10 of the most captivating new fiction books to read this May

This month’s new releases offer captivating tales of love, family and adventure

From dark satires to epic family tales, this month sees the release of a wealth of exciting new fiction books. Perfect for taking on an outing to a park, or packing for a mini staycation, these novels will transport readers with tales set in a beautiful Italian city, an eerie coastal marshland and even space. Award-winning authors including Jhumpa Lahiri, Rachel Cusk and Lisa McInerney all return with highly anticipated new works this May, and a number of new authors make bold entrances, too. Whether you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking cultural meditation or a science fiction page turner, these are the new fiction books to peruse this month.

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by Jhumpa Lahiri
Out 4 May
Bloomsbury Publishing (£12.99)

Pulitzer Prize-winning, Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Jhumpa Lahiri returns with this ambitious and creative new work. Set in Italy — the novel was first written in Italian then translated by the author herself — the author traces the journey of one woman through an unidentified Italian city. Gently paced, we follow the woman as she takes in the city in her solitude and hear her thoughts as she strolls along beautiful streets and watches the small dramas of the city’s residents.

As the year goes on, and the protagonist takes in the changing seasons, her wanderings culminate in one life-changing moment at the edge of the sea, where her perspective is irreversibly changed. Lyrical and evocative, it’s a beautiful meditation on crossing borders, reflecting on the past and finding hope in the future.

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Second Place
by Rachel Cusk
Out 6 May
Faber & Faber (£14.99)

The acclaimed author returns with an intelligent and addictive new work that explores the tension between female fate and male privilege, particularly in the artistic world. The narrator, M, is a woman in crisis, a writer who is panicked by her lack of inspiration. Isolated in her home in a coastal marsh with her second husband, M decides to invite an artist she has long admired, L, to come to her home, hoping his presence will help her find meaning in her life and the landscape that surrounds her.

After initially cancelling, M is surprised when L shows up on her doorstep with a young girlfriend in tow. As he joins her family, which includes a visiting daughter and her boyfriend, tensions begin to rise, with M jostling for his attention and despairing at his lack of interest. Over the course of one summer, Cusk paints a portrait of gender disparities, artistic tension and the struggle to live a moral and meaningful life.

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I Couldn't Love You More
by Esther Freud
Out 27 May
Bloomsbury Publishing (£16.99)

Esther Freud’s sweeping novel spans three generations of women in this emotive portrait of female longing and relationships. We follow three women’s stories — Rosaleen in her teenage years in the Sixties, Katie in Nineties London and Aoife in the present, sat at her ailing husband’s bedside. For each, we see the women search for answers, with a longing so great that each is set off on an open-ended journey.

For Rosaleen, the search begins after a passionate and exciting affair with the bohemian Felix comes to an end, and she is left searching for comfort from the only person she trusts — a local priest, who sets her on an expedition to Ireland that will irreversibly seal her fate. Decades later, Katie is struggling in an unhappy marriage, and sets off on her own, uncertain of what she’s looking for. Decades after that, Aoife is comforting her dying husband by telling him the story of their marriage, but is desperate to know — what happened to Rosaleen?

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How To Kidnap The Rich
by Rahul Raina
Out 6 May
Little, Brown Book Group (£14.99)

The enormous wealth disparities in India are looked at through a satirical lens in Rahul Raina’s thought-provoking, darkly comic thriller. The protagonist Rahul, a self-styled ‘examinations consultant,’ has built a successful life keeping the middle classes in their position by cheating their lazy children into great educations. But after he takes an for a particularly rich and particularly slovenly teen, Rudi, he accidentally scores the country’s highest mark and propels Rudi into national fame.

A scheme comes to Rahul: make the kid a star, stay behind the scenes, and find a creative method to extort exorbitant amounts of money from his parents. The journey takes Rudi to reality TV fame and extreme wealth, before Rahul executes the next stage of his plan, a series of kidnappings. But a government investigator is circling, and the whole country is asking — who exactly are these boys?

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by Kirsty Capes
Out 13 May
Orion Publishing Co (£12.99)

Empathetically written, Kirsty Capes’ debut novel unpacks the complex and challenging experience of teen pregnancy, and what it means to be young and forgotten in contemporary Britain. At the centre is Bess, a 15 year old in foster care who finds herself pregnant. While her experience is undoubtedly key to the narrative, the heart of the novel is really about her friendship with Eshal, who’s facing her own teenage struggles as her parents are pressuring her to agree to an arranged marriage.

Each girl must carve out paths for themselves and find a voice to exercise their agency while living on the edge of society, but Capes brilliantly depicts the nuances of young female friendship, and the support system that provides to overcome the insurmountable.

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Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Out 4 May
Cornerstone (£16.99)

A space-set science fiction novel with a skew toward the science, Project Hail Mary is both a claustrophobic and overwhelming novel about being trapped in space. We join the protagonist Ryland Grace as he wakes up on a tiny spaceship, the sole survivor of his crew, with no memory of his name, let alone his assignment. Which is bad news for mankind, since his crew’s mission was Earth’s last ditch effort to save itself.

As his memories begin to return, Grace is confronted with the dizzying task that is now solely on his shoulders. The clock is ticking, and he must figure out how to solve the scientific mystery that poses an extinction-level threat to mankind. Highly original, this fast paced, adrenaline-packed voyage is a compelling page-turner.

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China Room
by Sunjeev Sahota
Out 6 May
Vintage Publishing (£16.99)

This multigenerational story charts the incredible journey of one family from 1920s Punjab to 1990s Britain, following their escape from oppression and their search for love and freedom in a different cultural climate. The family’s experience is told through the eyes of Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, and her descendent, a young nameless man who returns from England to the now-deserted farm in 1999 in search of home.

Both characters are in search of answers, on both a meta and more intimate scale. Mehar, who was married alongside her sisters-in-law to three brothers in a group ceremony, is trying to figure out which one is her husband. The young man, meanwhile, is fleeing the traumas of his adolescence, including addiction, racism and estrangement from his culture, and searching for recovery and healing in the original home of his family.

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The Rules of Revelation
by Lisa McInerney
Out 13 May
John Murray Press (£14.99)

The winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction returns with this bold, searing novel deals with some of the UK’s most pressing socio-political issues. Five character stories are woven through the pages, joining up in Ireland with explosive results. Ryan Cusack is a musician determined to create the soundtrack to modern Ireland and its nationalists. Journalist and former sex-worker Georgie is covering his work, but has her own agenda at play to dig up the truth about Ryan’s past. Meanwhile, Mel has returned from Brexit Britain, unprepared to deal with the resurgence of a family scandal, Karine’s confidence is knocked by a terrible secret, and Maureen is working on her telling own story before others do it for her. 

Richly layered, McInerney’s ambitious novel tackles feminism, nationalism, class, sex, scandal and love with humous and nuance.

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Great Circle
by Maggie Shipstead
Out 27 May
Transworld Publishers (£14.99)

From the author of the award-winning Seating Arrangements comes this epic tale that weaves together the life of a fearless female aviator and a Hollywood actress who plays her decades later. Having grown up in the wilds of Montana with her brother Jamie, Marian Graves is captivated by an aerobats exhilarating show in a nearby airfield. Years later, she becomes one of the world’s most adventurous pilots, and in 1949 she sets out to be the first to fly the Great Circle around the earth, north to south around the poles. But just as she’s completing her journey, her plane disappears, and the mystery is left unsolved. 

In 2015, former child actress and blockbuster star Hadley Baxter is fired after she’s caught up in a media firestorm for cheating on her boyfriend. When the role of Marian Graves falls into her life, Baxter instantly feels a connection with the aviator. After filming wraps, Baxter can’t shake the need to find answers about the disappearance of Graves, and sets out on a personal mission.

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The Fortune Men
by Nadifa Mohamed
Out 27 May
Penguin Books (£14.99)

A timely look at justice and prejudice, The Fortune Men is a chilling tale of a petty criminal who is charged for a murder he didn’t commit. Set in 1950s Cardiff, we follow Mahmood Mattan, a charismatic father and petty criminal in the bustling and multicultural Tiger Bay, home to Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. When a shopkeeper is brutally murdered and fingers start pointing at him, Mattan isn’t too worried, convinced that his is a country where justice is served.

But as pressure mounts and freedom seems to be slipping further and further away, Mattan realises that his vindication is not guaranteed. With the hangman’s noose looming, he must fight against conspiracy and prejudice in a sobering and unsettling battle against the state.

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