With longer nights and colder days, autumn offers the perfect excuse to stay home with a brand new read. This season’s crop of stories includes new work by Ali Smith, Jennifer Egan, Lionel Shriver and Jeffrey Eugenides, to name a few. With themes spanning 1930s NYC to the gay scene in contemporary Finland, who knew staying in could take you so far afield.
These never-before-seen notebooks from the literary world’s perennial cool girl find a new relevance in the age of President Trump. Charting a roadtrip Didion took through the American south in 1970, South and West is crammed with jottings, conversations and vignettes describing a divided America. Rendered in the writer’s signature style – flat-voiced and sharp – this slim volume will delight Didion devotees and doubtless find her new fans.
As the future of the NHS looks increasingly unstable, this book – an ex-Junior Doctor’s unvarnished confessions – is timely. Both a love letter to the health service (and its staff) and a condemnation of the cuts causing disastrous damage to it, Adam Kay’s writing will make you laugh, cry, and quite possibly vomit. TV rights have already been snapped up, alongside a further book, so this won’t be the last you hear of Kay’s unique brand of gory, heartfelt humour. Think: Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm meets Green Wing.
Comedy and characterisation, the twin charms that draw readers to Eugenides’s work, are employed to full effect in this collection. Financial pressures, ageing and anxiety are recurrent themes in these ten stories, written between 1988 and 2017, but it’s the variety of voices on display that prove most impressive. From an 88-year-old with dementia to a jilted lover who takes matters in to his own hands when his ex declares that she’s searching for a sperm donor, these characters are lovable and flawed by turns, and achingly human in their jealousies.
The latest book by Han Kang, whose novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize, is a deeply personal and poetic meditation on the colour white. Through this prism, the narrator looks back on the death of her mother’s first child, who lived for only two hours. “I was told that she was a girl, with a face as white as a crescent-moon rice cake,” she informs us. It’s an immaculately constructed, haunting piece of writing that resists categorisation.
This glittering novella from the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin tackles a Nora Ephron-esque question: Can men and women ever be just friends? Weston Babansky met best bud and one-time girlfriend Jillian Frisk at university and they’ve been inseparable ever since, meeting for thrice weekly games of tennis well into their 40s. Then Paige, Weston’s new girlfriend, arrives to disrupt this long-standing dynamic. Fed up with all the time he spends with Jillian, Paige delivers Weston an ultimatum in this bitingly funny story of a not-quite ménage-à-trois.
Rebecca Solnit, the incisive feminist thinker who brought us Men Explain Things to Me, is back with a new collection of essays. This time Solnit tackles themes such as rape culture, the ways women are silenced, and the power of storytelling. Praising the “Greek chorus” of female voices speaking out online, the book is as hopeful for contemporary feminism as it is damning of toxic masculinity.
Recommended by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Marlon James, Jesmyn Ward’s latest novel is one of Autumn’s must-reads. Set in contemporary Mississippi, the book follows 13-year-old Jojo and his grief- and drug-addled mother on a journey to collect Jojo’s father from prison. Part road novel, part ghost story, this is a powerful exploration of race and the way the past weighs heavily on the present.
A thrillingly unique exploration of exile, Pajtim Statovci’s debut follows two timelines. The first depicts a young muslim woman in Kosovo, whose first love becomes an abusive husband. The second charts the life of her son, Bekim, after the family have fled to Finland following the war that wracked their home. Bekim faces the dual loneliness of being a migrant and a gay man in a society uninterested in accommodating either, but both mother and son refuse to be cowed by violent, restrictive models of masculinity.
What better way is there to welcome colder weather than with the second installment of Ali Smith’s luminous seasonal quartet? Winter is a thoroughly contemporary commentary on our post-truth landscape, but at its core is the story of two sisters, Iris and Sophia, with different ideas about personal responsibility and an individual’s role in the world’s unfolding tragedies. “I hate you,” they tell each other over Christmas, before nestling together on the sofa.
Mobsters and maritime Brooklyn form the backdrop of this historical novel, which sees a young girl named Anna accompany her father, Eddie, to the home of gangster Dexter Styles – an encounter that leaves an indelible impression. Eddie is a bagman; “the sap who ferries a sack containing something (money, of course, but it wasn’t his business to know) between men who should not rightly associate”. By the time Anna is 19, he’s gone missing. When she finds herself in one of Dexter’s nightclubs, Anna keeps her parentage hidden from him, determined to find out what really happened to Eddie. Richly detailed and deftly plotted, this is an immensely satisfying novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad.