In our minds the sign of a truly great memoir is simply thus: you don’t need to have heard of the subject to relish the read. Thumb through this list for some authors of greater and lesser notoriety, but none at all lacking in literary greatness.
Days in the Caucasus, by Banine
Days In The Caucasus: Banine£12.99
Rich and vivid and slightly salacious, this is the brilliantly detailed and witty account of a youth spent in the mountain ranges of Azerbaijan from someone who was there, who fell from wealth to poverty, and straddled warzones in her formative years. Totally scintillating.
The Copenhagen Trilogy, by Tove Ditlevsen
(translated by Tiina Nunnally & Michael Favala Goldman)
Childhood, youth, dependency£10.99
Each slim volume of these addictive chronicles has its own charms and foibles, and through Childhood, Youth and Dependency we are alternately amused, shocked, delighted and saddened by the remarkable life of one of Denmark’s foremost literary figures.
My Father’s Daughter, by Hannah Azieb Pool
This is an incredible memoir of lost and reconnected families, told with such clarity and warmth that it can be easy to forget just how momentous the story itself is. When Hannah-Azieb Pool discovers that the Eritrean family she never thought she’d meet desperately wants to see her, she decides to travel across the world to a community and culture remotely distant from her own comparatively comfortable, even affluent adoptive UK upbringing.
The interactions are charged and intense, knotty and difficult to process, but Pool’s prose is so engagingly approachable that these deeply complex events are made eminently readable, spinning the history of an area of immense geopolitical strife seamlessly alongside the more immediate and emotionally raw family drama.
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
Crying in H Mart£9.99
“Ever since my mom died, I cry in H Mart.” Perhaps one of those great opening lines that will be taught in creative writing courses in years to come? Michelle Zauner is best known as the frontwoman of Japanese Breakfast. But you don’t have to be familiar with her music. This is just a brilliant memoir about grief, identity, and Korean food from an exceptional new literary voice. Also, prepare to be extremely hungry.
The Years, by Annie Ernaux
(Translated by Alison L Strayer)
The Years: Annie Ernaux£12.99
There is, in our opinion, only one suitable to describe this- a masterpiece. Of Ernaux’s multiple works, this is widely considered to be her most defining and important work. It’s an entirely new genre, a kind of ‘collective memoir’ of the years from 1941-2006 refracted through the life of Ernaux. A phenomenal evocation of times now past.
Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood
Priestdaddy: A Memoir£9.99
Patricia Lockwood is a truly singular writer. Her ability to jump between the (genuinely) laugh-out-loud and the deeply profound without breaking her stride is second to none. Priestdaddy is, at its heart, an honest depiction of a difficult childhood (with a guitar-riffing, perennially underdressed, Catholic Priest as a father) and the increasingly relatable experience of loving a family who live within a different political and cultural reality than your own.
Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson
The undisputed don of gothic horror fiction might not be the most obvious writer of domestic memoir, but you won’t be surprised to learn that there is a subtle but distinct edge to Shirley Jackson’s recounting of her life as a young mother to her unruly (but completely charming) children and her largely ineffective husband. Gliding beneath the comic set pieces is the very definite sense that Jackson is refusing to accept the expectations placed upon her as a 1950s housewife, and the tension is delicious.
Recollections of My Non-Existence, by Rebecca Solnit
We almost certainly don’t need to introduce you to Rebecca Solnit. But despite her incredibly prolific writing career (everything from the broadly political to the hyper-specific), this is pretty much her first memoir. You’ll come away from this book with an even longer reading list, a renewed creative drive, and a longing for that perfect, once in-a-lifetime writing desk.
The Breaks, by Julietta Singh
A determinedly-hopeful powerhouse of a book. Much in the vein of Maggie Nelson, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Julietta Singh’s The Breaks is as much a letter to her daughter as it is a manifesto for radical pedagogy, queer family-making, and utopian thinking. This is the kind of book you read and then find yourself buying for everyone you know.
Thin Places, by Kerri ní Dochartaigh
While nature writing has seen a remarkable increase in popularity of late in England, the subject of Northern Ireland and the legacy of the Troubles remains underdiscussed and underacknowledged. In Thin Places, Kerrí Ní Dochartaigh fuses both of these themes, vividly describing her childhood growing up in a mixed-religion family in Derry at the height of the Troubles in, and the trauma her years of youth have left her with- trauma which she has been aided in addressing by the healing power of nature.
The Cost of Living, by Deborah levy
The Cost of Living£8.99
Possibly the greatest depiction of mid-life ennui that we’ve come across, the second instalment in Levy’s ongoing autobiographical series is full of comic sadness and existential contemplation, but told with brilliant economy and savage detail.
Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis, by Grace Lavery
Please Miss: Grace Lavery£14.99
This is as totally brilliant and whack as the title. It’s difficult to say much for fear of spoiling the raucous ride this will take you on, but suffice to say it is brilliant, intellectual and fun. It will make you think in ways you had not before, and laugh out loud.