The 20 Best Novels of the Decade (2010s)

This is one of the 268 lists we use to generate our main The Greatest Books list.

  • A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

    "A Visit from the Goon Squad" is an interconnected collection of stories about a group of characters whose lives intersect in the music industry. The narrative spans several decades, tracing the characters' journey from their youth to middle age. It explores themes of time, change, and the impact of technology on human relationships and the music industry. The novel is known for its experimental structure, including a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation.

  • The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

    Set at the turn of the 19th century on the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor, the novel follows a young Dutch clerk who arrives with the East India Company to make his fortune. Amidst the strict trade confines between Japan and the outside world, he encounters a complex web of relationships, power struggles, and cultural exchanges. His life becomes intertwined with that of a beautiful, yet disfigured Japanese midwife, leading to a forbidden love affair that defies the era's rigid boundaries. As he navigates through corruption, intrigue, and the clash of civilizations, the protagonist's integrity and loyalty are put to the test in a story that explores themes of isolation, connection, and the passage of time.

  • Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

    The novella captures the life of Robert Grainier, a day laborer in the American West during the early 20th century. Through a series of vignettes, it traces Grainier's experiences from his work on railroads and bridges to his personal tragedies, including the loss of his family and the profound changes in his way of life. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly transforming America, the narrative delves into themes of isolation, the ruggedness of the frontier, and the impact of industrialization on the natural world and the human soul. Grainier's story is one of quiet endurance and the haunting beauty of the landscape amidst the relentless march of time.

  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

    "The Buddha in the Attic" is a historical novel that tells the story of Japanese picture brides migrating to America in the early 20th century. It follows their journey from their traditional homes in Japan to their new lives in California, their struggles with language barriers, cultural differences, and harsh working conditions. The book also explores their experiences during World War II when they and their American-born children were taken to internment camps. The narrative is presented in a collective first-person voice, providing a chorus of the women's viewpoints.

  • The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

    "The Tiger's Wife" is a captivating novel that weaves together the lives of a young doctor and her grandfather in war-torn Balkans. As the doctor embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind her grandfather's mysterious death, she unravels a tapestry of folklore, superstition, and family secrets. Through her exploration, she uncovers the extraordinary story of the tiger's wife, a woman believed to possess the power to communicate with animals. This beautifully written tale explores themes of love, loss, and the enduring power of storytelling.

  • Salvage the Bones: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

    Set in a poor rural community in Mississippi, this novel follows the story of a pregnant teenage girl named Esch and her three brothers as they navigate their lives in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Their mother is dead and their father is a neglectful alcoholic, leaving the siblings to fend for themselves. The book explores themes of poverty, racism, and survival, showcasing the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

  • The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

    Set in the 1970s, the novel follows a young woman known only as Reno, who moves to New York with dreams of becoming an artist. She becomes involved with an older, established artist who is a member of the city's avant-garde scene. The story also delves into the world of Italian motorcycle racing and radical politics, exploring themes of art, feminism, love, and betrayal. The narrative shifts between Reno's experiences in New York and Italy, and the history of a radical movement in Italy.

  • All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

    All My Puny Sorrows is a poignant exploration of the complex relationship between two sisters, one a successful concert pianist battling severe depression and the other a struggling writer trying to support her. The narrative delves into themes of mental illness, suicide, love, and the power of familial bonds. It grapples with the moral and ethical questions surrounding assisted suicide, the struggle to understand a loved one's pain, and the lengths to which one might go to help them find peace.

  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

    "Dept. of Speculation" follows the story of a woman navigating her life as a writer, a wife, and a mother. The novel explores her journey through marriage, motherhood, and the struggles of maintaining her own identity amidst these roles. It also delves into the hardships of dealing with infidelity and the complexities of love and relationships. The narrative is presented in fragmented pieces, reflecting the protagonist's scattered thoughts and emotions.

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty

    This satirical novel follows the story of an African-American man living in a small, agrarian town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After his father's death, he attempts to reinstate slavery and segregation in his town as a means of creating a sense of identity for himself and his community. The novel explores themes of racial identity and equality in America, challenging societal norms and expectations through its provocative narrative.

  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

    "The Sympathizer" is a gripping spy novel set during the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who is a communist double agent. After the Fall of Saigon, he moves to America with other South Vietnamese refugees and struggles to reconcile his dual loyalties as he continues to spy on his fellow countrymen in exile. The novel explores themes of identity, war, and politics, while providing a unique perspective on the Vietnam War and its aftermath.

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

    The novel is a deeply moving portrayal of four friends in New York City, spanning over several decades. It primarily focuses on Jude, a man with a mysterious and traumatic past, who struggles with physical disability and emotional trauma. The story explores themes of friendship, love, trauma, suffering, and the human will to endure in spite of life's hardships. It is an epic tale of heartbreak and despair but also of resilience and enduring love.

  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

    A woman searches for her kidnapped daughter in a world ravaged by a catastrophic climate change event known as the Fifth Season. Simultaneously, the narrative follows a young girl with destructive powers and a man struggling to control his own similar abilities. The story explores themes of oppression, survival, and the destructive power of nature, all set in a dystopian world where the earth is constantly in flux, and society is strictly divided and controlled.

  • Outline by Rachel Cusk

    "Outline" is a novel that follows the story of a woman who travels to Athens to teach a writing seminar and engages in a series of conversations with various people she encounters. These include fellow authors, students, and locals, each of whom share intimate details of their lives, allowing the protagonist to reflect on her own experiences and emotions. The book explores themes of identity, storytelling, and the complexities of human relationships.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

    This novel follows the journey of Cora, a young slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, who escapes and embarks on a journey towards freedom via the Underground Railroad. The book presents a literal version of the historical Underground Railroad, portraying it as a physical network of tunnels and tracks beneath the Southern soil. As Cora travels from state to state, she encounters different worlds and harsh realities, each one illuminating the various forms of oppression Black people faced in America. The narrative is a brutal exploration of America's history of slavery and racism, and a testament to the unyielding spirit of those who fought against it.

  • Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

    The novel delves into the lives of a family grappling with the impact of mental illness across generations. It explores the bonds and strains among family members as they confront the challenges posed by the eldest son's severe anxiety and depression. Through shifting perspectives, the narrative examines the ways in which each family member copes with their shared and individual struggles, illuminating the profound effects of love, loyalty, and the legacy of mental health issues on their relationships and choices. The story is a poignant and insightful portrayal of the complexities of familial love and the enduring human capacity for resilience in the face of emotional turmoil.

  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

    The Overstory is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of the natural world. The novel tells the intertwined tales of nine different people who are drawn into the last standing few acres of virgin forest in North America. From a young artist who inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut, to a hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocuted by a streetlight, each character's story adds another layer of depth to the narrative. Their lives slowly merge with each other and the fate of the trees, showing the interconnectedness of life, human and otherwise.

  • In The Distance by Hernan Díaz

    The novel follows the epic journey of a young Swedish immigrant named Håkan Söderström, who is separated from his brother during their voyage to America. Stranded in California, Håkan embarks on a quest to reunite with his sibling, traveling eastward through an unrecognizable and often hostile American frontier. Along the way, he encounters a diverse cast of characters and experiences the harsh realities of the Gold Rush era, transforming from an innocent boy into a mythic figure. His odyssey is marked by moments of profound isolation and violence, as well as encounters that challenge his understanding of the world and his place within it.

  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

    The novel is a complex exploration of the intense relationships between teenagers at a competitive performing arts high school in the 1980s. The narrative initially follows the passionate and tumultuous romance between two students, Sarah and David, under the watchful eye of their charismatic drama teacher, Mr. Kingsley. As the story delves into themes of consent, power dynamics, and the manipulation of memory, the reader's understanding of the truth is challenged when the perspective shifts halfway through the book, revealing layers of metafiction and questioning the reliability of narrative and the nature of trust itself.

  • Milkman by Anna Burns

    Set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, this novel follows an unnamed 18-year-old protagonist who is pursued by a powerful, older man known only as the Milkman. Despite her attempts to avoid him and maintain a low profile in her community, rumors spread about their supposed affair, leading to increased scrutiny and isolation. The book explores the protagonist's struggle to maintain her individuality amidst political and social turmoil, while also dealing with the pervasive threat of violence and the power of gossip in a close-knit community.

  • C by Tom McCarthy

    The novel is a sweeping historical narrative that follows the life of Serge Carrefax, a young man born at the turn of the 20th century into a family of an eccentric inventor and a deaf mother. Serge's journey takes him from his childhood spent on an English estate where his father runs a school for the deaf, through the traumas of World War I, to the heart of the emerging radio technology and the cryptic world of espionage. His experiences are marked by a fascination with signals, codes, and the transmission of information, themes that resonate throughout the book as Serge grapples with communication, connection, and the dissonances of a rapidly changing world.

  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

    The book is a darkly comic, Western-inspired tale that follows the notorious sibling hitmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they journey through the American frontier during the 1850s Gold Rush. Tasked with killing a prospector who has allegedly stolen from their employer, the brothers grapple with a series of increasingly bizarre and violent encounters. Along the way, Eli, the more introspective of the two, begins to question their life of crime and contemplates a different future, reflecting on themes of brotherhood, redemption, and the elusive nature of the American Dream.

  • The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

    The novel centers on Nora Eldridge, an elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who once dreamed of becoming an artist. Now in her late thirties, she feels the bitter sting of unfulfilled dreams and is often referred to as the "woman upstairs" due to her quiet, unobtrusive existence. Her life takes a dramatic turn when she becomes enamored with the Shahid family—Skandar, a Lebanese scholar, Sirena, an Italian artist, and their son, Reza, who becomes one of Nora's students. As Nora becomes increasingly entangled in the Shahid's charismatic and sophisticated world, she is awakened to new emotions and ambitions, but this infatuation leads her down a path of passion, betrayal, and a reexamination of her own identity and desires. The novel is a deep exploration of the themes of art, womanhood, and the complexities of the inner life.

  • Duplex by Kathryn Davis

    In "Duplex," readers are transported into a surreal suburban landscape where the ordinary intersects with the extraordinary, blending elements of science fiction, fantasy, and myth. The narrative weaves together the lives of a variety of characters, including a teacher, a group of schoolgirls, and robots, as they navigate a world where time travel, sorcery, and robots coexist with human desires and domesticity. This genre-defying tale explores themes of love, the nature of reality, and the complexities of existence, challenging the boundaries between the mundane and the fantastical.

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    The novel follows a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States for a university education. While there, she experiences racism and begins blogging about her experiences as an African woman in America. Meanwhile, her high school sweetheart faces his own struggles in England and Nigeria. The story is a powerful exploration of race, immigration, and the complex nature of identity, love, and belonging.

  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner

    In this introspective novel, the protagonist, a writer living in New York City, grapples with the concept of time and the potential of art amidst personal and global uncertainties. As he navigates a series of transformative experiences, including a potential medical diagnosis, the prospect of fatherhood through artificial insemination with a close friend, and the impact of Hurricane Sandy, he reflects on the intersections between his life, his work, and the socio-political climate. The narrative weaves between reality and fiction, exploring the fluidity of relationships, the anxiety of living in a world on the brink of climate catastrophe, and the role of literature in shaping human experience.

  • An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

    The novel centers on the life of a reclusive, elderly woman in Beirut who has dedicated her life to translating her favorite books into Arabic, despite never having them published. Living alone in her apartment, she reflects on her personal history, the Lebanese Civil War, and the complexities of love, memory, and the power of literature. As she contemplates her existence, the narrative weaves through her past and present, revealing the rich inner world of a character who has chosen to live on the margins of society, finding solace and meaning in her literary pursuits amidst the backdrop of a city marked by conflict.

  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

    "Fates and Furies" is a novel split into two parts, providing two perspectives on a single marriage. The first half of the book, "Fates," is told from the point of view of the husband, Lotto, a charismatic but failed actor turned successful playwright, who views his marriage as happy and his wife as supportive. The second half, "Furies," is told from the perspective of his wife, Mathilde, revealing her hidden past and the sacrifices and manipulations she has performed to maintain their life together. The novel explores themes of love, secrets, and the different narratives created within a relationship.

  • News Of The World by Paulette Jiles

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young girl, who was kidnapped and raised by the Kiowa tribe, back to her biological aunt and uncle. Throughout their perilous journey across the harsh Texas landscape, the pair face myriad dangers and form an unlikely bond. The news reader, with his deep sense of honor and compassion, navigates the challenges of the lawless territory while helping the girl come to terms with her reclaimed identity and the memories of her past. Their shared experiences forge a relationship that transcends the divides of culture and language, reflecting the potential for understanding and healing in a fractured world.

  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

    The novel is a stream-of-consciousness narrative that unfolds from the perspective of a deceased middle-aged engineer as he reminisces about his life on All Souls' Day in County Mayo, Ireland. Through a single unbroken sentence, the protagonist reflects on his past experiences, including his family life, work, the complexities of modernity, and the political issues of contemporary Ireland. The narrative weaves together the personal and the political, exploring themes of time, memory, and the interconnectedness of individual lives with the broader societal and environmental forces at play.

  • Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

    "Mr. Splitfoot" is a gothic and enigmatic tale that intertwines the stories of two women: Ruth, a foster child who grows up in a loveless home run by a religious fanatic, and her niece, Cora, who is unexpectedly visited by Ruth years later. The narrative unfolds in parallel timelines, with Ruth's past revealing her involvement with a con man in a scheme to communicate with the dead, and Cora's present-day journey across New York State, led by a now-mute Ruth on a mysterious mission. As the two women's paths converge, the novel explores themes of family, belief, and the intertwining of life and death, all while blurring the lines between the supernatural and reality.

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

    This epic novel traces the lineage of two half-sisters from 18th century Ghana to present day America. One sister is sold into slavery and shipped to America, while the other is married off to a British slaver and remains in Africa. The book follows their descendants through the generations, exploring the lasting impact of slavery and colonialism on Black lives. The narrative showcases the struggles, resilience, and triumphs of each generation, providing a deep and personal view into the historical events and societal changes that shaped their lives.

  • Margaret The First by Danielle Dutton

    The book is a historical fiction novel that reimagines the life of a 17th-century English duchess, who was a pioneering female writer and intellectual. It delves into her passionate pursuits of literature, science, and philosophy, as well as her struggles with the societal constraints of her time. The narrative explores her eccentric and flamboyant life, her ambitions, and her desire for fame, while also painting a vivid picture of the courtly and literary worlds of the English Restoration period. The protagonist's story is one of both triumph and tragedy, as she seeks recognition in a world that is not quite ready to accept her brilliance and individuality.

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman

    The novel follows the experiences of Selin, a daughter of Turkish immigrants, during her freshman year at Harvard University in the mid-1990s. As she navigates the complexities of language, love, and her own identity, Selin begins an email correspondence with Ivan, a senior mathematics student. This digital romance and her quest for understanding lead her through various intellectual and emotional adventures, from teaching in Hungary to grappling with the nuances of communication and the nature of storytelling. The book is a coming-of-age tale that humorously captures the challenges of self-discovery and the transition into adulthood.

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

    The novel explores the journey of a 13-year-old boy, his drug-addicted mother, and his baby sister as they travel through Mississippi to pick up their white father from the state penitentiary. The story is steeped in the harsh realities of poverty, racism, and struggle, and is further complicated by the presence of a ghost from the family's past. It's a haunting tale about the legacy of trauma and the power of family ties.

  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

    The novel follows the life of a young, beautiful, and wealthy woman living in New York City who decides to enter a year of drug-induced sleep to escape her disillusionment with life and the world around her. Encouraged by her eccentric, unethical psychiatrist, she spends most of her time sleeping, waking only to eat, watch movies, and occasionally socialize with her best friend. The book explores themes of depression, alienation, and the search for meaning in a modern, materialistic society.

  • Normal People by Sally Rooney

    "Normal People" is a novel that explores the complex relationship between two high school students from different social classes in a small town in Ireland. Despite their contrasting backgrounds, they form a strong bond that continues into their university years at Trinity College. The narrative follows their journey, filled with misunderstandings, miscommunications, and emotional intimacy, as they navigate their way through love, friendship, mental health issues, and the struggles of growing up.

  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

    The novel is a poignant story of a young Ojibway boy, Saul Indian Horse, who is torn from his family and placed in a residential school in Northern Ontario, Canada. Within the harsh and oppressive environment aimed at eradicating his culture and identity, Saul finds salvation in the form of ice hockey. His extraordinary talent on the ice becomes a means of escape and a source of pride. However, as he grows and moves through the ranks of the hockey world, he continues to battle the racism and the lingering effects of his painful past. The story is a powerful exploration of Canadian history, the resilience of the human spirit, and the healing power of sport.

  • Inland by Téa Obreht

    Set in the arid American West of the late 1800s, the novel weaves together the lives of two remarkable characters: a frontierswoman awaiting the return of her sons and husband to their drought-ridden homestead, and an outlaw on the run from his past, haunted by visions of lost camels and a mysterious boy. Their stories converge in a desolate town, where their fates intertwine through a series of events that encompass both the supernatural and the deeply human. The narrative explores themes of survival, myth, and the intersection of different cultures against a backdrop of a harsh and unforgiving landscape.

About this list

Literary Hub, 39 Books

The 20 Best Novels of the Decade (2010-2019) chosen by the Literary Hub staff. This does not include translated books. This actually includes 39 books because they included 19 additional books in "Dissenting Opinions" section. I am assuming those are in ranked order.

Added 2 months ago.

How Good is this List?

This list has a weight of 36%. To learn more about what this means please visit the Rankings page.

Here is a list of what is decreasing the importance of this list:

  • List: only covers 10 years
  • Voters: specific voter details are lacking
  • Voters: are mostly from a single country/location

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