There’s never been a better time to curl up and escape with an entrancing story and February’s new fiction books are packed with promise. While acclaimed authors such as Francis Spufford return with their latest works, this month also introduces a slate of exciting new talent, with debut releases from much-talked about writers including Daisy Buchanan, Rebecca Sacks and Lauren Olyer. Whether you’re after a sharp take on internet culture or the next great love story, these are the new novels to pick up now.
Faber & Faber (£16.99)
From the prize-winning author of Golden Hill comes a powerful new novel about a South London shop destroyed by a German bomb in the middle of WWII and the five young lives the attack claims. An omniscient narrator, Francis Spufford takes the reader on an exploration of what futures would have awaited the murdered children in a parallel life.
A high-concept work, Light Perpetual follows the might-have-been lives of Jo, Valerie, Alec, Ben and Vernon, speculating as to how they would have been shaped by the characteristics they’d shown in childhood and how they would have navigated the post-war decades. A mix of everyday realism and spiritual mystery, it’s a bold and engrossing read.
Little, Brown Book Group (£12.99)
One of the month’s most talked about debuts, Insatiable is a fiercely funny and provocative story about modern women, desire and greed. At the centre is Violet, a young woman stuck in a rut — she’s in a dead-end job, broke and lonely. Then enters the glamorous Lottie, who offers Violet an opportunity to join her start-up and later, as becomes increasingly apparent, an invitation into her marriage.
While Violet becomes seduced by Lottie and her husband Simon’s wealthy and racy world, she also begins to question whether this is truly the type of satisfaction she was after. Surprisingly tender, Daisy Buchanan’s first work turns out to be a moving exploration of growing up and understanding the differences between lust and love.
A timely and provocative debut, Oyler’s exploration of the weird and worrying ways the internet has morphed our sense of reality has already earned high praise from the likes of Zadie Smith.
On the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a young woman is shocked to discover that her boyfriend is a popular anonymous Internet conspiracy theorist. Deciding to make a fresh start, the New Yorker heads to Berlin, where she struggles to navigate the worlds of dating, socialising and work — online and in real life. Sharp, witty and at times deeply unsettling, Fake Accounts is a piercing critique of authenticity, misinformation and our digital lives.
Pushkin Press (£14.99)
What begins as a search for details about a family’s experience in communist China turns into a complex tale of a love triangle in Meng Jin’s novel about immigration, revolution and the scars of the past.
The novel opens with the narrator Liya’s birth in Beijing on the night of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Years later, Liya returns to China from America with her mother’s ashes, determined to get to the truth of what her family went through after that night. Travelling through Shanghai and Beijing, Liya uncovers the events of the cultural revolution and secrets whose impact reaches right up to the present day.
Both a beautiful love story and a striking examination of what it means to be black in the UK today, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel is a lyrical tale of two young, black artists falling in love. Set in South East London, Open Water depicts the relationship between a photographer and dancer, tracing how they tentatively fall in love whilst trying to build a career in the city’s creative scene.
Incredibly moving and tenderly written, Open Water shows the subtle connections between love and race, raising questions about how the couple can preserve their love in a society that insists on assigning generalised characteristics based on skin colour.
Rebecca Sacks’ debut work is an ambitious one, packing the decades-long Israeli/Palestinian battle and multiple narrators into 400 pages. Including characters from every ideological perspective, Sacks’ novel works to reveal the common humanity that ultimately ties them all together.
It’s a complex patchwork of characters — there’s Hamid, a college student who has entered Israeli territory illegally for work, who happens to bump into German journalist Vera, who in turn is headed to Jerusalem to cover the story of Salem, a Palestinian boy in a coma following an attack by a group of Israeli teenagers. These are just three of the six threads of Sacks’ novel, which together create an intricate and haunting picture of life in the midst of war.
Pan Macmillan (£16.99)
Following her success with The Nightingale and The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah returns with this poignant tale about the American Dream. In a Texas town in 1934, a drought threatens the livelihoods of an entire community, including protagonist Elsa Martinelli. Already terrified of what this means for her family’s future, one morning Elsa wakes to find her husband has gone, leaving her to decide whether she’ll head West in search of a better life, or stay and fight for the home she loves.
A heart-wrenching story of motherhood, home and fears of the unknown, The Four Winds offers a powerful tale of a woman’s fight for survival and a vivid depiction of the American Dust Bowl.
Following the journey of a couple over the course of one week, environmental activist Jessica Gaitan Johannesson’s debut novel is an intricate look at language, belonging and empathy. At the centre of the novel is a growing tension between Swedish immigrant Kristin and her Scottish-Brazilian boyfriend that is beginning to make their little flat in Edinburgh feel increasingly claustrophobic.
Convinced it’ll help bring them closer, Kristin’s boyfriend insists they only speak Swedish to help him learn the language. But when she discovers she’s pregnant, Kristin struggles to decide whether she wants to bring a child into this world given its current state and the couple’s shared uncertainty about their place in it. Poetic in style, it’s an intriguing exploration of the closeness and distance brought about by language and cultural barriers.
Simon & Schuster (£16.72)
Following the controversy of last year’s American Dirt, award-winning Colombian-American writer Patricia Engel’s novel promises to deliver an authentic depiction of an immigrant family’s experience in modern day America.
Engel’s lyrical work shares the story of five family members who escape the violence of their home in Colombia to start a new life in the US. But after their tourist visas expire, they are repeatedly threatened with deportation and, with two of thechildren having been born in America, at risk of having the family torn apart. Weaving together the different experiences of each family member, Infinite Country offers a poignant account that blends both tragedy and victory.
Following the success of her 2017 memoir Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood returns with her first work of fiction. Similarly sharp and sardonic, her debut novel is a meditation on the internet, human connection and love in contemporary society.
At the centre of the novel is a woman whose entire life is built around the internet. Her viral social media posts have become her career, leading to her travelling the world for speaking engagements. But when a text from her mother abruptly brings the real world back into focus, the woman must confront just how much she is relying on the digital world for empathy, connection and support.
Hodder & Stoughton (£12.99)
While Bethany Clift’s debut is a work of science-fiction, the tale of a deadly virus might hit a little too close to home for some. Set in 2023, the novel transports readers to an apocalyptic London where, after a virus called 6DM (‘Six Days Maximum’ – the longest you’ve got before your body destroys itself) has wiped out the human race, one woman has managed to survive.
With only a golden retriever for company, the woman must abandon her pre-virus tendencies to be a people-pleaser and set out on her own to discover if she really is the last human on earth, and if so, how she’ll survive. With echoes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Clift’s novel manages to be incredibly witty and shudder-inducing at the same time.
Set in the rapidly changing world of early 20th century America, The Cold Millions follows the lives of the Dolan brothers in Spokane, Washington. As the duo struggle to find a stable (and legal) source of work, younger brother Rye dreams of a permanent home, while his older brother Gig aspires to join the union men in the fight for a fairer world. But when Rye meets and falls for a suffragette, he finds himself swept up in the country’s protests and chaos ensues.
A sweeping work that covers the lives of socialists, suffragettes, prostitutes and murderers, Jess Walter’s novel is an addictive story of the divides between rich and poor, with a core rooted in the bond of brotherhood. And while it’s set over 100 years ago, the depiction of social unrest in America will likely read as eerily familiar.
Niven Govinden’s sixth novel is a sharp, engrossing love letter to film, Italy and the creative process. In town for a prestigious film festival with his lead actors, a filmmaker sets out for a walk one morning with a local woman he met at a backstreet cafe. As their conversation flows, stories of love, tragedy and the city’s hidden secrets are revealed, and the man realises he’s uncovered the plot of his next film.
While rooted in the tales that are shared on the walk, Diary of a Film is also an exploration of the trials and joys of the creative process, the concept of fate and questions of who owns stories, and who has the right to tell them.