Ten New Books to Hibernate With This Winter

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Certain American States by Catherine LaceyIllustration by Fashgif

A fresh crop of reading material to settle in with over the coming months

As the temperatures begin to drop and your local greengrocer’s piled high with pumpkins, you know it’s time to start getting cosy – and what better way to usher in longer nights and colder days than by nestling in with a brand new read. New offerings from literary heavyweights line bookshop shelves this season, but there are plenty of inventive new voices to discover, too.  

1. Certain American States by Catherine Lacey

After releasing two novels with wildly original voices, Catherine Lacey’s latest offering is a collection of short stories tied together by themes of loneliness and longing. In Violations a divorced husband meticulously scans his ex-wife’s fiction to see if there’s a trace of him in her stories. In Please Take a widow is haunted by her dead husband’s clothes. She tries to give them away, only to encounter them picked up and worn by other men in her neighbourhood. Lacey’s writing seems almost mathematically precise – it’s caustic, crystalline and unsentimental, calibrated exactly to get you in the gut.  

2. Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson’s latest novel features a spy plot fit for fans of John le Carré, but what really makes it a page-turner is the Life After Life author’s trademark sparkling wit. The story moves back and forth in the life of Juliet Armstrong, who as an 18-year-old is recruited by MI5 to spy on British Fascist sympathisers. Juliet makes for a spirited and sardonic guide to the knotty world of wartime espionage, but a decade later, while working as a children’s radio producer, it seems her past lives might be catching up with her.

3. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

The bestselling Japanese author returns with a digressive but beguiling epic inspired by The Great Gatsby. The novel follows a young portrait painter who, when his wife announces she wants a divorce, heads into the mountains in the hopes of recovering himself and his creative drive. Staying in a house belonging to his friend’s elderly father – a famous painter – the narrator becomes obsessed with an unusual, violent artwork kept in the attic. Another distraction arrives in the form of his new neighbour, Walter Menshiki, a wealthy tech entrepreneur who’s spying on a 13-year-old girl across the valley, believing she may be his estranged daughter.

4. French Exit by Patrick deWitt

Dubbed a ‘tragedy of manners’ Patrick DeWitt’s fourth novel is a sharp social satire that sees Frances Price, a 65-year-old widow and eccentric beauty, forced to flee Manhattan in the wake of social scandal. As she and her son Malcolm (suffering from a severe case of arrested development) head to France, they encounter a curious mix of oddballs. Hilarious hijinks ensue, but beneath deWitt’s mordent humour and crackling prose is a family drama that’s ultimately, almost, tender.

5. New Erotica for Feminists

Anyone hunting for a satirical stocking filler for the feminists in their lives need look no further, this short and snappy collection of vignettes subverts traditional erotica tropes and gives them a contemporary, feminist twist: “Would you like a foot massage? It’s not a fetish, I just know how hard you work.”

6. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

This inventive debut short story collection has already garnered praise from the likes of George Saunders and Roxanne Gay. Tackling themes of racism, social unrest and rampant consumerism (to name a few) Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah tips his hat to genres spanning from dystopian, to comedy, to horror in order to expose the injustices of our times.

7. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

This compact novel focuses on a group of students and their professor on an excursion in rural Northumberland, where they’re recreating life as Iron Age Britons. At the reenactment camp they’re joined by an amateur ancient history buff, Bill, and his family, including his 17-year-old daughter, Silvie. Unlike the largely Southern, moneyed students, Silvie’s roots are firmly working class. Tentatively she starts to open up to Molly, an observant young undergrad who discerns that Bill’s historical fervour seems to bleed into his personal life, notably his treatment of women. Moss’ tale unfolds against a richly described natural landscape, where her interrogations of class, power and privilege reach an alarming crescendo.

8. North Of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah

The peaceful life of two Somali immigrants in Norway is thrown into chaos when their only son is radicalised, dying as a suicide bomber. Despite being estranged from Dhaqaneh, who fled back to Somalia as a jihadi, Mugdi and Gacalo agree to take in his wife and children after his death. Exploring global issues such as faith, assimilation and national identity through the prism of one fraught family unit, Farah’s newest novel looks at the lasting legacy of violence and whether it’s ever possible to fully leave it behind.

9. What We’re Teaching Our Sons by Owen Booth

“We’re teaching our sons about heartbreak. Its inevitability. Its survivability. Its necessity. That sort of thing,” opens one segment of Owen Booth’s debut. Written as a collection of short ‘lessons’ between fathers and sons, this strange, slim novel calls to mind the offbeat storytelling of Donald Barthelme and the striking emotional insight of a writer like Max Porter. Warm, wise and heart-rending – even as it makes you laugh – this is a unique debut about the impossibility of protecting your children from every hardship life might throw at them, and the impulse to go ahead and try anyway.

10. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

A poetic take on a coming-of-age narrative and a powerful depiction of mental health, this boundary-breaking story is told largely through the voices of ogbanje, Igbo spirits who inhabit the protagonist’s head from birth. When she moves from Nigeria to study in Virginia, Ada is raped by another student and the trauma awakens one spirit in particular, sparking a downward spiral. This novel is a potent psychological portrait as well as a reckoning with restrictive identity labels – but above all, it’s a startling, unforgettable debut.