Books of 2020 (fiction)

2020 was a good year, at least in terms of books read. And I don’t think that the global pandemic had that much to do with it. I’ve read over 50 books, which is probably a record (it is at least since 2016 when I started to keep a list of the books I read). But I haven’t written many reviews. In this blogpost I’ll revisit the fiction works I’ve read, chronologically, and write a line or two about it.

At the Mountains of Madness - H.P. Lovecraft

It’s been years since I’ve read most of Lovecraft’s stories, so I’ve been rereading some of the classics. This one is actually a pretty cool adventure story on artic exploration (with a plane! in the early thirties!) and antediluvian horror. The ‘mystery’ is quite on the nose, but still very evocative and thought-provoking.

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth

Alternate history novel where Charled Lindbergh wins the 1940 elections and anti-semitism takes root in the United States. Told from the viewpoint of a fictionalized childhood version of Roth himself, as a young Jewish boy in the city of Newark. The family dread at this political shift and the emboldened racists, all are superbly written.

Metro 2033 (Metro 1) - Dmitry Glukhovsky

The book the game with the same name was based upon. The story revolves around Artyon who explores the vast Moscow metro network, encountering different factions. Unfortunately, it sounds more interesting than it is written and in the end works better as a game than a novel.

The Hellbound Heart - Clive Barker

The original novella Barker also filmed as Hellraiser (which I haven’t seen). It’s a pretty straightforward story of depravity and pain.

Dead Interviews - Dan Crowe

Fictional interviews with dead personalities. Some of these were pretty amusing to read. Nothing special.

Red Cavalry - Isaac Babel

A collection of stories about the Russian Civil War, written from the side of the Red Army cossacks. Boastful stories and confrontations with peasant life.

The Plague - Albert Camus

What better time to reread this classic than during a pandemic? It’s still one of the best books I’ve read, examining the different ways people deal with an invisible danger, wreaking havoc in a society, and the meaninglessness of it all.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson

A classic gothic horror story about the leftovers of a family, living as recluses, shunned by the villagers. Protagonist Merrycat has a childlike disposition and a fascination for magical fantasies. And then their cousin Charles arrives, disturbing their lives.

Agents of Dreamland - Caitlín R. Kiernan

I don’t seem to remember much about this one, even though I know I enjoyed it.

Gideon the Ninth - Tamsyn Muir

Lesbian necromancers sounds a lot better than it actually is on paper. The story was a convoluted mess about a bunch of people getting killed off.

Switch Bitch - Roald Dahl

Not your average Roald Dahl stories, these are meant for adults. While I was hoping for some weird horror stories, they were stories about infidelity and and revenge.

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich - Danilo Kiš

This books echoed some of the themes read in Red Cavalry, but a decade or two later when the heroes of the Revolution get swallowed up in the Stalinist purges.

The Devil All the Time - Donald Ray Pollock

An American gothic novel with multiple storylines that intersect. Lots of religion, death, murder and misery. Not a happy read, but a good one nonetheless.

Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky

An enjoyable sci-fi novel, though not the kind that asks big questions on humanity or the future. Instead, it sketches an evolution and society of sentient arachnids and its confrontation with the remnants of humanity.

The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

Great Russian novel set in thirties, when the Devil arrives and stirrs up some trouble in atheist Soviet Union. Shenenigans ensue and people dissappear.

Song for the Unraveling of the World - Brian Evenson

Bundle of short stories, all with a feeling of hopelessness inside them. Nothing too memorable unfortunately.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead - Olga Tokarczuk

A book by Polish nobel-prize winner Tokarczuk about an eccentric lady living near the border, watching over people’s summer houses. And people start to die, but everyone ignores the crazy protagonist who knows it’s the animals taking revenge…

The Trial - Franz Kafka

I’m not sure if I liked this story, but it did manage to evoke the approriate feelings of dread and hopelessness, so I guess it succeeded.

The Haunter of the Dark - H.P. Lovecraft

Probably my favorite Lovecraft tale about a man fascinated by a black church and what he finds locked away in the tower. Moody, evocative, brilliant.

The Fisherman - John Langan

Great cosmic horror novel, centered around loss. Two widowers become fishing buddies and set out to to fish in Dutchman’s Creek, a place with an ominous past. Seriously recommended!

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

My first Murakami and wow, it was quite special. A meandering story in seventies Japan, with flashbacks to the second world war, scenes inside a well, dream sequences with repercussions in real life, a mysterious agency of people with some psychic powers… Lots of disconnected things that somehow do feel connected, wonderfully written into a narrative. Also, there’s a missing cat.

Dead Lies Dreaming (Dead Lies Dreaming 1) - Charles Stross

I prefered the earlier novels in the Laundry Files universe. This one is supposed to kick off a new series inside the same one, post-case-nightmare-green, with the UK government taken over by an avatar of the Lovecraftian deity Nyarlatothep. But it feels like a young-adult novel instead of the geeky spy-novels of the earlier times.

The Ministry for the Future - Kim Stanley Robinson

Ecological sci-fi focussing on a shift towards a climate-aware future after a devastating heat wave in India kills 20 million people. Not as good as his Mars-trilogy, but nonetheless a nice read that tries imagining a hopefull future.

Mouthful of Birds - Samanta Schweblin

Bundle of short-stories set in South America. Newlywed women being left alone at the side of the road out for revenge, desolate villages. A few nice stories but nothing very memorable.

Prosper’s Demon - K.J. Parker

Funny novella about a medieval society where a demon inhabits a renaissance-type genius.

This World is Full of Monsters - Jeff VanderMeer

A poetic rambling about an alien transformation of the planet.

De nacht voor de echtscheiding - Sándor Márai

This book disappointed me. I loved some of Márais other works, his rendering of lost friendships and the dealings with fate. But this one failed and felt like a conservative rant.

Là-Bas - Joris-Karl Huysmans

Late 19th century decadent novel about a pessimistic writer delving into the history of child-murderer and satanist Gilles de Rais, while simultaenously exploring contemporary satanism. The occult parts of the novel were amazing, the pseudo-theological discussions were amusing enough, but the rape-y affaire was horrible.