Still meaning to catch up with some of those recently released books you haven’t quite found time to read? Look no further if you’re searching for some last-minute inspiration before you pack your suitcase or load up your Kindle and head for the beach. Here’s a brief rundown of some favourites from the last six months.
Short stories – ever the holiday staple – don’t come much finer than in two collections from January, Black Vodka by Man Booker-nominated Deborah Levy (And Other Stories), and master of melancholy John Burnside’s Something Like Happy (Jonathan Cape). I’d been eagerly awaiting Lucy Caldwell’s third novel, All the Beggars Riding (Faber) – the story of a daughter’s discovery that her father had two families, and her mother was the ‘other woman’ – after I was captivated by The Meeting Point a couple of years back, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Bloomsbury brought out a couple of amazing debuts: Kate Worsley’s Sarah Waters-inspired She Rises, a story of sea shanties, romance and adventure on the high seas; and Ciarán Collins’ The Gamal, a Romeo and Juliet meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime set in modern-day Ireland. Claire Messud’s tour de force The Woman Upstairs (Virago), was published to rave reviews (“How angry am I? You don’t want to know. Nobody wants to know about that,” screams middle-aged Nora Eldridge in the first line, defying anyone not to read on).
Taiye Selasi’s debut Ghana Must Go (Viking), championed by the likes of Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie prior to publication, and Evie Wyld’s beautiful, brutal second novel, All the Birds, Singing (Jonathan Cape) confirmed the reputations of two of the latest batch of Granta Best of Young British Novelists. Famed American imports included Jami Attenberg’s The Middlesteins (Serpent’s Tail) and Andrew Porter’s In Between Days (Jonathan Cape), both stunning additions to a genre the Americans do best: the dysfunctional family novel; Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Harvill Secker), set in the New York motorcycling scene in the 1970s, and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland (Doubleday), a tale of psychic sisters, both have a Bailey’s (formerly Orange) Prize for Fiction buzz in anticipation of next year’s freshly partnered award. And finally, from the formidable shortlist for this year’s interim Women’s Prize, I wholeheartedly recommend Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (Doubleday), a profound and inventive examination of second chances and putting things right.
July saw Lottie Moggach’s impressive debut Kiss Me First (Picador), a digital thriller for the facebook generation that unsettles in an insidious and creeping manner – read what makes Lottie tick here – and Daisy Hildyard’s gratifyingly complex Hunters in the Snow (Jonathan Cape), a work of fiction that blends historical accounts with memoir to examine our links with the past.
August, normally a bit of a dead month, welcomes a host of exciting new titles this year. Debuts worth keeping your eyes peeled for are Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights (Picador), a novel inspired by the events surrounding the conviction of the last woman to be hanged for murder in Iceland; Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, Bloomsbury’s bright-young-thing who looks set to step into J.K. Rowling’s (pre-Robert Galbraith) shoes – Shannon wrote the book, the first in a planned series of YA fantasy titles, while still at Oxford; winner of the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award, D.W. Wilson’s Ballistics (Bloomsbury), and Alissa Nutting’s Tampa ( Faber) are not for the faint hearted. Wilson’s debut novel begins with the Canadian Rockies ablaze during World War II and explores family ties and wounds that can linger for generations, while Nutting’s protagonist is a 26-year-old female paedopohile with a penchant for skinny 14-year-old boys – read an extract from the opening chapter here. We’ll also see new titles from literary grande dames Margaret Atwood and Meg Wolitzer: Atwood’s Maddaddam (Bloomsbury) is the third and final title of the dystopian trilogy begun in Oryx and Crake; and The Interestings (Chatto & Windus), published earlier this year in the US, has already won Wolitzer praise from that heavyweight of contemporary American letters, Jeffrey Eugenides.
September promises big names too. The month kicks off with William Boyd’s new Bond novel Solo (Jonathan Cape); as well as Expo 58 from Jonathan Coe (Viking). Look at twitter and you’ll already see lovely things being said about Sathnam Sanghera’s first novel Marriage Material (William Heinemann), the story of three generations of a South Asian immigrant family and their cornershop in Wolverhampton, loosely based on Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. Acclaimed short-story writer Alison MacLeod also explores family ties in her World War II novel Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton), which has just bagged a Man Booker longlist nomination. Joining her on this year’s list is Eleanor Catton for her second novel The Luminaries; a nineteenth-century New Zealand goldfields epic. Just to warn you, though, it’s so huge, it’ll most likely be Christmas before you finish it!
Happy holiday reading!
Lucy Scholes is contributing editor at Bookanista and a literary critic and book reviewer for publications including the Daily Beast, the Independent, the Observer and the TLS. She also teaches courses at Tate Modern and Tate Britain.