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The best works of fiction published this year took us on all manner of journeys. There were big, physical trips across countries and continents, and, in one case, on foot through the untamed woods. And there were heavy, emotional treks to uncover answers about love and loss. In these books, the destination was often less important than the lessons learned along the way. From a bored copywriter in Berlin who follows a K-pop star to Seoul to a girl fleeing a colonial settlement, these protagonists were all searching for something, whether a shot at safety, a sense of purpose, or a chance to finally return home. Their quests were hopeful, daring, and at times devastating. Here, the 10 best fiction books of 2023.
More: Read TIME’s lists of the best nonfiction books, songs, albums, movies, TV shows, podcasts and video games of 2023. Also discover the 100 Must-Read Books of the year.
10. Tremor, Teju Cole
The protagonist of Teju Cole’s first novel in over a decade shares many similarities with the author. Like Cole, the incisive Tunde is a Nigerian American artist and photographer who teaches at a prestigious college in New England. Tremor begins in Maine as Tunde hunts for antiques with his wife Sadako while meditating on colonialism as it relates to the objects he sees. Tunde is always pulling at the loose threads of the history that surrounds him, contemplating how the world has been shaped by the past. Forgoing a traditional narrative structure, Tremor takes a philosophical form to investigate everything from how Americans view art to how a marriage can quietly unravel.
Buy Now: Tremor on Bookshop | Amazon
9. Y/N, Esther Yi
In an age when parasocial relationships run rampant, Esther Yi’s daring debut couldn’t be more relevant. Y/N begins with an unnamed narrator living in Berlin whose boring job as a copywriter for an artichoke company leaves something to be desired. She spends much of her time in the fantasy worlds inside her head and online, where she writes fan fiction about a popular K-pop star named Moon. When the real-life Moon unexpectedly announces his retirement, the young woman feels compelled to drop everything and go to Seoul in search of the man she views as her soulmate. What ensues is a snarky and astute takedown of internet culture.
Buy Now: Y/N on Bookshop | Amazon
8. The Hive and the Honey, Paul Yoon
The third short-story collection from Paul Yoon spans centuries of the Korean diaspora, with each piece centering on everyday people as they navigate what it means to belong and question how much of their identities are wrapped up in collective history. There’s an ex-con attempting to understand the world, a Cold War–era maid looking for the son she left behind in North Korea, and a couple living in the U.K. whose quiet existence is complicated by the arrival of a boy at their corner store. Yoon tells the stories of characters at odds with their relationships to home and explores how trauma can linger in the most unexpected ways.
Buy Now: The Hive and the Honey on Bookshop | Amazon
7. Tom Lake, Ann Patchett
Don’t let the setting of Ann Patchett’s latest novel fool you. Yes, it’s the spring of 2020 and her characters are in COVID-19 lockdown, but this is no pandemic story. Tom Lake takes place in Michigan, where Lara and her husband are enjoying the rare opportunity to live once again with their three grown daughters. There, as the family passes the days tending to their cherry trees, Lara finally tells her girls the story they’ve been longing to hear—about how, in her young adulthood, she fell in love with a man who would go on to become a movie star.
Buy Now: Tom Lake on Bookshop | Amazon
6. Temple Folk, Aaliyah Bilal
The 10 stories in Aaliyah Bilal’s collection examine the lives of Black Muslims in America. In one, a daughter is haunted by her father’s spirit as she writes his eulogy, and the ghost makes her reconsider his commitment to Islam. In another, an undercover FBI agent reckons with unexpected empathy for the Nation of Islam. Throughout, parents and their children learn about the limitations and possibilities of faith. The result is a collection of wide-ranging narratives that touch on freedom and belonging.
Buy Now: Temple Folk on Bookshop | Amazon
5. The Vaster Wilds, Lauren Groff
When Lauren Groff’s novel opens, a young, unnamed girl has just escaped her 17th century colonial settlement. Starving and cold, she doesn’t know where she’s headed and is constantly on the verge of collapse. But, somehow, she finds the will to keep pushing forward. In Groff’s timeless adventure tale, the girl endures the physical threats and mental tests of navigating the woods, all while remaining determined that there is a life worth living on the other side.
Buy Now: The Vaster Wilds on Bookshop | Amazon
4. The Bee Sting, Paul Murray
Paul Murray’s domestic drama follows the four members of the troubled Barnes family after an economic downturn sends patriarch Dickie’s car business hurtling toward bankruptcy. Feeling the crush of impending doom surround them, the once functional unit is falling apart. Dickie’s wife Imelda has become obsessed with selling her belongings on eBay, their teenage daughter Cass is drinking instead of studying for her final exams, and their preadolescent son PJ is talking to a stranger he met online. Murray probes what it means to love and be loved in a world that feels increasingly like it’s on the cusp of expiration.
Buy Now: The Bee Sting on Bookshop | Amazon
3. Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez
In Mariana Enriquez’s transporting novel, translated from the original Spanish by Megan McDowell, a young boy and his father take a terrifying road trip. The boy’s mother has just died under mysterious circumstances, and the duo is traveling across Argentina to confront members of the Order, the cult she was born into. The Order is made up of wealthy families who will do anything to achieve immortality. And the boy just might have the skills they are looking for—a possibility that makes him vulnerable.
Buy Now: Our Share of Night on Bookshop | Amazon
2. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, James McBride
It’s 1972 and a skeleton has just been found in Pottstown, Pa. The question of who the remains belong to—and how they made it to the bottom of a well—pulls James McBride’s narrative decades into the past, to a time when the Black and Jewish residents of the neighborhood came together to protect a boy from being institutionalized. As McBride makes connections between the two storylines, he spins a powerful tale about prejudice, family, and faith.
Buy Now: The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store on Bookshop | Amazon
1. Biography of X, Catherine Lacey
At the center of Catherine Lacey’s novel is the fictional writer and artist X, one of the most celebrated talents of the 20th century. Though she’s hugely popular, most of her background is unknown; not even X’s wife CM knows her real name. When X dies, CM finds herself incensed by an inaccurate biography of her late wife. So she decides to write her own. The mystery of X’s identity is just the beginning of this daring story that seamlessly blends fiction and nonfiction to question the purpose of art itself.
Buy Now: Biography of X on Bookshop | Amazon
Post source: The List