Every novel listed here has something interesting, quirky or different about it, something that sets it apart from the other new releases this year. The books in this blog are stand-alone, literary but accessible, and make great gifts for loved ones.
The Answer to Everything by Luke Kennard, Fourth Estate, May 2021
Emily is scarred by two experiences of post-natal depression and wondering what she's doing in a halogen-lit new-build full of other harassed young-ish parents. Glamorous new neighbours Elliott and Alathea distract her for a while, but does she really know either of them? As in Kennard’s first novel, The Transition, a couple is haunted by the possibility of a recurrence of mental ill health and waiting for the other shoe to drop. As women writers are overly criticised for saying that parenthood is stressful and weird and they might have chosen another path, perhaps male writers like Luke Kennard can also contribute that debate with this subtle exploration of a woman’s inner life.
The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam, Canongate, June 2021
When Asha Ray creates an algorithm to give religion-seeking souls the perfect end-of-life ritual (an algorithm largely based on how she imagines her husband’s brain works), she struggles to get it off the ground until her handsome husband Cyrus comes on board reluctantly as charismatic CEO and social-media Messiah. Things are going so well that Asha toys with the idea of writing a manual on how to have it all as the perfect 'start-up wife,' - even if her name isn't down as the founder of their company. But Cyrus, mourning his mother, can’t resist joining forces with death-obsessed Marco of Obit.ly and it all gets a bit Black Mirror.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, June 2021
After winding up a forty-three-day marriage to a coke-loving art dealer, Martha Russell Friel lives with her second husband Patrick in an Oxford cul-de-sac, where she writes a funny food column for Waitrose magazine and does very little else. Martha keeps returning to London and the bohemian house she grew up in on Goldhawk Road, trying to unravel why her mind works differently to everyone else's and why it has been trying to kill her since her teens. A crisis around her fortieth birthday and a doctor who diagnoses her correctly helps Martha to pick up the threads of her life and move on. I loved Martha's family, particularly Patrick, who loves her from first when he first meets her as a teenager, and her sister Ingrid, incorrigible and usually pregnant, who communicates mainly in Drunk Kate Moss and Sad Will Ferrell memes – as you do.
Patience by Victoria Scott, Head of Zeus, August 2021
This promising first novel draws on some of the author's experiences of working in Doha, where she was a journalist, and having a sister with Rett syndrome. Having been to Doha for work too, it was a pleasant surprise for me to find it depicted in a book and to return briefly to those strange days in the desert. I didn't know much about Rett syndrome, having only heard of it briefly in a book by Lisa Jewell, but it was really interesting to find out more about it - and to see the world from mute, Take That-loving Patience's human, sparky and sardonic point of view, as she takes in the antics and dramas around her from the doctors, the nurses and her imperfect but loving family, who want to do the best they can by her and each other.
The Turnout by Megan Abbott, Little, Brown, August 2021
Dara, Charlie and Marie run a ballet school together, where they are preparing for the annual drama of Nutcracker Season. They used to live together in a big house on Sycamore Drive, but Marie has recently left, in her second bid for freedom. Her first trip around Europe only lasted a few months and she's got even less far this time, bedding down in the dance academy. When she sets a fire with an out-of-date space heater and a contractor arrives, dismantling their world as easily as the walls around them, buried secrets start coming to light.