2021 In Review: And the Winner Is...

on Thursday, December 30, 2021
Mea Culpa. I've spent the past few months so smugly assured of my book of the year that I didn't even bother to check its publication date. Until yesterday. And hoist me on my own petard if it wasn't published in 2020. Never fear, though. My characteristic buffoonery has given me the perfect opportunity to elevate another latecomer to book of 2021, but I still want to celebrate both these strange little masterpieces in my Book of the Year Post because, hell, they both totally blew me away. And so I give you my two favourite novels of 2021, even if one of them wasn't actually from this year: The Employees by Olga Ravn and Mona by Pola Oloixarac.

To be honest I don't even really know where to begin with Olga Ravn's International Booker-nominated novella, The Employees (trans. Marin Aitken). Originally conceived as a companion piece to an art exhibition, it charts the travels of the Six Thousand Ship as it drifts away from planet New Discovery with a host of strange artefacts. Each chapter is told by a different crew member (human, robot and something in between, identified only by number); and examines one of these artefacts as part of a report to some higher authority. Filled with corporate jargon, dreamscapes, triggered memories, sensory descriptions and existential philosophy it gels and chaffs in equal measure, making for an entirely unique reading experience, an expirement in transhumanism. Nothing I can say here will do it justice, though perhaps my original review was my best attempt: I'm not sure what the heck this was but it was my favourite whatever the heck it was that I've read this year. Think Ursula K Le Guin meets Upton Sinclair, refracted through a surreal, fragmented prism. Just extraordinary.

Rare is the satirical novel that can skillfully balance humour and social commentary, and do it without ever showing its inner machinations. Even rarer is the one that can sustain it until the closing page. I can probably count them on three fingers, and only because the outer two act as parenthesese. Mona by Pola Oloixarac (trans. Adam Morris)is by far the funniest book I've read in years, a perfect lambasting of all that is ridiculous about the literary life, particularly when it comes to festivals and prizes. In Oloixarac's sites, no sacred literary cow is safe. If you want a glimpse into the arrogance, insecurity, petty jealousy and sexual lasciviousness (well, mostly desperation) that go with being a writer, and want to laugh your arse off while you do it, look no further. Having lived through way too many of these carnivals of the absurd, I can vouch for just how right Oloixarac gets it. Everything about Mona is a pure fucking joy to read (pun intended), right up to its batshit crazy magical realist horror ending. There is no limit to what Oloixarac will do, no risk she isn't willing to take. That it all pays off is testament to her brilliance and the perfectly contained genius of this little novel. What a book to round out the unpredctable hellride that was 2021.

And that's it. Hope you have a great new year, wherever the fuck you're hiding from the plague, and that 2022, if nothing else, is filled with awesome reading. Hopefully, I'll be back here more often. But then again I say that every year. Oh, well. Might see you soon. Thanks for visiting.


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