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  • Alistair Braidwood

Tellin' Stories: Scots Whay Hae!’s Ten Best Fiction Books Of 2023...

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

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There are plenty of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists around this time competing for your time and attention, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae!’s selections are for the more discerning book lover, with something for everyone.

This year we're going with three seperate lists. Nonfiction and Crime will be with you soon, but below are our pick of the Ten Best Fiction Books for 2023. Every year tells a different story and it’s always interesting to reflect upon that story as the year comes to a close. Over the last 12 months there have been striking debuts, memorable memoirs, the welcome resurrection of short story collections, notable literary fiction side-by-side, or even crossing over with, fascinating and often personal non-fiction, and contemplation of the past to learn lessons for the present day and future.

These are the stories which we felt stood out against the stiffest competition in what was another outstanding year for Scottish literature. Taken as a whole they show the artistic diversity and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today and are proof that Scottish writing is in the finest fettle. With this is mind here are SWH!'s Ten Best Fiction Books of 2023.

Set to the backdrop of a global drought, what makes Thirsty Animals so pointed and powerful is the way the details and the everyday dynamic of teenage Aida and her family are so recognisable and relatable, but with a sense of wider foreboding always present.

By focusing on individuals we come to care for, the eventual horrors and revelations hit all the harder, but through it all the inevitabilities of life, death, and hope remain - even when the latter appears increasingly faint. It’s a novel which explores what people are capable of in the most extreme circumstances, yet by setting events in Scotland in a near future it all seems absolutely credible. By avoiding THE pandemic, Rachelle Atalla has written the most insightful and empathetic pandemic novel to date.

Thirsty Animals is published with Hodder & Stoughton

The writing is a thing of beauty, transporting you to late-19th century Sudan with all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes – you can almost feel the heat coming off the page. By telling the story of one of the most important periods in Sudan’s history through everyday people’s lives and the events which shape them the story becomes relatable.

But it’s the characters who stay with you. The enigmatic Mahadi, aspiring Scottish painter Robert, but most of all this applies to Akuany, who becomes know as Zamzam, and who is one of the great characters of recent times.

River Spirit is published with Saqi Books

Three Fires works as a companion piece to Rizzio, Denise Mina’s entry in Polygon’s Books’ ‘Darkland Tales’ in that they are both historical fiction but with modern sensibilities.

Three Fires references the present day to put the life and times of the central character of Savonarola into perspective and context. Few writers manage to convey the joy they have in writing as Mina does which encourages readers to read more; more about the subject, but more Denise Mina as well.

Three Fires is published with Polygon

In Westerwick places become characters as affecting and eerie as any individual, adding to an atmosphere which is uncanny. Sensual and shocking, this is a novel which doesn’t just wrong foot you – it takes you away at the knees.

As the plot, (and protagonist Thomas Leven), unravel you are faced with events so unexpected that not only do you have no idea as to what is coming next, but often what has just occurred. From first page to last the power of Westerwick compels you.

Westerwick is published with Into Books

One of the finest short story collections I have read in years. These stories are inventive, incredible, weird and wonderful, taking the theme of the body and exploring the fear, strength, vulnerability, fragility, and mythology which relates to it, as well as the relationship between the physical and the psychological. There is also dark and surreal humour. Like the best short story collections, This Is My Body, Given For You is one to return to again and again.

This Is My Body, Given For You is published with Haunt Press

Connective Tissue is bursting with love across generations, looking back to better understand not only who you are but who you wish to be. But there is also the fundamental, even existential, fear of loss and the dread of despair which many will recognise.

The ‘connectivity’ of the book’s title does not only apply to the central characters, or even the real people who inspired them, but also that between the writer and readers. Few novels are so deeply and identifiably human.

Connective Tissue is published with Taproot Press

Electricity is about family as much as it is community. It’s a wonderful and warm read that will raise spirits and gladden the heart, and which is a reminder that there is no such thing as an ordinary life – every single one is extraordinary.

When is comes to writing, Angus Peter Campbell is a true craftsman and Electricity is storytelling at its finest.

Electricity is published by Luath Press

It’s an historical novel, but it doesn’t feel like it – there’s a contemporary feel to the novel as a whole which is unexpected. This is in no small part down to the style of the writing which is clever but never showy, and moves the narration along almost imperceptibly.

Dramatic events are often only fully revealed with hindsight, making you reassess what you have previously read. Depicting lives all too rarely found in fiction, it feels like Catch the Moments as They Fly is the novel Zoe Strachan has been working towards from the beginning.

Catch The Moments As They Fly is published with Blackwater Press

Every so often a book is written which seems uncanny in its familiarity. One where you feel the narrative, and narrator, speaks directly to you. The most striking debut of the year, Weak Teeth marks the arrival of an individual and original new voice in Scottish writing, a book which leaves you wanting more.

But while it is exciting to consider what comes next, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Right now, this is a novel which deserves to be read far and wide.

Weak Teeth is published with Polygon Books

The Old Haunts is beautifully written, and with rare insight. As with love, each person’s grief is an individual yet shared experience, and there’s a certain comfort to be found in the latter.

It’s one of the reasons literature is so vital to our lives – that ability the best writers have to put into words what we are feeling. These are serious and identifiable themes which will engender empathy from readers, allowing them to reflect on their own lives and the relationships which define them.

The Old Haunts is published with Fairlight Books

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