- Stephanie Cross picked out a selection of must-reads to look forward to in 2021
- British literary critic organised the tomes into five categories including debuts
- Among her top picks is How To Kidnap The Rich and The Last Act Of LoveNo One Is Talking About This (Bloomsbury, February) by Patricia Lockwood, the ‘Poet Laureate of Twitter’, is set to be one of 2021’s buzziest books: a riveting novel about the collision between real and online life
Meanwhile, the sexy and absurdly readable Luster by Raven Leilani (Picador, January) is an unflinching interrogation of racial and sexual politics that carries ringing endorsements from Zadie Smith and Candice Carty-Williams.
Rahul Raina’s How To Kidnap The Rich (Little Brown, May) has already been optioned by HBO: a Delhi-set, reality TV-based literary crime crossover, it will appeal to fans of Parasite and Crazy Rich Asians.
Max Porter and Gwendoline Riley are often cited among the finest (and coolest) British novelists of their generation. Porter’s The Death Of Francis Bacon (Faber, January) is a miniature masterpiece — a hallucinatory prose poem that’s as searingly visceral as its subject’s paintings — while Riley’s My Phantoms (Granta, April) is a typically caustic examination of the relationship between a semi-estranged mother and daughter.
Jonathan Lee and Claire-Louise Bennett are two more names to drop when dinner parties resume: Lee’s The Great Mistake (Granta, June) is based on the life — and brutal death — of Andrew Haswell Green, the man who built Central Park, while Bennett’s Checkout 19 (Jonathan Cape, September) beautifully explores the makings of a young woman writer and will appeal to Sally Rooney fans.
Across the pond
Some of the U.S.’s literary big guns are back in action this year. Pulitzer Prize winners Colson Whitehead (with Harlem Shuffle, published by Fleet in September), Richard Powers (Bewilderment, William Heinemann, September) and Elizabeth Strout (Oh, William!, Viking, September), are generating feverish pre-publication excitement.
Meanwhile, Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom (Viking, March), already a New York Times bestseller, is narrated by Gifty, a Stanford neuroscientist grappling with her Ghanaian mother’s depression and her brother’s opioid addiction.
A more mixed reaction will probably be sparked by Jonathan Franzen’s return, though, with his Middlemarch-referencing family saga Crossroads: A Key To All Mythologies (4th Estate, October), the first in a projected trilogy that we’re told will span 50 years and explore the greatest animating forces of American life.
Everyone Is Still Alive (Phoenix, July) is the page-turning tale of a marriage pushed to breaking point from The Last Act Of Love memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink. While Animal (Bloomsbury, June) is a brutal, no-holds-barred road-trip thriller by Three Women sensation Lisa Taddeo.
Mrs Death Misses Death (Canongate, January) is the darkly funny first novel by poet Salena Godden in which the Grim Reaper is recast as ‘a homeless black beggar-woman’, while A Lonely Man (Faber, April), the atmospheric first novel by broadcaster and award-winning short story writer Chris Power, sees a struggling writer become obsessed by an oligarch’s enigmatic ghost writer.
Not a few first novels involve long hot summers, but Kirsty Capes’s Careless (Orion, May) stands out, a coming-of-age novel that draws on its author’s own experience of growing up in care.
The first novel from Stormzy’s imprint Merky Books, Hafsa Zayyan’s We Are All Birds Of Uganda, arrives in January, and Uganda is also the starting point for Neema Shah’s Kololo Hill (Picador, February) — two novels that movingly explore love, loss and the meaning of home. Watch out too for Memorial (Atlantic, January), the first novel by 2020 Dylan Thomas Prize winner Bryan Washington. This story of Benson and Mike, two guys in love but no longer sure why they’re together, has won rave reviews in the U.S.
If summer holidays return, make sure to leave room in your suitcase for Tahmima Anam’s funny, smart The Startup Wife (Canongate, June).
Putting the beach into beach read is The Paper Palace (Viking, July) written by former HBO drama chief Miranda Cowley Heller. Set in the holiday paradise of Cape Cod and spanning just one day, it’s about the darkest of family secrets and one woman’s life-changing decision.
Esther Freud’s I Couldn’t Love You More (May, Bloomsbury) follows three women at different stages of life, while Paula Hawkins’s A Slow Burning Fire (Transworld, August) revolves around three women connected to the murder of a man on a London houseboat.
And fans of ‘mum noir’ are in for a treat: watch out for The Push by Ashley Audrain (Michael Joseph, January), Greenwich Park by Katherine Faulkner (Raven Books, April) and Surrogate by Susan Spindler (Virago, March).
For something completely different, however, try Kitchenly 434 (White Rabbit, March): a rock’n’roll Remains Of The Day by the Booker-shortlisted Alan Warner.
Last but very definitely not least, fans of Richard Osman’s mega-selling The Thursday Murder Club will rejoice when he returns in September with the imaginatively titled The Thursday Murder Club 2 (Viking).