The best books of the year 2021 – BBC

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From award-winning fiction to moving memoir, here are BBC Culture’s top reading picks of 2021.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Following two acclaimed, heavyweight (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) novels, 2016’s The Underground Railroad, made into a TV series this year, and 2019’s The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead’s latest is a crime caper, set partly against the backdrop of race riots in 1960s Harlem. Its protagonist is Ray Carney, a young furniture-seller caught up in a jewel heist. London’s Evening Standard praised the novel’s entertainment value, writing, “A more purely enjoyable novel is unlikely to emerge this year.” Harlem Shuffle also subverts the crime genre to explore ideas of property and theft, The Atlantic writes, “to expose the hypocrisies of the justice system, the false moral dictates set by capitalism, and the very fact that America itself was born of a theft that we are all complicit in.” (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

In the Booker Prize-shortlisted A Passage North the narrator looks back at a lost love affair, and reflects on the mysterious death of his grandmother’s carer, who had lost her young sons in the Sri Lankan civil war. Booker judge Horatia Harrod describes how the author “turns his poetic sensibility and profound, meticulous attentiveness to the business of living in the aftermath of trauma”. She adds: “In hypnotic, incantatory style, Arudpragasam considers how we can find our way in the present while also reckoning with the past.” The New York Times praises the novelist’s “sentences of unusual beauty and clarity,” adding that he is “gifted at atmospheric, sensory description that transports the reader.” (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout

The third instalment in Strout’s popular “Amgash” series, Oh William! finds the 63-year-old, newly-widowed writer Lucy Barton reconnecting with her first husband, with whom she shares two daughters. Through the novel’s time-switching narrative, confessional asides and spare prose, Strout explores the nature of William and Lucy’s bond, and much more besides, with “quiet virtuosity”, writes The Guardian. “The intense pleasure of Strout’s writing becomes the simple joy of learning more while – always – understanding less”. (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed                                                              

The novel The Fortune Men explores a real-life case of a seaman, Mahmood Mattan, from British Somaliland – living in Wales – who was wrongfully convicted of murder, and then executed. Set in the multiracial community of 1950s Tiger Bay, Cardiff, the novel has been praised for evoking the past while also highlighting present-day injustice. The Guardian says: “In her determined, nuanced and compassionate exposure of injustice, Mohamed gives the terrible story of Mattan’s life and death meaning and dignity”. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and judge Maya Jasanoff describes the book as “exhilaratingly global”, adding: “Grippingly-paced, and full of complex, richly-drawn characters, the novel combines pointed social observation with a deep empathetic sensibility.” (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

This is the second time Tóibín has fashioned a novel out of a celebrated author’s life – his first, in 2004, was The Master, inspired by Henry James. With The Magician, Tóibín turns to the great German writer Thomas Mann, whose works include Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice. The New York Times called Tóibín’s sweeping biographical tome “a symphonic and moving novel” that brings the rather austere author to vivid life, exploring his closeted sexual desires (he was married with six children but desired men) and a life lived in exile from Hitler’s Germany. “In a quietly epic tale,” the i writes, “Tóibín expertly captures the layers of a richly multiple self and surely reasserts his own status as one of our greatest living novelists.” (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

At the age of 51, twins Jeanie and Julius still live with their mother Dot in isolated, rural poverty. Self-sufficient in their own small world, they have created a sanctuary of sorts. But when their mother dies suddenly, threats to the twins’ livelihood emerge as the outside world starts to encroach on their seclusion, and a lifetime of secrets unravels. Fuller’s “impressive” novel is full of a “fierce, angry energy” says The Guardian. Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Unsettled Ground is “her strongest yet,” according to The Times. “A powerful, beautiful novel that shows us our land as it really is: a place of shelter and cruelty, innocence and experience.” (LB)

(Credit: Penguin)

(Credit: Penguin)

The Inseparables by Simone de Beauvoir

The Inseparables is not exactly new, but a newly-discovered short novel from the iconic French feminist existentialist. It was published in English for the first time this year (it came out in France in 2020), nearly 60 years after de Beauvoir mentioned it in her 1963 memoir, Force of Circumstance. Its central narrative – on the relationship between two young girls – was drawn from de Beauvoir’s own life (inspired by and in tribute to her great friend Élisabeth Lacoin or “Zaza”, who died when she was 21) and has drawn comparisons with the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante. Billed as “too intimate” to be published in her lifetime, in The Inseparables, writes The New Yorker, “the distinction between friends and lovers, straight love and queer love, pales before the difference between loving a friend who is alive and one who is dead.” The FT writes: “More than an elegy to lost friendship, The Inseparables is a ravishing work of art.” (RL)

(Credit: Penguin)

(Credit: Penguin)

How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

Cherie Jones’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and is set on Baxter’s Beach, Barbados. As a child, protagonist Lala has been told the story of the one-armed sister – a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers. As an adult she lives with her husband Adan, and the story explores the aftermath of two mysterious crimes. Themes of class, loss, domestic violence and the legacy of trauma are undercurrents throughout. “Dazzling,” says the New York Times Book Review. “In Jones’s capable hands, tension builds without diversion.” The Washington Post says: “The novel’s a stunner. Jones’s prose is supple, often luxuriant, but the structure of her novel is even more impressive… Here’s the launch of a stellar literary career.” (LB)

(Credit: Little Brown)

(Credit: Little Brown)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

In the follow-up to her last two highly acclaimed novels, Irish author Sally Rooney explores friendship, art, the price of fame and the meaning of life – all through the stories of two couples. The Irish Times says: “Written with immense skill and illuminated by an endlessly incisive intelligence.” Beautiful World, Where Are You is “a tour de force”, says Anne Enright in the Guardian, and readers will relish the “ache and uncertainty of her characters’ coming of age.” The dialogue never falters, according to Enright, and the prose is “so clean, it reflects the readers’ prejudices right back at them.” (LB)

(Credit: Macmillan)

(Credit: Macmillan)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr follows up his 2014 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winner, All the Light We Cannot See, with this ambitious, epic novel. Spanning centuries and continents, it weaves in excerpts from a fictional ancient Greek text, the “Cloud Cuckoo Land” of the title, taking in the history and future of mankind and climate change along the way. It is above all, writes The Guardian, “a tribute to the magic of reading,” which The New York Times called: “a wildly inventive novel that teems with life, straddles an enormous range of experience and learning, and embodies the storytelling gifts that it celebrates.” (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Palmares by Gayl Jones

When her early novels were published, Gayl Jones was widely hailed by the likes of John Updike and James Baldwin. Then she went quiet. Now Jones’s fifth novel – and her first in 22 years – has been published. Set in the late 1600s, it explores the re-enslavement of the last settlement of free black people in Brazil, and is also the story of one woman’s quest, told in retrospect by narrator Almeyda. The story “moves to rhythms long forgotten,” says the New York Times. It “chants in incantations highly forbidden. It is a story woven with extraordinary complexity, depth and skill.” The Atlantic says: “With monumental sweep, it blends psychological acuity and linguistic invention.” Gayl Jones “has set out to convey racial struggle in its deep-seated and disorientating complexity – Jones sees the whole where most only see pieces.” (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa

Latin American novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the Nobel among other prizes, and his latest book Harsh Times continues in the political vein of his previous work. Set mostly in Guatemala, it tells the story of the coup and the years of dictatorship that followed. The Scotsman says: “This is a splendidly rich and absorbing novel. It tells remarkable stories and it is, unlike much that may be classed as historical fiction, politically serious.” According to the Guardian, Vargas Llosa’s novel is “replete with his deep human sensibility”. Harsh Times, it says, “swarms with life and a determination to tunnel down into the underlying truth of humanity”. (LB)

(Credit: Macmillan)

(Credit: Macmillan)

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

This unconventional biography of George Orwell is the latest from the essayist, author and activist Solnit, whose works include Men Explain Things to Me, Wanderlust and Recollections of My Non-Existence. Using some roses that Orwell planted in the garden of a house in Wallington, Hertfordshire in 1936 as a jumping off point, Solnit presents a complex portrait of Orwell the man, taking the reader down multiple paths that explore history, politics and environmentalism. Harpers called it “a captivating account of Orwell as gardener, lover, parent, and endlessly curious thinker,” while The New York Times writes that Solnit creates a frame “large enough to contain life’s contradictions in a way that only the essay, that humble literary mouthpiece, can.” (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In her memoir, musician and author Michelle Zauner recounts the loss of her mother and how she forged a new identity. The book started life as an essay in The New Yorker and was widely praised for its depiction of grief and growing up Korean-American. Touching on themes including endurance, family, mother-daughter relationships and the comfort of food, Crying in H Mart is described by The Observer as “a vibrant, soulful memoir that binds her own belated coming-of-age with her mother’s untimely death”. The Chicago Review of Books describes the memoir as “exquisitely detailed and wonderfully layered, both episodic in its individual essays and continuous in its exploration of grief”. (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Set in suburban Chicago in December 1971, Franzen’s Crossroads is the first of a planned trilogy, and explores the lives of the Hildebrandt family members – Russ, the associate pastor of a liberal church, his depressed wife Marion, and their three teenaged children. Franzen’s novels are admired for their vivid characters and their clear-eyed take on the complexities of US life, and this novel is no exception. “Crossroads is classic Franzen fodder,” says The New Yorker.  “A slice of suburban life ripe not for satire but for the far deadlier scrutiny that comes from taking it seriously.” iNews describes Franzen’s latest as “his best book yet,” and adds: “How thrilling to be reminded that the novel can absorb and reward us like no other narrative art form, and how moving to see a writer reach such staggering new heights.” (LB)

(Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

(Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Harris’s debut novel – about two young black women working in the all-white office of an upmarket US publishing house – became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published in June. The Other Black Girl is a fast-paced, gripping read that mixes horror and satire with sci-fi and biting social commentary, and has been described as “Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada” by Cosmopolitan, “imaginative and audacious” by the Guardian and “an engrossing contemplation of the gap between success and authenticity” by the FT. Hulu is adapting the book, with Harris on board as co-writer. (RL)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

(Credit: Simon and Schuster)

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

In her fiction, award-winning British-Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi playfully reinvents genres and tropes – the realms of magic and the real world frequently merge. Her latest novel Peaces is set on a whimsically ramshackle train, the Lucky Day, and centres around five enigmatic individuals and two pet mongooses. As the complex trajectory of the characters’ interaction gradually moves towards a denouement, secrets are revealed, and a puzzle falls into place. The New York Times said: “Oyeyemi is a master of leaps of thought and inference, of shifty velocity.” While The New Republic says: “Like all of Oyeyemi’s novels, Peaces goes to places in fiction that feel almost impossible.” (LB)

(Credit: Faber)

(Credit: Faber)

The Promise by Damon Galgut

Novelist and playwright Damon Galgut’s latest won the Booker Prize, and centres on the decline of The Swarts – a white South-African family living on a farm outside Pretoria in the 1980s. After the death of the family’s matriarch Rachel, it follows the fortunes of its three children; the “promise” of the title relates to a forsaken vow made to their black servant, Salome and the grim legacy of apartheid. Writing in The Observer, Anthony Cummins predicted Booker Prize-glory for the twice-nominated Galgut, who he described as “heart-swellingly attentive to emotional intensity”, while John Self wrote in The Times: “This is so obviously one of the best novels of the year… a book that answers the question ‘what is a novel for?’ With a simple: ‘This!'” (RL)

(Credit: Europa Editions)

(Credit: Europa Editions)

The Rules of Revelation by Lisa McInerney

Irish author Lisa McInerney won the Women’s Prize for her novel The Glorious Heresies, the first in a trilogy about the criminal underworld of modern-day Cork. Her latest, The Rules of Revelation is the last instalment, and focuses on the habits and philosophical ruminations of drug dealer Ryan Cusack, the son of an alcoholic gangster. The result, says The Spectator is a novel that is “sardonic, sexy, witty, lanky with a winsome smirk, which breaks into a long-stride run for the pure pleasure of it – and it is a pleasure to observe”. The Times also praises the author: “[Lisa McInerney has] high-voltage verve and an acute understanding of Ireland . . . [she is] a richly savage writer and an incisive chronicler of her home country.” (LB)

(Credit: John Murray)

(Credit: John Murray)

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, this New York Times bestseller weaves together the stories of two women living decades and continents apart: Marian Graves, an intrepid pilot whose plane goes missing while she attempts to circle the globe, and Hadley Baxter, a scandal-racked Hollywood actress recently sacked from a Twilight-alike movie franchise, who is drawn to Graves’s story. Great Circle, according to The New York Times, “grasps for and ultimately makes something extraordinary”, while The Guardian found it “moving and surprising at every turn”. (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

In Second Place, the narrator invites a famous artist to use her guest house in the grounds of her family home in the coastal countryside. But as the summer unfolds, his presence begins to interrupt the tranquillity of her household. The novel is a comedic study of gender and privilege, and an exploration of art, relationships and morality. The Guardian describes the novel as “exquisitely cruel”, and Cusk as “our arch chronicler of the nullifying choice between suffocation and explosion”. The New Statesman also praises the novel, comparing it favourably with her previous works: “Second Place feels more exposing than anything Cusk has written in recent years”. (LB)

(Credit: Faber & Faber)

(Credit: Faber & Faber)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy

The third and final instalment of her genre-bending “living autobiography” trilogy, Levy follows Things I Don’t Want to Know and The Cost of Living with another impressive and immersive blend of memoir, cultural analysis and feminist critique. In Real Estate, we find the writer approaching 60, travelling the world, reflecting on her past, the writers who have influenced her, and women’s status in a patriarchal society. The Evening Standard called it “a beautifully-crafted and thought-provoking snapshot of a life,” while the FT described it as “a manifesto for living and writing”. (RL)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke Emezi is the author of three novels, and their latest work, a memoir, is structured as a collection of letters addressed to friends and family – both biological and chosen – and fellow writers. The gradual unfolding of identity is at its centre, as the writer describes the experience of a non-binary life lived in parallel realities. The New York Times describes it as “an audacious sojourn through the terror and beauty of refusing to explain yourself”. The memoir is “not for the faint-hearted” and has “gruesome” moments, says The Washington Post. There is a “pretentiousness” and “arrogance” about the book, but ultimately, says the Post, “Emezi delivers a sharp, raw, propulsive and always honest account of the trials they endure as a person ‘categorised as other’.” (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

In this new work of non-fiction, subtitled A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, the poet, scholar and Atlantic staff writer Smith visits nine key sites linked with the legacy of slavery in the US, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia to Angola, a Louisiana penitentiary and former plantation where inmates work the land for next-to-no payment. Blending academic research with a vast array of in-person interviews, Smith’s sweeping survey is “a reckoning with reckonings” and “an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves,” wrote the New York Times. “The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real,” wrote NPR. (RL)

(Credit: Little, Brown and Company)

(Credit: Little, Brown and Company)

Rememberings by Sinéad O’Connor

“A tremendous catalogue of female misbehaviour,” is how The Guardian describes Irish musical artist Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir Rememberings. “The writing is spare and conversational, and reveals O’Connor as self-deprecating, pragmatic and a sharp observer… It is full of heart, humour and remarkable generosity.” In an episodic style, O’Connor candidly recounts her brutal childhood, rise to fame, and her experience of motherhood and mental health struggles. The New York Times said: “The naked and fearless emotions that made Sinead O’Connor such a riveting artist, shine through her words and self-awareness… in the end, she emerges as a survivor.” (LB)

Mariner Books

Mariner Books

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

George Saunders, the acclaimed US novelist, short story writer and Booker prize-winning author of 2017’s Lincoln in the Bardo, has been teaching creative writing at Syracuse University for the past 20 years. A condensation of Saunders’ course on the 19th-Century Russian short-story in translation, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain takes the reader through seven stories by Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol and Turgenev with a line-by-line analysis that is part writing seminar, part humorous and optimistic life philosophy. If that sounds like hard work, it’s anything but. Vanity Fair describes the book as “generous, funny, and stunningly perceptive,” while The Telegraph calls it “enormous fun to read”. (RL)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The acclaimed Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro’s eighth novel – and his first since being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. The narrator is Klara, an “Artificial Friend” who observes the world around her with an android mix of intelligence and naivety. When she is chosen by a family to live with them, she must adjust her thinking – and the novel’s underlying theme of what it means to love is explored. The Observer says: “Ishiguro has written another masterpiece, a work that makes us feel afresh the beauty and fragility of our humanity”. (LB)

Klara andsun crop

Klara andsun crop

Luster by Raven Leilani

The strange relationship between Edie, a struggling 23-year-old black artist, and a middle-aged white couple she moves in with is the focus of Luster, the striking debut novel from US writer Raven Leilani – released in the US in 2020, and in the UK in 2021. Described by The New Yorker as “a highly pleasurable interrogation of pleasure,” Leilani skewers 21st-Century sexual, racial and office politics with a dry, dark and frequently absurd comic style. “Leilani’s prose mesmerises; you go with her, wherever she decides to take you,” says the Guardian, while Zadie Smith, Leilani’s former tutor at NYU, calls Luster “brutal – and brilliant”. (RL)

(Credit: Picador)

(Credit: Picador)

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Aftershocks: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Identity tells the true story of Owusu’s peripatetic upbringing, as she moves across the globe – to Tanzania, England, Italy, Ethiopia and Uganda among others – with her diplomat father. The narrative sweeps forward and back in time, and the thematic structure echoes an earthquake, as each upheaval forces the ground beneath her to shudder. The New York Times calls it “a gorgeous and unsettling memoir”. (LB)

(Credit: Sceptre)

(Credit: Sceptre)

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion

Twelve pieces written between 1968 and 2000 by one of America’s most revered and influential writers are brought together here for the first time. They include descriptions of trips to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon castle and a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas, along with essays on Ernest Hemingway, Nancy Reagan and the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The volume also includes Didion’s iconic 1975 Berkeley lecture ‘Why I write’, in which she explained: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means”. This new collection, according to Vox, “works like a skeleton key to unlock Didion’s continued significance in American culture.” (RL)

(Credit: Knopf)

(Credit: Knopf)

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Nominated for the Women’s Prize, Destransition, Baby tells the story of Reese, a 34-year-old trans woman who longs to be a mother, her ex-partner Amy – who has detransitioned and become Ames – and Ames’s boss and girlfriend Katrina, who he has impregnated. The evolving dynamics between the three are explored as they ponder the idea of raising a baby as a trio. London’s Evening Standard praises the book’s “irreverent, zeitgeist-nailing quality”, and describes it as “an exuberant novel of ideas, desire and life’s messy ironies”. (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr

Situated on an antebellum Mississippi plantation known as “Empty”, Robert Jones Jr’s debut centres on a group of enslaved people and slave owners, their stories interwoven with voices from the past. At its heart is a queer love story between Isaiah and Samuel that, according to the New York Times, is its “most tender and stunning achievement”. In both its form and content, The Prophets is reminiscent of and inspired by the work of Toni Morrison, its narrative reaching back and forth, as The Guardian writes, “wedded to its period but also of our times, exploring the pressing questions that have plagued America since its founding”. (RL)

(Credit: Riverrun)

(Credit: Riverrun)

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s modern meditation is a genre-defying book that asks the question “is there life after the internet?”. A woman who has become well-known for her social-media posts attempts to negotiate the new language of what she calls “the portal”, and becomes increasingly overwhelmed. When real life comes crashing into her world, questions about love and human connection are raised. The New York Times Book Review describes it as “a book that reads like a prose poem, at once sublime, profane, intimate, philosophical, witty and, eventually, deeply moving”. (LB)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

(Credit: Penguin Random House)

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

In his third novel, US writer Rumaan Alam conjures up an apocalyptic novel with a twist, subverting genre expectations by never revealing the true nature of the disaster that unfolds. We follow a middle-class white family from their Brooklyn home to an idyllic holiday Airbnb on Long Island, whose owners – a rich black couple in their 60s – knock at the door late at night asking to shelter from a cataclysmic event in the city. What follows is a neatly plotted and cuttingly observed drama about race and class, interrogating how people really act in a crisis. Published in the US in 2020, and in the UK earlier this year, Leave the World Behind, described as “enthralling” by The New Yorker, could not be more relevant, creating, says The Irish Times, “an eerily believable world of apocalypse now”. (RL)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

“A delectable exploration of physical and emotional hunger,” is how The Washington Post describes Milk Fed. It tells the story of 24-year-old Rachel who works for a talent agency and measures out her days in calories consumed, as her mother had taught her growing up. When Rachel meets the overweight Miriam her desires both spiritual and sexual come to the fore. As The Washington Post puts it: “Broder’s second novel combines her singular style with adventures of the calorie-and-climax-filled kind, sumptuous fillings surrounded by perfectly baked plot.” (LB)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

(Credit: Bloomsbury)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

With his debut Open Water – ostensibly a love story between a young photographer and a dancer – Azumah Nelson uses his central romance to explore themes of race, class and London life, while taking risks with form (the narrative is in the second-person, neither central character is named). It’s a celebration of black artistic excellence, weaving in the photography of Roy DeCarava, Barry Jenkins, Solange and Kendrick Lamar; Zadie Smith even makes a cameo. It is described as a “bracing and nuanced exploration of black masculinity” by the i newspaper, while The Guardian praises Azumah Nelson’s “elegance of style” and “exciting ambition”. (RL)

(Credit: Penguin)

(Credit: Penguin)

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

In 10 short stories set in contemporary China, Te-Ping Chen evokes the lives of various characters, from an anti-government blogger and her twin brother, a competitive gamer, to a call-centre worker and a young woman thwarted in her real ambition and working as a florist. The stories mix sharp social observation with magical realism. The LA Times describes the debut story collection as “wildly inventive” and “elegant”. Chen’s stories are “magistic and elemental, a reflection on how we all live, no matter where we live. The logic of her observations can be terrifying”. (LB)

(Credit: Scribner)

(Credit: Scribner)

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

“Unceasingly cynical and compulsively readable” is how the Irish Times describes Fake Accounts, a debut novel by Lauren Oyler that explores themes of identity and authenticity in the internet age. The nameless narrator discovers that her boyfriend is an anonymous internet conspiracy theorist, the first in a series of twists that depict how truth can be shaped by lies. She flees to Berlin and embarks on her own manipulations and deceptions. It is, says The Guardian “a dark comedy about a dark time, and a prismatically intelligent work of art”. (LB)

 

(Credit: 4th Estate)

(Credit: 4th Estate)

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