This is my end of year report, looking back at the 10 titles I had eagerly anticipated last year and seeing how many of them I actually got around to reading as well as picking ten more choices for 2021. I managed three out of the ten in 2019, four of ten the year before, let’s see how I did in 2020.
Swimming In The Dark – Tomasz Jedrowski (Bloomsbury) – I read this pre-publication in January and rated it four stars. I found it “an impressively written tale of the relationship between two young men set in Poland during the late 70’s/early 80’s at a time of great unrest.” A strong debut novel which attracted good reviews.
Here We Are – Graham Swift (Scribner)- I didn’t get around to this one but I’m still fascinated by its late 1950’s Brighton Pier setting so I am looking forward to giving it a go.
Actress – Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)- There’s been reservations on this at the libraries I work in since publication so will either wait for the excitement to calm down or for the paperback. I said of it: “This sounds just the sort of book that makes it into my end of year Top 10.” Perhaps it will in 2021.
Animals Of Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey (Mantle)- A debut which I read just before it was published in March. My response was a bit more muted than I was expecting and I gave it three stars. A World War II set country house novel with a touch of the supernatural. I said I “was involved throughout and enjoyed the turns of the plot but it never managed to crank up to the higher gear which would have made this more memorable. “
The Recovery Of Rose Gold – Stephanie Wrobel – (Michael Joseph)- I gave this a five star review in March and it just missed out on a Top 10 placing in my end of year list. I think coming out when it did it was one of the debuts that suffered because of the closure of bookshops because it didn’t make it presence felt over here in the way it was expected pre-publicaction when it was predicted to be one of the biggest selling thrillers of the year. There is still time for the paperback to change things when it appears this February.
Box Hill – Adam Mars-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions) – I got round to this novella in June and rated it four stars. I hadn’t read Adam Mars-Jones before and it was not really what I was expecting; “It is written in a highly endearing chatty style which looks back on events of 1975 from a viewpoint of almost a quarter of a century.” My quibble was about it being so short – I felt it could have worked even better if the plot was fleshed out for greater length. I’m a big believer of quality over quantity but felt here that there was a much longer novel trying to escape.
A Thousand Moons – Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber) A sequel of sorts to Barry’s Costa-winning “Days Without End” . I described it as “far less of an adventure tale but the need for survival and the suffering of injustice are once again present and Winona is a positively vibrant and complex character, who like her adoptive parents challenges stereotypes“. I missed the epic sweep of the first novel and was a little disappointed by it. I rated it three stars.
Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder)- One of the big titles of the year which has featured on many awards list and scooped the 2020 Women’s Prize For Fiction yet is one of the titles I did not get around to. Maggie O’Farrell should be one of the authors I catch up a bit on in 2021, I loved the one book of hers that I have read.
Everyday Magic – Jess Kidd (Canongate) – 2020 was a year for rescheduling, in the publication industry as much as anywhere else. This book was due out in June but has been put back until February, so I have obviously not had a chance to see how this author, who seems to be getting better with each book, fares with her first Junior Fiction publication.
Piranesi – Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)- Details of this book were a bit vague in January, unsurprisingly as it was not due until September. It attracted good publicity when it arrived probably because of the sixteen year gap between this and Clarke’s outstanding “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”. I’m not actually sure how much this book will appeal for me despite it being shortlisted for Best Novel at The Costas and on many end of year lists, but I am still prepared to give it a go.
That’s five out of the ten read which is a pretty good result for me. Here are ten more titles which have attracted my attention pre-publication and I will certainly be looking out for in 2021.
Memorial – Bryan Washington (Atlantic Books) (due out on 7th Jan). This American author’s collection of short stories was the Dylan Thomas Prize winner, a big favourite of Barack Obama and made me feel a bit warmer towards the short story format than I normally do. I have high hopes for his debut novel which is about a male couple, one black, one of Japanese heritage whose relationship is tested when one’s mother flies in from Japan to stay at the same time he goes off back to spend time with his estranged, very sick father in Osaka. The Times has said; “Funny and moving… Memorial confirms Washington as a writer not just to watch, but to read now“. Sounds good to me.
The Prophets – Robert Jones Jnr (riverrun books) (due out on 5th Jan). Another debut which has attracted a lot of pre-publication praise. A historical novel , it is apparently a rich evocation of the Deep South plantations with a bond between two slaves leading to suspicion and tragedy. Comparisons are being made to Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Writer Marlon James describes it as “Epic in scale, intimate in its force, and lyrical in its beauty. The Prophets shakes right down to the bone what the American novel is, should do and can be.”
Girl In The Walls – A J Gnuse (4th Estate) (due out on 4th March) – Another debut, we are promised here a Gothic, spooky house novel which “plays equally well as sinister thriller and poignant meditation”. Gnuse (a man) lives in Texas and comparisons are being made to Shirley Jackson, I love a bit of Gothic, if well-done and hopefully this will live up to expectations.
Lamplighters – Emma Stonex (Picador) (due out on 4th March)- After what was a difficult year for debut authors it is great to see publishers are still green-lighting first works as this is another debut novel I am spotlighting (appropriate) here. (Although Stonex has published novels under a pseudonym, this is her first in her own name). More atmospheric mystery in a tale of disappearing Cornish lighthouse keepers in 1972. We are promised a gripping page-turner and I am sure we will all welcome a bit of that come March.
Hot Stew – Fiona Mozley (John Murray) (due out 18th March). First time round Mozley was Booker shortlisted for “Elmet” which was my favourite of those I read in line for the 2017 prize. That had a naturalistic, elemental feel but here she has changed direction with a very urban novel centred on a Soho novel. It is described as “rumbustious” which her first novel certainly wasn’t so this could end up very much further enhancing her reputation.
Many Different Kinds Of Love – Michael Rosen (Ebury Press) (due out on 18th March) – Regular readers to reviewsrevues.com will know of my great affection for Michael Rosen and we almost lost him in 2020 when he was struck down by coronavirus. Subtitled “a story of life, death and the NHS this is a book of poems, reflections and nurses’ medical diaries. it is said to celebrate “the power of community and the indomitable spirits of the people who keep us well” which sounds like a pretty essential read to me.
Kitchenly 434 – Alan Warner (White Rabbit) (due out 18th March, which is looking like a great day for quality publications) I loved this British author’s “The Sopranos”. It has featured on my Book Of The Year Top 3 on two occasions but amazingly I have never got round to reading anything else by him. This may very well change that. It is about a butler of a rock star and publication blurb suggests it is like “Remains Of The Day with cocaine and amplifiers!”
Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead (Fleet) (due September) – After the stunning “Underground Railroad” and the Pulitzer Prize winning “Nickel Boys” we get a 1960’s New York setting and a lively heist crime.
People Person – Candice Carty-Williams (Trapeze) (due September) – There will be a lot of focus on this book in the early autumn following the critical and commercial breakthrough of “Queenie“. We don’t know much about it yet other than it is about estranged half-siblings coming together.
Diary Of A Suburban Lady – Lucy Mangan (Souvenir) (due October) – I knew she had a novel in her! TV columnist and writer of “Bookworm” the best ever book about children’s fiction will put out her debut novel, described as a comedy, and if it is anything like the rest of her work it will be laugh-out-loud funny, inspired by EM Delafield’s “Diary Of A Provincial Lady.”
There you have it, ten books spread fairly well throughout the year from ten different publishers. Will these big the big titles of the year or will I be revisiting them at the start of 2021 saying “What happened to this one?” In the world of books you never know ………