Best summer books of 2022: Fiction – Financial Times

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Love Marriage
by Monica Ali, Virago £18.99/Scribner $27.99

It’s nearly 20 years since Ali burst on to the literary scene with her debut Brick Lane. Her latest novel Love Marriage — which follows Yasmin Ghorami and Joe Sangster, a pair of young Londoners, together with their extended families, as they wrestle with matrimony, relationships and the weight of cultural expectation — marks her triumphant return.

Either/Or
by Elif Batuman, Jonathan Cape £16.99/Penguin $27

The sequel to 2017’s The Idiot sees Selin, Batuman’s protagonist (and, in some sense, alter ego), return for her second year at Harvard. The year is 1996, and the winningly hapless Selin is preoccupied by her flourishing sexuality, the conflict inherent in her Turkish-American heritage, and the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or is both an entertaining campus novel and an engaging disquisition on the very nature and purpose of novels.

Glory
by NoViolet Bulawayo, Chatto & Windus £18.99/Viking $27

Bulawayo began writing Glory — a compelling satire about cycles of tyranny — in the aftermath of Robert Mugabe’s overthrow in 2017. Taking direct inspiration from Animal Farm, with the animal citizens of Jidada (a fictionalised Zimbabwe) living in the shadow of the Old Horse, their frail but despotic leader, Glory revels in the absurd but offers a terrifying vision of political disintegration for readers today.

The Chosen
by Elizabeth Lowry, Riverrun £18.99

The Chosen begins with a death — that of Emma, wife of the English novelist Thomas Hardy, in 1912 — but becomes a lyrical meditation on love and literary inspiration. Lowry’s richly evocative novel plunges the reader into Hardy’s day-to-day life at Max Gate, the Dorset house he built for himself, as he rakes over the ashes of his strained marriage and channels his grief into the extraordinary outpouring of creativity that was the “Poems of 1912-13”.

The Perfect Golden Circle
by Benjamin Myers, Bloomsbury £16.99/Melville House $27.99

Summer 1989, and the UK is gripped by crop-circle mania. Myers’ novel — which follows a ragtag pair of folk artists (one of them a Falklands veteran) as they create increasingly elaborate patterns in wheat fields over 10 hot nights — is brilliantly constructed and steeped in rural atmosphere, even if the book itself never quite lives up to its early promise.

Spies in Canaan
by David Park, Bloomsbury £16.99

When Michael Miller, a retired US spy who served in Vietnam during the fall of Saigon, receives a strange package through the post, he is forced to reconsider the manifold grey areas of American foreign policy as well as his own moral righteousness. At less than 200 pages, Spies in Canaan is one of the most powerful and probing novels so far this year.

Our Country Friends
by Gary Shteyngart, Allen & Unwin £14.99/Random House $28

One of the first — and best — lockdown novels, Our Country Friends traps a mismatched group of over-educated and underemployed friends at a mansion in upstate New York during the first wave of Covid-19. Shteyngart leavens his scholarly premise (allusions to Boccaccio and Chekhov abound) with farcical comedy, as rivalries and romantic machinations drive his characters to breaking point.

Young Mungo
by Douglas Stuart, Picador £16.99/Grove Press $27

Winner of the 2020 Booker Prize with his debut Shuggie Bain, Stuart returns with another novel set in the working-class Glasgow of his own youth. Young Mungo — which spins around the impossible romance between two teenage boys, one Protestant, one Catholic — captures a world of suffering and sectarian violence with writing of transcendent beauty.

Fight Night
by Miriam Toews, Faber £14.99/Bloomsbury $24

Swiv, the “one hundred months old” protagonist of Fight Night, is that rare thing: a child narrator who is engaging, convincing and utterly distinctive. Taking the form of a letter Swiv writes to her absent father, Toews’ eighth novel tells of the trauma suffered by three generations of a Toronto-based family. But she is a master at balancing sombre poignancy with wild, effervescent humour — frequently within the same sentence.

To Paradise
by Hanya Yanagihara, Picador £20/Doubleday $32.50

Yanagihara’s epic follow-up to 2015’s A Little Life tackles themes of pandemic, political repression and environmental crisis across three different timeframes and 700 pages in a wildly ambitious journey through the American experience. “Simultaneously thriller-esque and intensely moving,” according to the FT review, To Paradise is “a masterstroke”.

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