With a host of dazzling second novels in the offing, plus the return of big hitters such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Jon McGregor, 2021 is shaping up to be a special year
2020 ended up being a decent year for the publishing trade, at least as far as book sales went. Perhaps we also learned to cherish our bookshops and literary festivals – vital elements of our cultural lives whose absence for much of the year was painful to endure. The loss of these forums for discovering new books caused publishers to delay the release of many titles until 2021. So it’s a massive year of fiction ahead, meaning that I’ll concentrate here on books published in the first six months (with a brief nod to autumn titles from Jonathan Franzen, Richard Powers, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead and a new Sebastian Faulks novel, Snow Country (Hutchinson), coming in September). I’ll also leave first novels to the Observer New Review’s superb debut feature.
First up, I’m struck by the fact that two of the best American novels of the year are written by Brits. Tahmima Anam’s The Startup Wife (Canongate, June) is a brilliant and trenchant portrait of hi-tech America’s frat-boy misogyny, and Jonathan Lee is quietly becoming one of the best young novelists on either side of the Atlantic. His fourth book, The Great Mistake (Granta, June), is a sweeping historical novel that is also a gripping mystery. As far as American novels by actual Americans go, there’s We Run the Tides (Atlantic, February) by Vendela Vida, a dreamily evocative story of California, adolescence and grief. Also look out for The Committed (Black Cat, March) by Viet Thanh Nguyen, the lyrical sequel to his Pulitzer-winning debut, The Sympathiser.