If the year 2020 did not bring you back to the reading mode, possibly nothing would. However, if it didn’t, there’s nothing to frown upon. It’s not a challenge anyway.
Personally, the only thing I struggled with was the idea of picking up a good novel. There was no guide to help me through the cluster of mediocre books. If you are someone who went through the same ordeal, you have landed on the right web page. In the following listicle, I have carefully picked and described some of the finest published literature in the past decade.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the 20 best novels of the decade (the 2010s):
- Americanah — by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013
Adichie’s book is like a lens through which one can look at the world. Essentially a love story in its truest sense, ‘Americanah’ is not just a well-written dissection of how people look at race and the idea of loss of identity, but it is also a truly great portrayal of expectations vs. reality in the general context.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings — by Marlon James, 2014
The protagonist in Marlon James’ epic third novel is referred to as ‘The Singer’ throughout the text. For the uninitiated, the novel tells the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and how things unfold thereafter. While the narrative is set around this incident, the book talks about Jamaica in the 70s’ and early 80s’. ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ uses a stop-start structure that might be a little difficult for some readers to get a hang of.
- Swamplandia! — by Karen Russell, 2011
‘Swamplandia!’ has a peculiar magic-realist touch to its narrative. It’s about a family of alligator wrestlers! With a strange mix of comedy and terror, Karen Russell’s debut novel serves as a fine example of worldbuilding done right.
- Little Fires Everywhere — by Celeste Ng, 2017
Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio and is about familiar ties similar to her debut novel ‘Everything I Never Told You.’ In ‘Little Fires Everywhere’, Ng scans through contemporary connections between people and how we often consider our stances to be the best. It’s a complex look at class and relationships with a sharp eye for the limitation we self-impose.
- Open City — by Teju Cole, 2011
Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole’s ‘Open City’ is essentially a love letter to New York. It’s an immersive depiction of contemporary life in the city seen through the eyes of a Nigerian immigrant named Julius. Following his quest on the streets of the city as he meets a variety of people, the novel traces an insightful catharsis post a breakup.
- A Visit from the Goon Squad — by Jennifer Egan, 2011
As far as the best novels of the decade are concerned, Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning ‘A Visit from the Good Squad’ is a thing of beauty. Connecting 13 interrelated stories portraying a diverse range of individuals, the book traces the self-destructive and unforeseeable lives of certain people set mostly in and around New York City.
- 1Q84 — by Haruki Murakami, 2011
Originally published in three volumes, Haruki Murakami’s ‘1Q84’ is an epic romance novel. Built around a mystical cult where two long-lost lovers get drenched in different versions of the same reality, this dense read is accompanied by religious and cultural sensibilities that the Japanese author is known for.
- Station Eleven — by Emily St. John Mandel, 2014
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015, Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ suddenly became more urgent and timely. With the coronavirus threat putting the world at unrest, this fictional swine flu pandemic narrative feels more relevant now than ever. Mandel’s writing is fluid, and her criticism of celebrities and our ability to face change under collapse really came out in exact implications.
- Sing, Unburied Sing — by Jesmyn Ward, 2017
Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 novel makes it to the list of the best novels of the decade because of its powerful and unearthing metaphors. Following a family and two ghosts on a road trip, the lyrical prose in Ward’s third novel uses some haunting images to explore the effects of injustice — especially on the younger generation that’s trying to make sense of their own worlds.
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation — by Ottessa Moshfegh, 2018
In Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ the plot is everything. It is what hooks you from the word go and never really leaves you. Following the audacious bet made by its protagonist — a beautiful, posh woman who decides to sleep for an entire year — the darkly hilarious terrain of Moshfeg’s new book looks into the exhaustive and overbearing modern lifestyle followed by a majority of people.
- Gone Girl — by Gillian Flynn, 2012
If you are someone who still hasn’t checked out the David Fincher rendition of the story of Amazing Amy, take a few days off and give Gillian Flynn’s engrossing crime-thriller a chance. It takes the darkest, most twisted and unpredictable look at modern-day marriages you must have ever read about.
- Milkman — by Anna Burns, 2019
Anna Burns’ ‘Milkman’ is an impressive book that is, in a way, a meta-reflection of the way authors write. Set in Belfast in the 1970s, Burn investigates life’s more profound questions related to love and identity. Using the coming-of-age arc of its unnamed narrator, this darkly comical offering is one of the most interesting reads of the decade.
- The Buddha in the Attic — by Julie Otsuka, 2011
American author Julie Otsuka’s novel doesn’t have a clear and distinct first-person narration. Instead, she chooses to move from one experience to another to tell the story of Japanese picture brides who immigrate to America in the early 90s. By using their experiences of facing their husbands for the very first time, Otsuka’s novel uses poetry to mingle with moments.
- Homegoing — by Yaa Gyasi, 2016
Yaa Gyasi’s novel ‘Homegoing’ was one of the most intriguing and audacious debuts of the decade. Tracing a fictional historical story that spans over several hundred years and traverses around a dozen characters, the focus remains on two half-sisters in West Africa and America. The gifted young writer uses complex themes to tell a very humane tale.
- The Overstory — by Richard Powers, 2018
Powers’ twelfth novel talks about nine Americans and five trees with a soaring message to stop their destruction. The author once again explores some of the most complex social yearnings with nuance and an opaque touch. This eco-drama is never forceful or in-the-face and almost always manages to keep it steady, leaving a lasting impression on the reader.
- Trust Exercise — by Susan Choi, 2019
I love meta-narratives. So when Susan Choi’s generic coming-of-age tale takes an unexpected turn by blurring boundaries between the reader and the writer, you are left amused and bewildered. Awarded the National Book Award for Fiction, ‘Trust Exercise’ is set in a suburban-style American city and will never cease to intrigue you.
- A Little Life — by Hanya Yanagihara, 2015
One of the best gay novels of the decade and maybe one of the most ambitious looks at queer life in America, Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’ is a difficult read. Following the lives of four friends living in New York City, the book is about a traumatic experience. However, a tour-de-force like this one should be read at any cost.
- The Fifth Season — by NK Jemisin, 2015
This Hugo Award-winning first volume of Jeminsin’s ‘Broken Earth’ series is not one of those on-the-surface YA (young adult) adaptations. It embraces its sheer scale to give a payoff worth sitting through layers and layers of expositions. Using his incredible eye for worldbuilding, the author conjures a tale that might just break your heart as you reach its astounding climax.
- Outline — by Rachel Cusk, 2015
Following the life of an English woman writer who goes to Athens to take over a writing workshop, Rachel Cusk’s ‘Outline’ is a fascinating book full of profound, wordy conversations so well-written that you just might binge through it. Cusk’s writing is fresh and deliberately unconventional. In many ways, she is shape-shifting how we read and write fiction, and that is a feat in itself.
- The Sellout — by Paul Beatty, 2015
Set in and around Los Angeles, Paul Beatty’s ‘The Sellout’ is a stoner’s paradise. Beatty’s razor-sharp satire is savage in the way it criticizes contemporary American society and how they deal with everything. Both incredibly funny and deeply heartfelt, this novel about an artisanal marijuana and watermelon grower, plunges into a vivid and painfully accurate observation of the times we live in.