’s The Secret History

Blandine is a teenage obituary writer, a smart, beautiful young woman living in the rabbit hutch, a dilapidated complex pitched on the edge of an industry-abandoned Indiana town. She shares an apartment with three teenage boys who, like her, are products of the state’s dysfunctional foster care system. But she has little in common with her co-habitants, other than their shared suffering under the system which has ‘aged them out’, deeming them suddenly ready to fend for themselves in a world devoid of family ties, and the love and support most teenagers rely on for a psychologically stable life. Lonely and isolated, she dreams of escape and freedom, while she writes about lives just ended. It’s a terrific premise for a profound novel full of clever, thought-provoking ideas.  

More of the best books of 2022

You can buy the best books of 2022 from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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