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This is where you will find stunning books from literary masters past and present. Literary fiction doesn’t just mean good or valued, as brilliant writing can be found in any genre. These are serious stories with high artistic qualities that strike at the heart of what it is to be human.
SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020 In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her arranged marriage to join an ashram, took a hapless artist for a lover, rebelled against every social expectation of a good Indian woman - all with her young child in tow. Years on, she is an old woman with a fading memory, mixing up her maid's wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a mother who never seemed to care for her. This is a poisoned love story. But not between lovers - between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar gradually untangles the knot of memory and myth that bind two women together, revealing the truth that lies beneath.
Hauntingly tender, and written with powerful grace, Clare Chambers’s Small Pleasures is an absolute joy from start to finish. It’s 1957 in suburban Kent, where Jean writes for a local newspaper with every aspect of her life still dominated by her contrary, controlling mother as Jean approaches forty. No post-work drinks with colleagues. No friends. No romance. Enter Gretchen Tilbury, an elegant Swiss woman who writes to the paper claiming her daughter was the result of a virgin birth. As Jean investigates the case, she becomes close to Gretchen, her kind, witty husband Howard, and the alleged miraculous daughter, all four of them finding comfortable joy in each other’s company. “You’ve stirred us out of our routine,” Howard remarks, to which Jean responds, “I would have thought it was the other way about.” While researching Gretchen’s youth, Jean inadvertently sends shockwaves through the Tilbury family when she reconnects Gretchen to a powerful figure from her past. At the same time, she and Howard find themselves falling for each other, both of them remaining faithful to Gretchen, graciously skirting their attraction - until it’s right to act. The novel features some of the most finely drawn, endearing characters I’ve encountered in recent contemporary fiction. For all her lonely frustration, Jean isn’t one to wallow. She’s pragmatic, with ripples of not-quite-regret lapping beneath her smooth, reasoned surface - a woman “who took pride in her ability to conceal unruly emotions.” Her domesticity pieces for the paper have something of Carrie Bradshaw’s musings about them, albeit without any in-your-face sex in the city (or the suburbs, in Jean’s case), with their apparently humdrum themes humorously paralleling soul-stirring events in her own life. Laying bare a quivering three-way tug between obligation, propriety and passion, and the inexplicable way thunderbolt-bonds are formed between similar-souled individuals, Jean’s conflicts and chance to love truly get under your skin. What a remarkable book, with a dagger-sharp climax that will pierce your heart.
“For the last thirty-two years, you’ve not once trotted out for a run around the block. And now you tell me with a straight face that you want to run a marathon.” So begins this scathingly amusing novel that sees 64-year-old Remington - recently forced to retire early after an unsavoury employment tribunal – develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme exercise and his hideously competitive trainer, Bambi. Remington’s wife, sixty-year-old Serenata has always been a solitary exerciser (“I find large numbers of people doing the same thing in one place a little repulsive”), so the fact that her “husband had joined the mindless lookalikes of the swollen herd” comes as a shock, and an insensitive affront too, given that she was recently compelled to give up a lifetime of running after a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both knees. Their spiteful bickering begins immediately, with neither party displaying themselves in a favourable light. Indeed, both characters are largely unlikeable, which makes their sniping all the more entertaining. Remington bemoans accusations of privilege, thus revealing said privilege: “I’m a little tired of being told how ‘privileged’ I am... How as a member of the ‘straight white patriarchy’ I have all the power. I’m supposedly so omnipotent, but I live in fear, less like a man than a mouse.” After (eventually) crossing the finish line of his first marathon, Remington signs-up for a gruelling triathlon, with his farcical persistence in spite of serious incidents and injuries making this novel both hilarious and excruciatingly cringe-worthy, albeit with an unexpectedly bittersweet upshot.
What if Jesus had married? What kind of woman would he marry? Who would marry him? These questions are at the heart of Sue Monk Kidd’s sweepingly inventive The Book of Longings. Ana, with her “turbulent black curls and eyes the colour of rainclouds” and a narrative voice that sweeps you up in its bold passion, was born into a wealthy Galilean family. Sharp-minded and a gifted writer, Ana secretly transcribes the stories of matriarchs in the scriptures, women omitted from the records: “To be ignored, to be forgotten, this was the worst sadness of all. I swore an oath to set down their accomplishments and praise their flourishings, no matter how small. I would be a chronicler of lost stories.” Ana seems destined to marry an elderly widower to further her father’s career (he’s the closest adviser to Herod Antipas, whom Ana despises), until she encounters eighteen-year-old Jesus and is emboldened and aroused by his revolutionary ideas: “I called him Beloved and he, laughing, called me Little Thunder.” Jesus understands Ana’s longings, her “life begging to be born,” and she loves his kindness, his capacity for listening. Of course, we know how the real-life narrative plays out, but this affecting story gets under the skin as familiar events unfold through Ana’s eyes, as a proto-feminist, as wife of Jesus, as sister of Judas. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Edvard Behrens is a senior diplomat of some repute, highly regarded for his work on international peace negotiations. Under his arbitration, unimaginable atrocities are coolly dissected; invisible and ancient lines, grown taut and frayed with conflict, redrawn. In his latest post, Edvard has been sent a nondescript resort hotel in the Tyrol. High up on this mountain, the air is bright and clear. When he isn't working, Edvard reads, walks, listens to music. He confides in no one - no one but his wife Anna. Anna, who he loves with all his heart; Anna, always present and yet forever absent. Honest, honourable, tragic, witty, wise, an unforgettable novel of love, loss, and the human longing for peace, Peace Talks maps the darkest and most tender territories of the human heart.
Ancient gods and the elemental spirit of an island are interwoven with modern reality in this remarkable debut that begins with a family impoverished by the decline of the sugar cane industry. In the pounding, poetic words of Augie, the father of the household: ”I was once the sugarcane. I was the cane and clacking and the sugar-sweet smoke of the reaping season.” Amidst escalating money struggles, a shiver of sharks save seven-year-old Nainoa from drowning, which the family embrace as a sign from Hawai’i’s ancient gods, especially when Nainoa also seems to have been bestowed with healing powers. Throughout the writing is majestically powerful, from punch-packing phrases that slam you in the gut, to monumental descriptions that rise, crash, roar and swell like Big Island waves, not least when life unravels again after Nainoi – now a young adult - and his siblings leave the island for various parts of the USA. Sister Kaui captures one of the novel’s core themes when, relocated to San Diego, she speaks of being, “A person of here and there, and not belonging in either place.” Meanwhile, in Portland, struggling with his healing gift, and the failings of this gift, Nainoa recalls the shark incident and memories call to him: “Home. Come home.” With its sweeping sense of myth, this multi-voiced family saga is a brilliant, involving exposition of how the places we inhabit also inhabit us at bone-deep level. It rings and rages with the wrath, revival, healing and hope of its characters. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
LONGLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020 America. In the twilight of the Gold Rush, two siblings cross a landscape with a gun in their hands and the body of their father on their backs . . . Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the run. With their father's body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with giant buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial. How Much of These Hills is Gold is a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories.
Glorious, simply and beautifully glorious! Inspired by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, this is the imagined story behind the writing of Hamlet, which was written between 1599 and 1601. Hamnet and Hamlet were apparently “entirely interchangeable in Stratford records in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”. Maggie O’Farrell says she wanted to write this story for over thirty years. “What did it mean for a father to name a tragic hero after his ( ) son. What was this unusual act telling us?” The cover design is beautiful, it called to me. On opening, I slipped into and fell in love with this tale. Hamnet has an almost otherworldly feel, and yet is as earthy and believable as can be. Two time frames sit side by side, Hamnet becoming ill in 1596, and then the earlier story of Shakespeare and Agnes meeting and falling in love. The descriptions became clear bright images in my mind. I could feel the words, they echoed deep inside me, creating pools of emotion. I cried on finishing, all the feelings that Hamnet created slipped out of me and trickled down my cheeks. I adore Hamnet, it now sits on my list of favourite books, and will be one that I reread each year. Chosen as a Book of the Month, LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Pick of the Month.
Set in 1980s Atlanta, Tayari Jones’s Silver Sparrow is a rich tour de force that sparkles with wit, warmth and candid lyricism. Exploring the weight of secrets and the complexities of love and family life through the compelling coming of age stories of sisters estranged by their father’s bigamy, this novel lingers long in the soul. “The truth is a strange thing. Like pornography, you know when you see it.” This potent proclamation cuts to the novel’s core, for Dana and her mother Gwen are the other wife, the other daughter, of bigamist James, and they know this truth while his first wife and daughter remain oblivious. Upset when James tells her that being his second daughter “You are the one that’s a secret,” Gwen poignantly informs Dana that rather than being secret, she’s simply “unknown. That little girl there doesn’t know she has a sister. You know everything.” Knowledge that she possesses the truth offers Dana consolation, of sorts. While James’s other family is financially better off, both wives have a distinct lack of agency. Indeed, the novel is sharp on showing how women often have to make their lives from what men decide, such as when Gwen remarks that when you’re four weeks late, “All you can do is give him the news and let him decide if he is going to leave or if he is going to stay.” The novel is also powerful on elemental love and the nature of memory, such as Dana’s response to being gifted a fur coat her father won in a card game: “To this day and for the rest of my life I will always have a soft spot for a man with rum on his breath.” In time, during her own tempestuous teenage years, Dana orchestrates encounters with her sister and they become friends, with tension rising as the secret threatens to detonate. With finely drawn, flawed characters that pull readers’ loyalties in different directions, this commanding, compassionate novel confirms the author’s exceptional gifts. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
From one of Italy's most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship. Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.
This is an astounding novel telling the stories of twelve characters living across the country and through the years. Each character is vivid as they take centre stage to share their story with us. Whether it's the sassy, argumentative Yazz, or the devastating narratives of Carole and Dominique. This book is filled with humour, culture and passion and I think it is a must-read for everyone. Composed as poetic prose, Bernadine Evaristo's lyricism throughout makes the sections flow, hammers home key points and gives each character their own unique tone. This is a book that will stop you in your tracks as you find out more about the characters but will also stop you reading as you contemplate the beauty in Evaristo's style of writing. "It's a novel about who we are now". Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2020 BOOKER PRIZE The novel of a lifetime about two men and their daughters: divided by conflict, yet united in grief. Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin live near one another - yet they exist worlds apart. Rami is Israeli. Bassam is Palestinian. Rami's license plate is yellow. Bassam's license plate is green. It takes Rami fifteen minutes to drive to the West Bank. The same journey for Bassam takes an hour and a half. Both men have lost their daughters. Rami's thirteen-year-old girl Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber while out shopping with her friends. Bassam's ten-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed by a member of the border police outside her school. There was a candy bracelet in her pocket she hadn't had time to eat yet. The men become the best of friends. In this epic novel - named for a shape with a countably infinite number of sides - Colum McCann crosses centuries and continents, stitching time, art, history, nature and politics into a tapestry of friendship, love, loss and belonging. Musical, muscular, delicate and soaring, Apeirogon is the novel for our times.