On the Tenth Day of Christmas, we post our annual look ahead to the exciting new books coming out in 2020. Some of these we’ve peeked inside the pages of, others are a whisper on the wind of publishing schedules but in any case, there are a great many good books ahead.
Though it has no entry here, we’ve assumed that all readers will be discovering Grasmere: A History in 55½ Buildings (pub. Dec 2019), at some point in 2020.
Samantha Harvey, THE SHAPELESS UNEASE: A YEAR OF NOT SLEEPING (Jonathan Cape)
Harvey’s Somerset-set novel The Western Wind was a real reading highlight, so we’re looking forward to this foray into non-fiction. A memoir about the author’s insomnia, the book recounts how ‘extreme sleep deprivation resulted in a raw clarity about life itself.’
Francine Toon, PINE (Doubleday)
An eery, Scottish ghost story for the darkened nights, this is a highly rewarding read. Pine is Francine Toon’s debut novel, with the compelling plot centring on disappearances from an isolated highland community.
Francesca Wade, SQUARE HAUNTING (Faber)
A fascinating new group biography of figures who all lived in Mecklenburgh Square, London between the first and the second world war… mystery writer Dorothy L Sayers, modernist poet H D, feminist historian Eileen Power, scholar Jane Harrison, and writer Virginia Woolf.
Doris Langley Moore, NOT AT HOME (Dean Street Press)
Fashion-historian, biographer, self-help writer and novelist Doris Langley Moore is one of the many twentieth-century writers being reissued in the Furrowed Middlebrow series at Dean Street Press. Not At Home, first published in 1948, promises a story of London after the second world war, when returning residents mean that an ensuing housing shortage ‘creates strange bedfellows.’
Stefan Collini, THE NOSTALGIC IMAGINATION: HISTORY IN ENGLISH CRITICISM (Oxford)
Collini’s writing is always a treat, being that rare mixture of readability and research. This new book, based on a series of lectures at Oxford, traces the historical assumptions surrounding twentieth-century English literary criticism.
Emma Jane Unsworth, ADULTS (Borough Press)
Pitched as ‘a satire on our age of self-promotion’, Unsworth’s new novel is hilarious. Her previous novel Animals was adapted for screen in 2019.
Tanya Talaga, ALL OUR RELATIONS (Scribe)
Talaga’s 2018 CBC Massey Lectures are now available for a UK audience. This is an important discussion of youth suicide amongst First Nations communities and Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond.
Sylvia Townsend Warner, OF CATS AND ELFINS (Handheld)
A follow-up to the republication of Kingdoms of Elfin in autumn 2018, this volume contains the rest of the Elfin stories, and more of Townsend Warner’s fantasy work including the forgotten tales of The Cat’s Cradle Book (first published in 1940). For any who loved Lolly Willowes (now a Virago Modern Classic) and who might like well-written cat/fantasy fiction crossover.
Katherine May, WINTERING (Rider & Co)
May’s new book is a personal memoir of the winter months, reflecting on family illness, life changes and experiences of nature. The personal is set in the context of how others ’have themselves wintered in extreme ways’. Considering life cycles and the role of hibernation, this promises to be a popular read for those looking for vibrant life-writing.
Michael Christie, GREENWOOD (Scribe)
Structured as a cross-section of the lives of generations of the Greenwood family and mirroring a cross-section of the rings of a tree, Christie’s novel addresses global ecological concerns and family. Set in British Columbia, Christie’s novel was longlisted for Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2019.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave, THE MERCIES (Picador)
Hargrave’s first book for adults, The Mercies, is set in seventeenth-century Norway. The sudden death at sea of an island’s men leaves an island of women. Time passes and the community regroups but all this changes when a sinister Scottish visitor brings ominous ideas. Based on real historical events, the novel tackles witchcraft, colonisation and indigenous presence in Scandinavia.
Graham Swift, HERE WE ARE (Simon and Schuster)
The summer season on Brighton pier in 1959 and there are physical and emotional acrobatics afoot. The first new Swift novel since 2016’s Mothering Sunday.
Lennie Goodings, A BITE OF THE APPLE (Oxford)
Canadian-born Goodings moved to the UK in 1978 and began work for the then five-year old publishing firm Virago. A life in feminist publishing followed. This is described as part-memoir, part history of Virago, and should be vital reading for anyone interested in how some of the last forty years’ biggest books have come to print.
Naomi Ishiguro, ESCAPE ROUTES (Little Brown)
A debut short-story collection with puzzling, fantastic happenings and all-too human feelings. Ishiguro is a former bookseller at Mr B’s in Bath so we were automatically interested, but early reading has borne our interest out!
Jean Sprackland, THESE SILENT MANSIONS (Jonathan Cape)
A poet’s meditation on the realm of graveyards, Sprackland confesses to seeking solace in these places wherever she has lived. Here Sprackland investigates the profound role these spaces continue to play in our lives.
Heather Christle, THE CRYING BOOK (Corsair)
A fragmentary and startling book that has its seed in an idea to map every time Christle has ever cried. Part-memoir, part investigation into representations and perceptions of emotion in public and private, it is poetic and powerful.
Guinevere Glasfurd, THE YEAR WITHOUT SUMMER (Two Roads)
A historical novel, set in the famous year of 1816 when the impact of the explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815 meant that the northern hemisphere was hit by dark, wet and wild conditions. That summer would also birth Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Here Glasfurd weaves together six lives, amongst them Mary Shelley and John Constable (bonus East Anglian content with huge potential for the East Anglian Book Awards), all impacted by the peculiar times.
Jenny Offill, WEATHER (Granta)
Offill’s follow-up to her highly regarded novel The Dept. of Speculation (2014), Weather promises to be a provocative and funny novel. Trading off the idea that we increasingly live in a polarised world, Offil’s book imagines a therapist tasked with consoling the heightened anxieties of both poles.
Lucy Jones, LOSING EDEN: WHY OUR MINDS NEED THE WILD (Allen Lane)
Jones’ previous book Foxes Unearthed discussed the relationship between humanity and foxes. Now, Jones turns to the broader wild world to consider humanity’s relationship with nature. Drawing on research and global case studies, Jones asks if enhanced attention to the natural world might prevent ‘a future of ecological grief’.
Andrew Hunter Murray, THE LAST DAY (Hutchinson)
A post-apocalyptic thriller premised on a time when the world has ceased turning, exposing half the globe to darkness and half to sunshine with only the thin band of those living in the ‘twilit region able to survive. Conspiracies abound here too. This is Murray’s debut novel, a man already well known as co-host of the podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, ‘veteran QI elf’ on the TV panel show and writer for Private Eye magazine.
Helen Lewis, DIFFICULT WOMEN: A HISTORY OF FEMINISM IN 11 FIGHTS (Jonathan Cape)
The history of feminism as told by Lewis is a history of difficult women. Provoked by the contemporary wish to tell neat, uplifting or inspirational stories Lewis tries to recoup some of the complexity and imperfection of those who fought for equality.
A.N. Devers, TRAIN (Bloomsbury)
This book is now officially much-much anticipated having also featured in last year’s list (originally this was due out in 2019). The founder of London’s Second Shelf bookshop and corresponding journal, Devers book recalls a personal journey around America and part of Canada on a 30-day rail pass. As part of the Object Lessons series, the book will ruminate on the idea and reality of the train in everyday life.
Sebastian Barry, A THOUSAND MOONS (Faber)
A continuation of the glorious Costa-award winning Days Without End (2016). This is based on the life of Winona, a young Lakota orphan adopted by the previous book’s central protagonists, former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Very exciting.
Samantha Clark, THE CLEARING: A MEMOIR OF ART, FAMILY AND MENTAL HEALTH (Little, Brown)
Clearing a family house in Glasgow leads Clark to consider her own history, and that of her parents – a mother affected by mental illness and a father who retreated into amateur radio and model planes. Considering what we inherit, and how we deal with what we cannot know, Clark’s book comes with a ringing endorsement from Jay Griffiths.
Sylvia Topp, EILEEN: THE MAKING OF GEORGE ORWELL (Unbound)
A biography of George Orwell’s first wife, Eileen, and her role in shaping Orwell’s writing career.
Andrew Ziminski, THE STONEMASON: A HISTORY OF BUILDING (John Murray)
How Britain’s buildings have been built, told by an expert stonemason. Naturally, everyone will want another accessible book about building history following the Grasmere History Group’s own efforts and this sounds like a great one. Ziminski’s expertise and the range of buildings he has worked on sound like the basis of a handy approach to a fascinating subject.
Maggie O’Farrell, HAMNET (Tinder)
We’re massive fans of O’Farrell’s work in Grasmere. Still reeling from her profound and highly readable memoir I Am, I Am, I Am (2017)we’re primed for this new novel with its take on the story behind Shakespeare’s Hamlet, focusing on Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet.
Jane Hirshfield, LEDGER (Bloodaxe)
A new poetry collection from wonderful American poet Hirshfeld, Ledger promises ‘a registry of our time’s and lives’ dilemmas’.
Sarah Leipciger, COMING UP FOR AIR (Doubleday)
Three lives intertwine across time and continents in Leipciger’s new novel. Advance praise from Francis Spufford, Claire Fuller and Carys Bray is persuasive, as is the strong impression that first novel, The Mountain Can Wait, left on us in Grasmere.
Isabel Hardman, THE NATURAL HEALTH SERVICE: WHAT THE GREAT OUTDOORS CAN FOR YOUR MIND (Atlantic)
Hardman’s column in Cumbria Life magazine often demonstrates a unique perspective on the natural world. This book promises a personal look at what the outdoors provides, alongside a well-researched rumination on health and nature.
Emily St. John Mandel, THE GLASS HOTEL (Picador)
Mandel’s last novel, Station Eleven, was one of those rare books which seemed to find favour with so many different readers, regardless of their previous reading interests. The follow-up is pacy and immersive and I can’t wait to get back to it.
Olivia Laing, FUNNY WEATHER: ART IN AN EMERGENCY (Picador)
A collection of essays about the importance of art and culture in our contemporary world. Laing’s The Lonely City was fascinating and this collection, on music, art, reading and writing, has the potential to widen her audience.
Lamorna Ash, DARK SALT CLEAR: LIFE IN A CORNISH FISHING VILLAGE (Bloomsbury)
An insight into the life and history of a Cornish fishing village. Ash’s first book, this is a reflection on nature, work, community life and the overwhelming global context that sees industry and environment under increasing pressure.
Kaouther Adimi, A BOOKSHOP IN ALGIERS (Profile)
A bestseller in France, this bookseller-themed novel sounds like a joy.
C Pam Zhang, HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD (Virago)
Set in a re-imagined American West, this is another highly praised debut novel. Beautifully published by Virago, so high hopes for this…
Erin Gardner, PROCRASTIBAKING (Simon & Schuster)
Arguably a thing many of us already spend a lot of time doing, but it seems Gardner’s book could exponentially expand and improve our baking output.
Victoria James, WINE GIRL (Fleet)
The memoir of an American sommelier who reveals the unsettling toxic environment of American restaurants. Disillusioned and then revived by vineyards, James is now a Michelin-starred restaurateur. This sounds like a, ahem, corking life story.
Mark Doty, WHAT IS THE GRASS (Jonathan Cape)
A memoir and study from the excellent American poet Mark Doty, relating to the life and work of Walt Whitman. Doty’s Whitman-inspired poem ‘What is the Grass’ has always resonated, and we’re hugely excited about this non-fiction work!
Jini Reddy, WANDERLAND: A SEARCH FOR MAGIC IN THE LANDSCAPE (Bloomsbury)
Looking for magic in the landscape, Reddy also considers the life and position of the outsider in the British landscape. Recalling a childhood in Canada and her parents’ struggles in apartheid-era South Africa, this promises to be a new and exciting take on nature writing.
Sarah Gibson, SWIFTS AND US: THE LIFE OF THE BIRD THAT SLEEPS IN THE SKY (William Collins)
The story of a bird that lives almost entirely in the air, Gibson’s book sheds light on the history and current knowledge of this remarkable bird. Working for Shropshire Wildlife Trust, and known for organising local ‘swift walks’ we imagine Gibson’s book will be a big local title for Oswestry’s Booka Bookshop!
Lucy Sullivan, BARKING (Unbound)
Co-commissioned by Kendal’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), Sullivan’s graphic novel Barking is described as a tale of grief, madness and the ghosts that haunt us. Praise from Jeff Lemire and early images are both highly persuasive that this will be excellent.
Will Burns, COUNTRY MUSIC (Offord Road Books)
Burns first full collection follows Faber New Poets 10 (Faber), and 2019’s collaborative Germ Songs with Jess White (Rough Trade). He was a big hit on the Faber New Poets pamphlet tour to Grasmere in 2014 so we’ve been keeping an eager eye out for this one.
Kathryn Scanlan, THE DOMINANT ANIMAL (Daunt Books)
These clever, sharp short stories are being published by the routinely excellent Daunt Books.
James Clarke, HOLLOW IN THE LAND (Profile)
Anything which gains comparison to Jon McGregor and Sarah Hall will perk our attention, and this novel in stories set in the North-West sounds like just our kind of thing…
Julia Copus, CHARLOTTE MEW (Faber)
Faber poet Copus’s long-awaited biography of the poet Charlotte Mew.
Aislinn Hunter, THE CERTAINTIES (Knopf Canada)
Hunter’s The World Before Us (Hamish Hamilton, 2015) was a magical novel, dwelling on a ghostly chorus, literary history and the auratic qualities of everyday objects. Her next novel is high on our wish list, although at present it’s only due to be released in Canada in May 2020.
Julianne Pachico, THE ANTHILL (Faber)
Pachico’s interlinked short stories The Lucky Ones were striking so we expect big things from first novel, The Anthill.
Catherine Lacey, PEW (Granta)
PEW is much anticipated on the basis of Lacey’s previous novel The Answers (2017) and the short story collection Certain American States (2018). Pew is the story of a character who awakes surrounded by strangers and with no idea of their identity or past.
Dima Alzayat, ALLIGATOR AND OTHER STORIES (Picador)
A debut short story collection from Manchester-based Alzayat, promising stories of displacement ‘as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant and as a woman.’
Lily King, WRITERS AND LOVERS (Picador)
If Madeline Miller, Tessa Hadley and Elizabeth Strout like a novel you should probably pay attention.
Emily Cockayne, RUMMAGE: A HISTORY OF THINGS WE HAVE REUSED, RECYCLED AND REFUSED TO LET GO (Profile)
An in-depth study of our history with rubbish heaps, and our attempts to make use of society’s waste and excess. Cockayne promises tales of ‘the fancy ladies of the First World War who turned dog hair into yarn, or the Victorian gentlemen selling pianofortes made from papier-mâché’.
Elisabeth Thomas, CATHERINE HOUSE (Tinder)
A dark, claustrophobic, debut novel about an American college with a difference. Students of Catherine House’s are guaranteed future success but it literally depends upon their dedication to staying within college grounds for the whole of their three years in attendance. Eery or just lots of incredibly well-drilled students?
Sophie Mackintosh, BLUE TICKET (Hamish Hamilton)
The new novel from Booker longlisted Mackintosh, whose first book The Water Cure (2018) cast a spell over many.
Natalie Diaz, POSTCOLONIAL LOVE POEM (Faber)
A UK release for American poet Natalie Diaz’s second collection. Trailed on twitter by Faber here, we’ve heard a lot about Diaz and are keen to get our hands on this.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, THE FIRST WOMAN (Oneworld)
Following Kintu (2018) and last year’s short story collection Manchester Happened (2019), a new novel from Makumbi promises ‘a powerful feminist folktale rooted in Ugandan mythology’.
Lara Feigel, THE GROUP (John Murray)
Feigel’s previous non fiction works on the writings of Doris Lessing and women during world war two have been popular with readers so we’re very much looking forward to a debut novel.
Megan Hunter, THE HARPY (Picador)
The End We Start From (2017) was an amazing, aquatic, post-apocalyptic novel so we, and the general public, have been clamouring for another work from Hunter. The Harpy is her second novel.
Emma Gannon, OLIVE (Harpercollins)
Already a well-respected memoirist and journalist focused on the opportunities of the contemporary moment, Gannon’s debut novel is pitched as a conversation starter. Presumably not, oh you mean you’ve read a different novel with Olive in the title? Despite the potential confusion there are probably worse things than being confused with Elizabeth Strout! Looking forward to reading this.
David Mitchell, UTOPIA AVENUE (Sceptre)
Another man who will forever get mixed up in conversation in bookshops, any new book related to the novelist Mitchell will be well worth a read. Past novels continue to be read, re-read and recommended and with good reason.
Ian Williams, REPRODUCTION (Dialogue)
Poet Williams’ debut novel won Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2019, and his work was also shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards. In 2020 it gets a UK release. Reviews were overwhelmingly great, drawing comparisons to Zadie Smith by way of Toronto.
Amanda Craig, THE GOLDEN RULE (Little, Brown)
Craig’s last novel The Lie of the Land (2017) was comic, cutting and adept at reflecting on contemporary life. We hope for more of that in Craig’s new novel The Golden Rule.
Martin Edwards (editor), HOWDUNIT!: A MASTERCLASS IN THE CRAFT OF CRIME WRITING (Collins Crime Club)
Advice from over eighty crime writers on how to write successful crime and thriller novels, gathered together here by current President of the Detection Club and Lake District favourite Edwards.
Dara McAnulty, DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST (Little Toller)
Made up of diary entries responding to seasonal change and personal challenge, this book captures McAnulty’s developing expertise as a naturalist at the age of fifteen. McAnulty is an inspiration to many both young and old, and we eagerly await his book.
Daisy Johnson, SISTERS (Vintage)
The new novel from Booker shortlisted Johnson, whose Everything Under (2018) was a real hit.
Rebecca Watson, LITTLE SCRATCH (Faber)
Presumably growing out of the story ‘little scratch’ which was shortlisted for the White Review Short Story Prize in 2018 (and online to read here)… this promises an experimental and insightful novel of a day in the life of an unnamed woman. http://www.thewhitereview.org/fiction/a-little-scratch/
Ali Smith, SUMMER (Hamish Hamilton)
The final book in the outstanding seasonal quartet. Smith’s books have been notorious for the compressed turnaround time from page to publication, so expect more evocative response to our current national mood.
Susannah Dickey, TENNIS LESSONS (Transworld)
Poet Dickey’s hugely anticipated debut novel.
Caleb Femi, POOR (Penguin)
Formerly London’s Young People’s Laureate, this is Femi’s debut poetry collection.
Sam Byers, COME JOIN OUR DISEASE (Faber)
Byers’ previous novel Perfidious Albion was a remarkable book in its Black-Mirror-esque satire on contemporary Britain. Expect more zinging politically informed but experimental fiction in this new novel.
Rose Macaulay, POTTERISM (Handheld)
The Rose Macaulay revival continues. Following two Virago Modern Classics, and one novel published by Handheld, two further publications of previously out-of-print Macaulay are planned. Potterism is Macaulay’s 1920s satire on the newspaper industry and should be excellent for both longstanding and new fans of the writer’s work. Also republished by Handheld is a novel and additional anti-war writing collected as Non-Combatants and Others: Writings Against War.
Cathy Rentzenbrink, DEAR READER: THE COMFORT AND JOY OF BOOKS (Picador)
Goddess all things bookish Cathy Rentzenbrink brings us her favourite books, and the significance that reading them had to her. We’re hoping for a whole wing of the book to be dedicated to LM Montgomery, although are still very willing to learn about other writers.
Susanna Clarke, PIRANESI (Bloomsbury)
It’s been a huge fourteen year wait for a new Susanna Clarke book so this is perhaps the epitome of a much-anticipated novel. Strange, magical, alluring and funny, Clarke’s voice is all her own.
Zalika Reid-Benta, FRYING PLANTAIN (Dialogue)
Reid-Benta’s debut novel Frying Plantain depicts Toronto’s Jamaican-Canadian community amidst the multicultural neighbourhood of Eglington-West. Comprised of interconnected stories and garnering strong reviews from Gary Shteyngart and Booker prize winner Paul Beatty, Reid-Benta’s is a lively and original voice.
James Rebanks, ENGLISH PASTORAL (Penguin)
Given that Rebanks first book, The Shepherds Life is by far and away the bestselling item in the shop (besides the local Ordnance Survey map) we’re thrilled that the long-awaited followup will arrive in 2020.
Lissa Evans, V IS VICTORY (Doubleday)
Everything Evans writes is great. Another Evans novel can only be a good thing.
Laura Waddell, EXIT (Bloomsbury)
The first book from the UK Publishing director of Dublin-based Tramp Press. Waddell’s journalism and criticism has always been insightful (see her round up of 2019 reading in The Scotsman here). Another title in the Object Lessons series, Waddell’s book promises to comment on the ever-present role of the exit in everyday life, art and culture.
Lily Le Brun, LOOKING TO SEA: BRITAIN THROUGH THE EYES OF ITS ARTISTS (Sceptre)
Persuasively described as “a cultural, social and creative history of Britain in the 20th century, spun from the ways the human imagination responds to the sea”. We hope to see some of the Cumbrian coast inside…
Sarah Moss, SUMMERWATER (Picador)
Little is known about this book as yet, but Moss’s novels are always well-told, deeply sensitive works, carving out material from their own cracking subjects. We can’t wait to hear more…
COMING IN 2021
Anita Sethi, I BELONG HERE: A JOURNEY ALONG THE BACKBONE OF BRITAIN
Sethi’s first book is a nature memoir that responds to Northern landscapes and reflects further on our polarised nation. Suffering from anxiety and claustrophobia in the wake of a racist attack on a Transpennine train, Sethi found herself drawn to the Pennines and embarked on a symbolic journey to walk them alone, as a way of reclaiming the landscapes of her birthplace. One to watch out for next year…