Our Web Editor, Frances Gertler, picks out the fiction highlights due in the first half of 2017
I hope you enjoyed my review of the best of 2016’s fiction. Now that the dust is settling on 2016, we’re taking a breath to look at 2017, which is shaping up to be a really strong one for fiction, and especially for debuts. I for one, can’t wait.
Throughout the autumn, publishers have been turning up at Foyles to talk about what’s coming, whether from well-established authors such as Paul Auster and Michael Chabon, or from debut novelists they’re really excited about. We’ve been reading as many as we can and have already found some gems. My must-read list for the first half of the year is below. Inevitably, there is more information available for the first quarter titles and we’ve been able to read more of these as proofs have been around for a little while. But I'm confident that all the titles on this list will prove very much worth waiting for. If there’s a link it means the book is already available to pre-order, then all you have to do is sit back and count the days (or read something from our Best of 2016 list while you’re waiting!).
4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster
This enormous novel (a delicious 880 pages), Auster’s first in seven years, follows the four possible lives of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, who is born in New Jersey in 1947. Ed from our Charing Cross Road branch said it is ‘so many things; a coming of age story, a love letter to New York City, an exploration of the momentous upheavals of the nineteen sixties and an experiment in narrative, all the while striving to tell us something of the state of the nation, as it was then and as it is now.’
Moonglow – Michael Chabon
I've heard this latest from Chabon represents a return to form for the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. We’re promised a journey from the Jewish slums of pre-war Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of a New York prison, from the heyday of the space programme to the twilight of 'the American Century' as an old man tells stories to his grandson, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried.
See Michael in conversation at Foyles on January 16th.
The Nix – Nathan Hill
Hill is a born storyteller, so much so that it is hard to believe this is his first published novel. His tale of stalled writer Samuel’s search for his long-lost mother takes in his own and his country's history, moving from the rural Midwest of the 1960s, to New York City during Occupy Wall Street, back to Chicago in 1968 and, finally, to wartime Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. A great plot really well-structured, good writing and a big- hearted author. I love this debut. Please read it.
Nathan will be in conversation with Karl Geary and Emma Flint (see below) at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on 25th January.
Montpelier Parade – Karl Geary
Another assured debut, set in Dublin, this is the coming of age tale of Sonny, the course of whose life is changed forever when he meets mysterious older woman, Vera. Luminous, moody writing make Geary an author to watch.
Karl Geary will be in conversation with Nathan Hill (see above) and Emma Flint (see below) at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on 25th January.
Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations, Yaa Gyasi has written an ambitious and powerful novel, another startling debut.
Homegoing is the subject of our January book club at Charing Cross Road
Everybody’s Fool – Richard Russo
It’s a shame this chronicler of small-town America isn’t better known here: he writes about ordinary lives with humour and great warmth. This one revisits the characters from Nobody’s Fool ten years on. It’s funny, engaging and just a little bit bonkers…
Look out for our interview with him in January.
Little Deaths – Emma Flint
Another strong debut, this one inspired by a real murder case that took place in New York in the mid-sixties, when a young mother wakes to find her two children missing and herself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Emma will be in conversation with Karl Geary and Nathann Hill (see above) at Foyles, Charing Cross Road on 25th January.
Massacre of Mankind – Stephen Baxter
Baxter fans will be delighted to hear of this authorised sequel to War of the Worlds, set 14 years after the Martians have invaded England…
Look out for our author interview in January.
Record of a Night Too Brief - Hiromi Kawakami
A volume of three stories filled with fantastically multicoloured images and unexplained collapses in time and place. We loved Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop so are really looking forward to the next instalment from this talented author.
Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller
The keenly awaited second novel from the author of Our Endless Numbered Days, which won the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize and was a 2016 Richard and Judy Book Club Pick. Gil's wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years. But then there’s a possible sighting…
The Animators – Kayla Rae Whitaker
Yet another strong debut, The Animators is a dazzling story of female friendship, the cost of a creative life and the secrets that can undo us. It's been likened to Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, which makes it good enough for me!
Defender - GX Todd
An imaginative thriller, the first in a quartet, that draws on influences from Stephen King, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman to create a world in which the biggest threat mankind faces is from the voices inside your own head.
The Brittle Star - Davina Langdale
When John Evert’s mother’s ranch is attacked, he leaves the untamed Southern California wilderness of the 1860s for first Los Angeles, then Texas and Missouri and the front lines of the US Civil War, as he seeks to find the attackers and reclaim his ranch. It’s a gripping and brilliantly evoked story by a superb new talent and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t pick up some prizes.
The End of Eddy – Edouard Louis
Its publishers have high hopes for this debut, and rightly so. It’s a debate on social inequality, sexuality and violence, a moving portrait of escaping from an unbearable childhood, inspired by the French author's own.
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
I can’t wait to read this Victorian epic transplanted to Japan, following a Korean family of immigrants through eight decades and four generations.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir – Jennifer Ryan – debut
Its publisher likens this debut of wartime gumption and village life to Helen Simonson's The Summer before the War and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which case it’s going to be a great read. Expect feel-good fiction at its finest.
Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak
Shafak is a firm favourite at Foyles and we’re all looking forward to her new novel, set across Istanbul and Oxford from the 1980s to the present day.
Look out for our author interview
The Fatal Tree – Jake Arnott
It’s been a long wait for a new book by the author of, amongst others, The Long Firm. Now he’s back with a vengeance. This one draws on real figures and a true history of crime, punishment and rough justice in early 18th century England to tell a heartbreaking story of love and betrayal. Great cover too!
The Last Days of New Paris – China Mieville
This fantasy novella, set in an alternate version of Paris in the 1940s, imagines what ensues when surrealist artists encounter the Nazis in a war that never ends. As ever with this author, expect the unexpected.
The Doll Funeral – Kate Hamer
A second thriller from the author of the much-acclaimed Girl in a Red Coat. It looks set to be a chilling tale of a young girl estranged from her real parents; abused by the couple who look after her, and seeing things no girl should see, she sets off to find her real family.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
This represents a total change of direction for the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Set in Ireland, it tells the touching and funny story of Cyril Avery, as he struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in a country which, until recently, did not embrace difference.
A Line Made by Walking – Sara Baume
I really liked this author’s debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither. It features 20-something artist Frankie, who is struggling to cope with the pressures of life and retreats to the countryside. Profound, meditative and elegant.
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
I can’t even begin to tell you how much excitement there is about this book at Foyles, where several of us have already read it and declared it a masterpiece. I’ll be very surprised if it isn’t in our December round-up of top ten books of 2017. Set during the American Civil War and deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices - living and dead, historical and fictional - it tells a fantastical story in which President Lincoln’s son dies and finds himself trapped in a transitional realm where a monumental struggle rages over his soul. You definitely need to read this book so pre-order now in order to get started at the earliest possible moment!
Larchfield – Polly Clark
A beautiful debut novel about a woman's struggle with isolation and sanity woven into the story of the poet W. H. Auden. It’s about bravery, loneliness and survival and was inspired by the author’s own plight when she moved to Helensburgh in Scotland and found a connection with Auden that was to change her life.
Spaceman of Bohemia - Jaroslav Kalfar
Another great debut, another stunning cover. This is the story of Czech astronaut Jakub, the hope of his country despite his family’s dark political past, as he launches into space to investigate a mysterious dust cloud covering Venus. But as he gets further away from Earth and human contact, it looks as if he may also be losing his mind… but is he? I can guarantee you won’t read another book like it this year – or any other.
Birdcage Walk – Helen Dunmore
I can’t wait to read this novel about the French Revolution from an author whose ability to convey the impact of major historical events on both the personal and grand scale is unparalleled. It’s on the top of my pile!
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
The author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist returns with a story about love, war and a world in crisis as Nadia and Saeed flee a collapsing city and seek a new start.
The Patriots – Sana Krasikov
Another strong debut, The Patriots is both a compelling portrait of the entangled relationship between America and Russia, and a beautifully crafted story of three generations of one family caught between the forces of history and the consequences of past choices.
A Natural – Ross Raisin
An unusual setting for Raisin’s latest: a professional football club and a life that footballer Tom did not expect: pressure, loneliness, the threat of scandal, the fragility of the body and the struggle, on and off the pitch, to be the person that everyone else expects you to be.
The Witchfinders’ Sister – Beth Underdown
I have a soft spot for stories of witchcraft and the notorious 17th-century witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, and this promises to be a cracker. I’ve been advised to read it in a well-lit room and with someone there for company, so am expecting a dark and nasty tale. Bring it on!
The Song Rising – Samantha Shannon
Any wait is too long for Shannon fans, but here it is, the hotly anticipated third book in the bestselling dystopian fantasy Bone Season series. Out 7th March, so not much longer to wait!
The Blood Miracles – Lisa McInerney
McInerney’s Baileys Prize-winning debut The Glorious Heresies was a triumph. I loved the story she told and the way she told it, so can’t wait to read her new novel, also set in Ireland, and featuring the shady exploits of twenty-year-old Ryan Cusack. I can’t wait!
The Witchwood Crown – Tad Williams
Much excitement on social media about this eagerly awaited sequel to one of the best loved fantasy epics of all time. Williams continues the story of Simon, servant boy made king, and his queen, Miriamele, 30 years after the events of the concluding part of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley – Hannah Tinti
As you might imagine, my must-read pile is now teetering dangerously but I had to make room for this debut, described enticingly by Ann Patchett as ‘One part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade’. Who could resist? And the publishers say it will appeal to fans of The Sisters Brothers or The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. I’m positively salivating.
Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
Author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even the Dogs, Jon McGregor’s pedigree is impeccable. This tells the story of many lives haunted by one family's loss, as a teenage girl goes missing while on holiday.
White Tears – Hari Kunzru
Set in New York, where two ambitious young musicians are drawn into a dark underworld, haunted by the ghosts of a repressive past. This is a ghost story and a love story, a story about lost innocence and historical guilt.
Paula Hawkins – Into the Water
The Girl on theTrain.
Need I say more?!
Spoils – Brian Van Reet
A bold and unusual premise for this fast-paced, hard-hitting account of eight weeks in the lives of a female soldier and her jihadist captor, which forces us to reconsider the simplistic narratives of war spun by those in power.
The Ice – Laline Paull
Set entirely in a beehive, Paull’s debut The Bees was a much-loved, word-of-mouth bestseller when it was published in 2014 and it went on to be shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Fiction. In this one, as the melting ice of the Midgard glacier expels a frozen corpse into the Barents Sea, long-submerged secrets threaten to come to light… Another must-read.
See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt
This is a compelling debut, a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders.
Crimes of the Father – Thomas Keneally
Keneally’s publishers are really excited about his new book, which is about the Catholic Church's attempts to cover up cases of child abuse, and a priest who decides help its innocent victims' fight to be heard. Before becoming a writer, Keneally was ordained as a deacon but left the seminary where he trained without being ordained to the priesthood so it could be quite an eye-opener.
The End We Start from - Megan Hunter
A dystopic novel in which, In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, and as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety in a world that seems no longer to offer any place of safety.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman – debut
I’m really looking forward to this debut in which the titular Eleanor is forced reluctantly out of her safe and orderly existence and into the real world.
Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati Roy
Nothing to see yet for this monumental new novel, which comes 20 years after Roy's debut, the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, but we're told to expect a sweeping, all-encompassing tale of outcasts and misfits, suffering and the triumphs of the human heart.