2021 in Books
Rhian Hutchings anticipates the top ten books to be published in 2021.
The long lockdown days of 2020 allowed me more time to read alongside an increasing need for escapism from the outside world that has seemingly become a dystopian novel in itself. Following a year of reading in 2020 I kept a list of books that I’m eagerly anticipating for this year and as we face our third lockdown there is nothing like being able to look forward to a new book from a favourite author or a debut that offers a new and compelling voice. Despite being uncertain in almost every other aspect of life, it is certain that 2021 will be an exciting year for the literary world.
Luster – Raven Leilani
I listened to an interview between Elizabeth Day and Raven Leilani and it had me scrambling to add this book to my list of books for 2021. This book is an exploration of societal tensions; race, gender, and class from the perspective of a young black girl in her early twenties who gets involved with a middle-aged white man in an open marriage. This is Raven Leilani’s debut novel, and it has been highly praised for its “lustrous” language and its acute observations of metropolitan life for a twenty-three-year-old woman. A sentence in a review that struck me and compelled me to buy the book was that Edie, the protagonist of the book is “caught mercilessly at the intersection of capitalism, racism and sexism.”
(Published in August of 2020 but is a predicted bestseller for 2021.)
Open Water – Caleb Azumah Nelson
This is another novel that has been causing waves in the literary world with best selling authors such as Candice-Carty Willams, Yaa Gyasi and Diana Evans all predicting that it will be one of the most celebrated books of 2021. It tells the story of two young black people who meet at a pub in South London, both went to private schools with scholarships and felt a feeling of estrangement from their peers. Both a love story and an exploration of race and identity for two young people in London, it has been predicted to be one of the most “essential British debuts of recent years.”
Animal – Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo’s first nonfiction novel ‘Three Women’ was the first book I read in 2020 and I was blown away by a narrative that was supposedly journalistic but held such a depth of emotion and urgency. I was in awe of this narrative that intertwined the factual with the intimacy and scope of human feelings. From the reviews the narrative voice of the fictional character Joan in Animal is one to be anticipated. The extract that I’ve read from this book shows an addictive and all-encompassing narrative.
Light Perpetual – Francis Spufford
This is yet another highly anticipated book by Francis Spufford following his previous bestseller Golden Hill. It resurrects the tender story of five children killed in a bomb blast during the war and explores what kind of a future these children could have had if they had survived. Despite sounding like quite a sad and melancholy form of escapism, this book has been praised for its celebration of life and the miraculous nature of the ordinary that is sometimes taken for granted.
Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney’s first novel, Normal People, and its BBC adaptation will surely go down in history as one of the most significant events of the first lockdown. Her unembellished yet powerful writing became popular, with the story of Marianne and Connell capturing people around the world. The way in which the simplicity of the story can convey complex and intricate feeling is a key characteristic in Sally Rooney’s writing and this novel is eagerly anticipated by many.
We Are All Birds of Uganda – Hafsa Zayyan
This novel has certainly caused anticipation as its planned publishing date in 2020 did not go ahead due to the pandemic. The novel won the Merky Books New Writers Prize in 2019, a prize designed to celebrate writing of stories that have not been told. This novel tells the story of South Asian expulsion from Uganda in the early 1970s. The novel discusses themes of colonialism, migration and belonging. It covers an essential story that is unknown by many and that urgently needs to be addressed and explored.
Acts of Desperation – Megan Nolan
This debut novel by Megan Nolan tells the story of a girl in her mid-twenties with an unhealthy and toxic romantic relationship alongside trying to maintain a crumbling work life balance. I read that Megan Dolan endured difficulties writing this novel, not because of its intimate subject matter but because she thought the book itself wouldn’t be good enough. She has been proven wrong and has received a lot of praise for the power of her story telling and how the book deals with the idea of happiness.
No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel appealed to me as it is a novel portraying a generation overshadowed by the pressures of the digital world. The protagonist is an influencer, a way of earning that has become increasingly popular in recent years sparking a debate as to the mental health side effects both of creating this digital content and of receiving it. When her public life as an influencer is suddenly interrupted by familial problems, she has the opportunity to evaluate the goodness of these digital platforms alongside the more troubling aspects.
The Mismatch – Sara Jafari
This novel caught my attention as the author Sara Jafari expressed how she does not often feel seen in novels. This is a feeling that many people in the literary community have expressed, the feeling of not being able to relate to a character or to be able to find a novel that truly resonates with an experience. Sara Jafari was brought up with Iranian heritage and says that there are not enough books published by British Iranians. With this debut novel she explores the complex relationship between motherhood and upbringing. It is set to be a captivating love story that tells the story of both romantic and maternal love.
Whereabouts – Jhumpa Lahiri
As a language student, this novel first caught my eye because not only was it originally written in Italian, it was translated by the author herself into English. My favourite French word comes to mind when I read about this novel; the flaneur. The flaneur is a term originally for a man or woman who observes a city and the society within this city. This novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning author tells the story of an Italian woman’s solitary thoughts and dreams as she explores a city in Italy and observes the actions of others alongside the events that shaped her. The novel demonstrates the opaque yet ever present thresholds between past and present in this personal journey through an Italian city.