It’s that time of year again. The Christmas Markets are underway, the shops are full of trinkets and Marks and Spencers have party food in their food hall. It is also the time where I look back at the books I’ve read over the year and try and whittle it down to a Top 5. That is not an easy task let me tell you. 2019 has been an incredibly strong year for books and some of the novels I have read have really affected me and have found their way on to my Forever Shelf on my bookcase.
At the time of writing I am reading my 110th book of 2019, and there is a month or so to go. I’ll probably get through another ten or so before the year is out (fingers crossed) and aside from my Book Club book they’re all 2020 releases. If you thought 2019 was a good year you haven’t seen anything yet – 2020 looks spectacular!
So, to my Top 5 Reads of 2019. How do I narrow those down? Well, I’ve chosen to only include books that were published in 2019 and which I have given five stars to. It was still a tough decision, but my favourite book of the year has been cemented in my head for some months now.
Without further ado, here is the book which came in at number 5 in my Top 5 Books of 2019. I will be posting the next four over the next four Mondays with my top book of the year being announced on the 23rd December, I do hope you check back to see my final list. Don’t worry though, I’ll also be posting a list of great reads from this year on the 28th December in case you want to spend some of that Christmas money in a bookshop.
Expectation by Anna Hope
2019 was the year where I read books which felt like somebody had crawled inside my head and written my thoughts down on a page. Expectation was one of those books. It is about three friends in their thirties who have found that life isn’t quite what they expected it to be. There is a clever shifting timeline, multi-person narratives and an astute and sensitive examination of modern life. I can’t stop thinking about it and the characters have lived on in my head long after reading the final sentence.
About The Book
Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.
Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?
One of the promotional lines for Expectation by Anna Hope states, “For fans of Sally Rooney, Diana Evans, Dolly Alderton, Elizabeth Day and Fleabag” and yes, yes to all of this. This book is one of the most powerful I have read this year (and I say that in a year where I have read An American Marriage, Normal People and The Most Fun We Ever Had). It got firmly under my skin so much so that it made me cry at my desk during my lunch break.
Hannah, Lissa and Cate, three friends who live in London are presented to us via multi-person narrative with time slips and shifting perspectives of both their relationships with each other and with themselves. Three very different women, they share a flat and find their feet in London, building both careers and relationships. I’m making this sound like some 2019 FRIENDS which it isn’t at all. It is weighty, lyrical and gorgeous and packs an emotional punch.
As we slip back and forth between now and then we meet Hannah, Lissa and Cate as they grow from teens to adults and we watch as what they want and what they achieve differ wildly. We meet them in 2004 when they
…live in the best house on the best park in the best part of the best city on the planet. Much of their lives is still before them. They have made mistakes but they are not fatal. They are no longer young but they do not feel old. They still have time, time to look backwards and look forwards.
This feeling of being on the precipice of something exciting is a feeling which I think many of us can recall and Anna Hope perfectly encapsulates both this and what happens next. Because often you realise those days are behind you and your life hasn’t worked out quite how you expected.
Life is messy, complicated and difficult and our protagonists are used to explore this most difficult of emotions; failure. Organised Hannah whose career is bright, has fallen in love in her early 20s, got married and has a lovely house. She has done everything ‘right’ yet she has discovered in the most brutal way that “bad things happen to good people all the time.” Cate is married with a baby son, but parenthood isn’t all its cracked up to be and her past freedoms are at the forefront of her mind. Lissa is an actress who at the beginning of the novel is on the cusp of greatness yet as time goes on she is struggling for parts and struggling to pay the rent. Through the spectrum of their friendship we watch as they deal with life and its obstacles.
As I was reading this, I thought, “oh, here’s a book for my generation! At last” In a world of books for twenty somethings and for women with children/teenagers and nuclear families imploding there was a book about three women who have the world at their feet and find that the reality doesn’t quite live up to their expectations. I ached at the 1990s references, of Tony Blair coming into power, going away to University, all of this promise of a future where women can do anything, be anything, go anywhere – more freedom than previous generations could imagine, and yet, failure. Failure to be a mother, to have a career, to enjoy being a mother (in a world of social media showing how hashtag blessed mothers are) and the crushing disappointment of that and the realisation that we’re letting down our potential.
I especially enjoyed the exploration of women’s friendships and how they alter and change. The relationship between Hannah, Cate and Lissa feels wholly authentic with marriage, pregnancy, career issues and loneliness all being addressed. I felt very affected by this book and its beautiful and lyrical prose and its wonderful and realistic characters. It is a tender and sensitive book which deals with a myriad of important themes in an eloquent and poetic way. A real gem of a book, Expectation is something I will think about for a long time to come.
Where You Can Buy It
Expectation by Anna Hope was published on the 11th July and can be bought here.
Check back next week to see which book took the Number 4 spot in my Top 5 Books of 2019 Countdown.