TThe most anticipated, discussed, and accessory novel of the year was Sally Rooney Beautiful world, where are you? (Faber), thrown on a tide of handbags and bucket hats. It is a book about adaptations of adulthood, which plays with interiority and narrative distance as Rooney’s characters consider the purpose of friendship, sex and politics, as well as the difficulties of fame and novel writing. , in a world on fire.
Rooney’s wasn’t the only eagerly awaited new chapter. The magnum opus of Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk Jacob’s books (Fitzcarraldo) finally reached English-speaking readers, in a great translation feat by Jennifer Croft: a dazzling historical overview of both spiritual and scientific enlightenment. In 2021 we also saw the return of Jonathan Franzen, starting a fine 70s family trilogy with Crossing (Fourth power); Kazuo Ishiguro, whose Klara and the sun (Faber) investigates the limits of emotion in the story of a sickly girl and her “artificial friend”; and the acclaimed American author Gayl Jones, whose epic of freed slaves in 17th-century Brazil, Palmares (Virago), has been in the making for decades.
By Pat Barker The women of Troy (Hamish Hamilton) continued her series reclaiming women’s voices in ancient conflict, while Elizabeth Strout revised her heroine Lucy Barton in a mildly comical and emotionally sharp tone. Oh William! (Viking). By Ruth Ozeki The book of form and emptiness (Canongate), her first novel since 2013, shortlisted by Booker, A Tale for the Time Being, is an ironic and metafictional version of pain, attachment and growth. Having traveled to the mind of Henry James in 2004’s The Master, Colm Tóibín created an overview of the life and times of Thomas Mann in The magician (Viking). There was a change of tone for Colson Whitehead, with an effervescent heist novel set in the midst of the civil rights movement, harlem shuffle (Fleet), while French author Maylis de Kerangal considered art and trompe l’oeil with characteristic style in Painting time (MacLehose, translated by Jessica Moore).
Molasses walker (4th Estate), a late flint fable from Alan Garner’s national treasure, is a wonderful distillation of his visionary work. At the other end of the literary spectrum, Anthony Doerr, best known for his Pulitzer-winning bestseller All the Light We Can’t See, returned with a page turn on individual lives caught up in war and conflict, from 15th-century Constantinople to a future spaceship in flight from the dying earth. Land of the cloud cuckoo (4th Estate) is a love letter to books and reading, as well as a chronicle of what has been lost over the centuries and what is at stake in the current climate crisis – sad, hopeful and utterly poignant. . And it was a pleasure to see Irish author Keith Ridgway return to fiction, nearly a decade after Hawthorn & Child, with A shock (Picador), his subtly bizarre stories of interconnected London lives.
Damon Galgut’s first novel in seven years earned him the Booker. A fertile mix of family saga and satire, The promise (Chatto) explores broken vows and poisonous inheritances in a changing South Africa. Some excellent British novels were also listed: Nadifa Mohamed’s expert illumination of real-life racial injustice in the 50s Cardiff culture melting pot, The men of fortune (Viking); Francis Spufford’s in-depth tracing of changing lives in post-war London, Perpetual light (Faber); Sunjeev Sahota’s delicate story about family consequences, Chinese Room (Harvill Secker); and Rachel Cusk’s intrepid and puzzling research on gender politics and creativity, Second place (Faber).
Also on Booker’s list was a fiery tragicomic debut from American author Patricia Lockwood, whose Nobody is talking about this (Bloomsbury) brings his mocking sensibilities and unique style to dealing with wildly disparate subjects: the black hole of social media and the painful wonder of a beloved disabled child. Raven Leilani Gloss (Picador) featured an equally talented stylist – her story of New York’s precarious life is full of lines to savor. Other notable debuts included Natasha Brown. Mounting (Hamish Hamilton), a brilliantly compressed and existentially daring study of a high-ranking black woman negotiating with the British establishment; AK Blakemore’s earthy and exuberant account of 17th century Puritanism, The Witches of Manningtree (Granta); and Tice Cin’s lively new saga on drug smuggling and female resilience in London’s Turkish Cypriot community, Keeping the house (And other stories).
Caleb Azumah Nelson Open water (Viking) is a lyrical love story that celebrates black art, while the first novel by the poet Salena Godden, Mrs. Death misses death (Canongate), is a very contemporary allegory about creativity, injustice and staying afloat in modern Britain. Further afield, two Indians from the nation’s state make their debut in anatomized class, corruption and power: Megha Majumdar A burning (Scribner) in a propellant thriller, and Rahul Raina’s How to kidnap the rich (Little, Brown) in some black comic mischief. Meanwhile, Robin McLean’s Compassion of the beast (And Other Stories), a revenge western with a free spirit, is a gothic delight.
When is love not enough? The word of mouth hit of the summer was Meg Mason Pain and bliss (W&N), a hilarious black comedy of mental anguish and eccentric family life centered on a woman who should have everything to live for. Another deeply enjoyable read, The hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi (W&N, translated by Elena Pala), traces the life of a man through his family relationships. An expansive novel that finds the entire world in an individual, its playful structure makes the narrative a constantly developing surprise.
There was a cooler view of family life in Gwendoline Riley. My ghosts (Granta): This sharp and painfully witty account of a toxic mother-daughter relationship is her best novel yet.
Two collections of debut stories crossed formal and linguistic boundaries. Dark neighborhood Vanessa Onwuemezi (Fitzcarraldo) announced a surreal and inventive new voice, while in English magic (Galley Beggar) Uschi Gatward proved to be a master at leaving things unsaid. Isabel Waidner, whose Sterling karat gold (Peninsula), a carnival cry against repression, won the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction.
Covid-19 will take a while to turn into fiction, but the first responses are already beginning to appear. Sarah Hall’s Burnt coat (Faber) is a courageous exploration of art, love, sex and the ego pressed against the threat of contagion. In Hall’s version of the pandemic, a lonely sculptor who usually expresses herself through monumental works is forced into high-stakes intimacy with a new lover, all the while pitting her sense of her own creativity against the power of the virus.
A fascinating historical rediscovery shed light on the closing borders and growing prejudices of the present day. On The passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (Pushkin, translated by Philip Boehm), written in 1938, a Jewish businessman tries to flee the Nazi regime. The J stamped on his passport ensures that he is met with impassive bureaucratic rejection and cold indifference from his fellow travelers in a tense and growing nightmare that is eternally relevant.
Finally, a novel to get the reader out of the present. Inspired by the life of Marie de France, Matrix by Lauren Groff (Hutchinson Heinemann) is set in a 12th-century English abbey and tells the story of a passionate and awkward teenager, the talented leader she becomes, and the community of women she builds around her. Filled with crisp sensory detail, with an emotional reach that skips through the centuries, it is a balm and food for the brain, heart and soul.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism