1. Sharks in the Time of Saviours, Kawai Strong Washburn
Kawai Strong Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of Hawai'i. His understanding of the setting (the economic instability, the folklore, the dialect of a family caught in the ripcurrent of change) feels clear and authentic. The novel's landscape, coastline and mountaineous terrain, is beautiful and treacherous; a spinal chord for the narrative.
Sharks in the Time of Saviours is a novel about grief, about how one miracle is actually the miracle for many. The islands featured in Washburn's are beautifully described, with paragraphs that transition between moments of breathless ferocity to moments of great sorrow and tenderness. The chronological shifts are well-constructed too.
The novel moves between the perspectives of Malia, the mother, her two sons, Dean and Noa, and daughter, Kaui. Their father is ever-present; a quieter, more subdued voice through the novel. Hawai'i follows each one of them, no matter where they move for work or university. The novel explores what happens when buried emotions, motives, hopes and expectations resurface.
Sharks in the Time of Saviours won the 2021 PEN/Hemingway award for debut novel and the 2021 Minnesota Book Award; after being longlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and a finalist for the 2021 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award. Former US President Barack Obama recommended the book as his favourite novel from 2020.
2. Hamnet, Maggie O' Farrell
Hamnet is my favourite novel from 2022 so far. The prose is so beautiful, so gentle and folklorish. The characters move with meaning and purpose; their words are chosen for their lilting quality, like a lullaby. The book carries profound, recognisable truths.
Hamnet reflects on the nature and foreground of Shakespeare's play Hamlet, which was written four years after the death of his beloved son. Though featured, Shakespeare remains backstage for much of the book; it is his wife who takes centre stage in her composed, apothecary ways. Maggie O' Farrell does wonders to both the shock and subtleties of time, growth and change. Her deserved winner of the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction is a novel unparalleled in its exquisite descriptions of motherhood, grief, suffering and the greatest loss.