Deepa Anappara, Chatto & Windus, RRP£14.99/Random House, RRP$27
In the slums of an unnamed Indian city, children are disappearing. Jai, nine years old and a close observer of TV detective shows, recruits his friends to investigate — their innocence leading them into dark and dangerous territory. Inspired by the author’s work as a journalist in Delhi and Mumbai, this is a vivid, immersive debut laced with wonder.
Brit Bennett, Dialogue, RRP£14.99/Riverrun, RRP$27
Can you truly leave behind the identity you’re born with? In 1950s New Orleans, an identical twin, desperate for dignity, abandons her beloved sister to begin a starkly different life: she passes as white, her blackness kept secret for the rest of her life. Bennett’s arresting, humane novel is an indictment on race and class in America.
Garth Greenwell, Picador, RRP£14.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$26
The narrator of Greenwell’s debut What Belongs to You returns in this masterpiece of intimacy. An American expat soon to leave his post in Bulgaria, he looks back at his encounters — those rooted in love and those ones where feeling emerged unexpected — recounting, in Greenwell’s seamless, acute prose, the violence and surrender, gestures and codes of love and sex.
AL Kennedy, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99
The “Time” of the title is no longer ours, having moved on to deliver new obstacles to survival, but the 13 stories collected here, wrote the FT’s reviewer, share “a sense of lockdown that is not only physical, but psychological too”. From a refugee family to the foundations of a building, Kennedy’s subjects endure in the presence of trauma.
Summer Books 2020
Catherine Lacey, Granta, RRP£12.99/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, RRP$26
A narrator wakes up during a baptism in the American south, with no memory or clue about where they are, except that church doors stay open at night — a useful tip if all you know about yourself is that you’re exhausted. The adult foundling, named and sheltered, studies the townsfolk studying her, in an exquisite piece of storytelling.
Colum McCann, Bloomsbury, RRP£18.99/Random House, RRP$28
McCann’s tender and intelligent novel is based on the true lives and unlikely friendship of Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin, each of whom has lost a daughter to the violent conflict. It’s fraught territory, which McCann treads with formal boldness and immense sensitivity.
Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate, RRP£25/Henry Holt, RRP$30
Some readers are finding the final volume of Mantel’s trilogy to be the Ulysses of lockdown; there’s a reason they keep going. As Cromwell nears his end, our immersion in the world of the Reformation is gloriously complete. I’m with Simon Schama, in his review for the FT: “this reader wouldn’t want a word less”.
Zora Neale Hurston, HQ, RRP£12.99/$25.99
A central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was out of print for too much of the 20th century but since the 1990s she has re-emerged as an outstanding and important writer. Here, 21 short stories from the 1920s-30s capture the zeitgeist of African-American life in the period, with both vulnerability and sharp humour.
Maggie O’Farrell, Tinder Press, RRP£20/Knopf, RRP$26.95 (from July 21)
Four years before writing Hamlet, Shakespeare faced the death of his young son, Hamnet, most likely of bubonic plague. In O’Farrell’s fictionalisation, though, the spotlight falls to neither father nor son, but to the boy’s mother Agnes (Anne) Hathaway. Above all, this is a profound story of motherhood and the agonising havoc wreaked when it encounters death.
Emily St John Mandel, Picador, RRP£14.99/Knopf, RRP$26.95
Mandel’s novel was particularly anticipated given that its predecessor, Station Eleven, dealt in a post-pandemic, devastated future. Here, she takes on a different crisis — the 2008 financial one; specifically, its impact on a Ponzi scheme and those who benefited from it. In some ways this is a broken fairytale, replete with ghosts and shadows.
Jeet Thayil, Faber, RRP£14.99
Low is set over a weekend in Mumbai, where, direct from his wife’s cremation, Dominic Ullis has headed in search of drug-catalysed oblivion. Thayil takes us straight into Ullis’s world, sharing that space between the guilt-enhanced pain of loss and numbness of self-destruction, to surprisingly hopeful effect.
Evie Wyld, Jonathan Cape, RRP£16.99
Wyld’s third novel opens with two bodies washed up on a beach: one, a stranded shark; the other, poking out from a case just enough to reveal red fingernails. The book traverses three characters in different time periods, united by domestic abuse, male violence and the house overlooking the shore, all in bravura prose.
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