Frieze Editors on Their Top Books of 2023

From Dorothy Sze’s dystopian romance to M. John Harrison's future classic 'anti-memoir', here are our favourite books of the year

BY Andrew Durbin, Ivana Cholakova, Marko Gluhaich AND Vanessa Peterson in Books , Opinion | 19 DEC 23

Andrew Durbin, editor-in-chief

Jackie Wang Alien Daughter Walk Into the Sun
Jackie Wang, Alien Daughters Walk Into the Sun, 2023, book cover. Courtesy: Semiotext(e)

I loved Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station, which was published in English in 2020. Full of ghostly evocations of the past, it points towards a worrying future of climate crisis and displacement, and a disembodied time. So, I was thrilled by the publication of her latest novel, The End of August (2023), which develops these themes further in an epic family story of the Japanese colonization of Korea.

This year also saw the arrival of the late Victor Heringer’s final novel, The Love of Singular Men (2023). It opens with a weather report and a story of the creation of the world (in this book, the world is Rio de Janeiro); what follows is a wrenching story of loss. I also adored Jackie Wang’s rangy, thoughtful ‘almanac of extreme girlhood,’ Alien Daughters Walk into the Sun (2023). It is an unusual autobiography that reminds me that there is life in the genre, despite the surfeit of recent obits. One great poem – not in a book yet – that I returned to a few times this year was Shiv Kotecha’s ‘Frustrated Poem’ in Ursula. ‘I swear to god. / I don’t know how to look at paintings,’ Kotecha begins. Well, same.

Finally, two reissues that I enjoyed were The Diaries of Franz Kafka (2023), translated by Ross Benjamin, which were finally published in an unexpurgated form – with some of his queer sensibility (less appreciated than it should be!) restored to us mouse folk – and Lynne Tillman’s 1987 novel Haunted Houses (2022), a triple portrait of three girls in mid-century America that ends, brilliantly, on a joke by Jackie Curtis. When will we get the life and times of Jackie Curtis? That’s the book I’ll be most looking forward to in the future.

Ivana Cholakova, editorial assistant

Pink Slime Fernanda Trias book cover
Fernanda Trías, Pink Slime, 2023, book cover. Courtesy: Scribe Publications

For me, the literary year was shaped by the personal mythologies we build around ourselves and the various realities we choose to occupy. Dorothy Tse’s sharp anti-fairytale Owlish (2023), translated by Natascha Bruce, expertly handles the disastrous threat of elusive reality. With an air of satirical absurdism, the writing evokes The Master and Margarita (1967), documenting an uncanny love affair between literature professor Q and a music box ballerina named Aliss. Whilst Q indulges in his dream world, ornamented with elegant prose, elevated canonical references and intricate metaphors, he fails to notice the sinister subconsciousness of the city he inhabits as it begins to slip into the grips of totalitarianism. Tse’s vigilant writing stands firm against wilful ignorance.

Continuing the theme of translated literature, I particularly enjoyed reading Uruguayan writer Fernanda Trías’s gripping novel Pink Slime (2023), translated by Heather Cleary. Set in a not-so-unlikely dystopian world in which the disastrous consequences of ecological crisis have stripped human existence to its very core, we follow the nameless narrator as she begins to disengage from her former social obligations of care, and slips into solitude. What emerges is an honest and nuanced depiction of an ageing mother-daughter relationship, told in a lyrical, self-reflective tone.

Marko Gluhaich, associate editor

Lies and Sorcery Elsa Morante book cover
Elsa Morante, Lies and Sorcery, 2023, book cover. Courtesy: NYRB Classics

Semiotext(e) has recently republished two excellent volumes by the French film critic Serge Daney, newly translated into English, the second of which, Footlights (2023), is set to be released later this month. I lamentably lent the first, The Cinema House and the World (2022), to a friend who’s since left the country – the too-often fate of favourite reads. Staying on the textual beat of 20th-century movies, the publisher also put out Ian Penman’s tortuous and turbulent biography of the great director, Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors (2023), which was a pleasure.

​I began the year with two essay-ish collections: Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes (2023) and Brian Dillon’s Affinities (2023). The two authors are responsible for three of my most enjoyed books of the past decade: Sharpe’s terrific In the Wake (2016) and the first two volumes of Dillon’s Barthesian trilogy, Essayism: On Form, Feeling and Non-Fiction (2017) and Suppose a Sentence (2020).

​A new reissue to be celebrated is Elsa Morante’s 1948 baroque epic Lies and Sorcery (2023), which brings class consciousness to family mythologies in a way that would inspire her most famous disciple, Elena Ferrante. Lastly, I was excited for Maya Binyam’s début novel Hangman (2023), a laconic and darkly humorous narrative of exile whose narrator brings to mind Kafka’s Josef K. 

Vanessa Peterson, associate editor

Marie NDiaye Vengeance is Mine cover
Marie NDiaye, Vengeance is Mine, 2023, book cover. Courtesy: MacLehose Press

I have written about many of my favourite books of the year in previous articles: Teju Cole’s Tremor (2023), Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes (2023) – which our designers beautifully reproduced an excerpt of in print for the May issue of the magazine – and Lauren Elkin’s Art Monsters (2023), which made me reflect on what society considers to be monstrous, and why that might be. I found much to reckon with in Rizvana Bradley’s Anteaesthetics: Black Aesthesis and the Critique of Form (2023), in which the academic and scholar, in lucid prose, theorizes the ways in which Black art evades analysis through a modernist lens. After Sex (2023), an anthology edited by regular frieze contributor Edna Bonhomme and London Review of Books editor Alice Spawls spans a wide range of perspectives on reproductive rights, challenging readers to consider how liberatory politics can be applied to bodily autonomy. (The two editors also programmed a public event at London’s ICA last month which was one of my highlights of the year.)

Two books which also grappled with the intricacies of fact and fiction were Catherine Lacey's Biography of X (2023) and Olga Ravn’s My Work (2023) – after reading both I spent some time exploring the various textual references layered throughout both novels. I bought both the UK & US versions of Brian Dillon’s Affinities because I loved the NYRB cover with an Allison Katz painting of a cabbage so much (thank you to my friends at The Broadway Bookshop in Hackney for helping!), and because it made me consider what criticism can and should look like.

A book that challenged me was the incomparable Wish I Was Here: An Anti-Memoir by M. John Harrison: part memoir, part how-to-write guide, part analysis-of-landscape. Isabel Waidner’s Corey Fah Does Social Mobility (2023) was also a whirlwind of a book taking on literary prize culture, with a dose of what I consider to be classically ‘Waidner-esque’ humour and wit. Noreen Masud’s meditations on flatness as affect, the British landscape and complex PTSD in A Flat Place (2023) will stay with me long into 2024.  Finally, I will continue to recommend Marie NDiaye’s quietly chilling novels, that are riddled with class anxiety and the murky undercurrents of isolation: Vengeance is Mine (2023) broaches the same difficult themes as Alice Diop’s 2022 film Saint Omer (NDiaye was a writer on the film) – the myriad ways in which we harm those we claim to love and why that might be.

Andrew Durbin is the editor-in-chief of frieze. His book The Wonderful World That Almost Was is forthcoming from FSG in 2025.

Ivana Cholakova is a writer and editorial assistant at frieze. She lives in London, UK.

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Vanessa Peterson is associate editor of frieze. She lives in London, UK.