I’m not supposed to be buying books again this year. I’ve already bought three. We’re not quite halfway through January. The bodings are heading in the wrong direction.
Today, the Observer newspaper has published its list of debut novelists to look out for. I’m excited by a few of them.
Hold by Michael Donkor ticks lots of boxes for me. I like what he says in his interview about the lack of presence in contemporary African literature of the young women who work as housegirls in affluent African homes. I like the story of how the book evolved and how he struggled at first to get it published.
Mary Lynn Bracht’s White Chrysanthemum grabs me because I enjoyed Pachinko so much, and because the history of the Comfort Women is still far too hidden, despite recent pressure on the Japanese government to acknowledge their existence and the damage done by the Japanese forces occupying Korea during the Second World War. This novel sounds like a brutal but truthful telling of a story that still has repercussions for Korean families today.
A J Pearce had me at Twinkle in her interview. Twinkle was the highlight of my week in my early magazine and comic reading years, too. Although I don’t buy magazines regularly any more, they are still a source of pleasure when I do pick one up to read on my travels, or when I lose myself between the glossy pages of Red or Cosmopolitan at the hairdresser. Woman’s Weekly was my mum’s magazine of choice while People’s Friend was my great aunt Doris’s. I used to enjoy the serialised stories and pieces of short fiction in both magazines growing up. Dear Mrs Bird has the Woman’s Friend at its centre, a magazine that ceased to exist before I was born, and it sounds like a fun read.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar interests me because its genesis is in a museum object and I’m interested in how fictional accounts of an object’s history can supplement the story telling curators present on gallery. We worked with an artist a couple of years ago who imagined a conversation between two objects in the museum collection. Facts influenced the performance piece she created, but it was mainly a flight of imagination. The setting of Gowar’s book is one of my favourites for historical fiction.
Finally off this list, The Lido by Libby Page sounds wonderful. I love the themes of community, intergenerational friendship and social action that Page has focused on. As someone who has moved around a lot for work, building new friendships in each place that I’ve lived, the things Page says in her interview about finding your community resonate with me, particularly when she talks about twenty-something loneliness and anxiety, something that I experienced when I moved to Plymouth for my first professional job. Loneliness is a subject that has come up a couple of times for me recently, in the focus of The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman, in my personal response to Tom Cox’s book and in conversation with my therapist. Life often is lonely, and how we choose to respond to it determines how it affects our lives and well being.
There will be other debut novels this year, and more lists that push them in front of me to tempt me away from the books teetering on my To Read pile, but these will do for now.
Which debut novels are you looking forward to this year?