One of the nice things about books is they take a while to write. And so, while it can feel impossible to keep up with culture thanks to the constant barrage of television shows and movies and opinions that modern life throws our way, you will often find some more contemplative thoughts in literature.
The year ahead in reading looks all around: way back to landmark literary events, a dip into the more recent past (hello to the pandemic and London heatwave!), and forward to fictional future worlds reckoning with AI. And, of course, there is the here and now: an exciting crop of novelists dealing with identity and class and relationships. All the stuff that makes life interesting. Whether it is the debut you will see everywhere on the morning commute or a literary crime thriller, there’s a pick below for you.
Michael Cunningham’s first novel in nine years gets its UK release this January: a suitably contemplative way to start the year. Day follows a Brooklyn-based family—centring on brother and sister Robbie and Isabel—on the same April date across three years, from 2019 to 2021. You may recall there was a worldwide event taking place in those years. The novel wisely doesn’t go too deep on any pandemic logistics (in fact, the word is never mentioned), but it does attempt to show the consequences of that extraordinary event on this family, as they grapple with the more regular facets of life: heartbreak, stagnant marriages, awkward adolescences. Cunningham deploys his trademark spare prose and wry humour to great effect here.
The small-town crime novel is a very well-represented genre, but Collin Barrett’s debut has an enviable prestige: the author’s short stories have been published to great acclaim in the New Yorker and Irish literary magazine The Stinging Fly. Wild Houses is set in Ballina, County Mayo, where a feud between small-time dealer, Cillian, and local law enforcers, Gabe and Sketch is causing problems (as criminal feuds usually do). But when Cillian’s brother turns up, battered and bruised, on Dev’s doorstep, the isolated Dev is dragged headlong into a family’s revenge quest.
Kiley Reid’s 2019 debut Such a Fun Age was a—sorry, no other word for it—fun take on race and class, a refreshing outlier in a typically dour genre. Her follow-up, Come and Get It, heads to campus for some lessons in relationships and finance. Millie is about to graduate when a professor offers an unusual way to earn some much-needed money. Where will that newfound side-hustle lead? In Reid’s hands, expect high-wire tension, side-eyeing satire and a heap of jokes.
Édouard Louis’s latest, an autobiographical novel explores some familiar themes to the French author’s work: class, sexuality, society’s inequality. In this, Édouard heads to Amiens for school and university in Paris, taking on a new name and a life. He indulges in activities both aristocratic and seedy in an attempt to rebrand himself. But can you ever truly escape your past? Hm, we’d wager that it’s probably not that simple.
As engaging as doorstoppers can be, there is an unparalleled pleasure in something short and searing. Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s debut is set in modern-day Nigeria, where the country’s criminalisation of same-sex marriage has created a hostile atmosphere for the LGBTQ+ population. After an intimate moment with the family apprentice, Obiefuna is sent to a Christian boarding school by his father. So begins a process of self-discovery. Blessings is told from Obiefuna and his mother’s perspective, a dynamic which has plenty of potential for the profound.
After author Katherine Min’s death, her daughter, Kayla, found a manuscript in her late mother’s drawer. Katherine had been working on a project, and that book turns The Fetishist, her first posthumous publication, a revenge story about musicians. Young and angry punk singer Kyoko blames violinist Daniel for her mother’s death. Daniel and Kyoko’s mother, Emi, had been part of the same orchestra. If we learned anything from Tar, it’s that we need more stories dedicated to obsession and revenge in the music world.
This is the first book Salman Rushdie has written since he was stabbed onstage at an event in New York state (his novel Victory City was published after the attack, but written beforehand). In Knife, Rushdie writes about the attempt on his life and what happened afterwards: a testament to endurance and the power of writing.
Nathan Newman’s debut brings together a pleasingly weird bunch of people: a dentist who longs to be an artist (he cannot stop creating pictures of mouths!), a romantically-troubled Imam, a teenager whose nudes have leaked. And then there is 23-year-old Natwest, who is waiting for an embarrassing package to arrive before heading off for university. An ambitious title.
Every few years, we must read a novel about London during an unbearably hot summer. This time, it’s Oisín McKenna’s turn. It’s 2019, the hottest June on record, and we’re about to head into a highly-charged weekend between four characters. There’s Maggie, pregnant and down-on-her-luck, and Ed, the bike courier who hopes to make a life with her. Then there’s Ed’s best friend, Phil, who has a secret past with Maggie. Meanwhile, Phil’s mother is travelling to London to tell her son about her cancer diagnosis.
June marks a hundred years since Franz Kafka’s death (the author died from starvation as a result of tuberculosis at the age of 40). To mark that century, ten authors—including Ali Smith, Elif Batuman and Charlie Kaufman—have penned ten short stories which are deemed Kafaesque. If anything will speak to the general weirdness of our times, this collection, with its AI architects to bureaucratic nightmares, will be it. Though, perhaps, what we shall learn is that all times are a little weird.