The Literary Fiction to Look Out for in 2021

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We round up some of our literary highlights for the next 12 months, from radical romance to sun-soaked escapism

While the start of 2021 hasn’t exactly been promising, there’s still some light on the horizon. For one thing, it’s set to be a monumental year for literature, with fiction releases lined up from both established names and luminary breakout talent. The overarching theme of many of these novels seems to be human connection – where we find it, how we nurture it, and the ways it gets distorted – which makes a lot of sense, given how bored and isolated we all are. There’s also some robots, jealous goats, and twisted conspiracy theories, as well as a new Sally Rooney, to keep your attention in the bleaker lockdown months. Here, we round up some of our highlights.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jnr, published by riverrun (out now)

Set in a Mississippi plantation, The Prophets follows two enslaved teenage boys as they fall in love and find refuge in each other. It’s a radical interpretation of a Black queer romance – both arrestingly intimate and unflinchingly brutal – and has drawn in comparisons to literary legends like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters, published by Serpent’s Tail (out now)

Destransition Baby is a turbulent trip through the lives of three women – transgender and cisgender – as they deal with sex, desire and motherhood. It’s a riotously funny and fearless debut from Torrey Peters, who is clearly not afraid of polarising readers. As Andrea Lawlor, author of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, warns, “It might destroy your book club, but in a good way.”

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler, published by 4th Estate (out Feb 4)

What happens when you find out your boyfriend is living a double life as a popular internet conspiracy theorist? It’s a question the young woman in Lauren Oyler’s wry, confident debut, Fake Accounts, is forced to answer. The book is a probing examination of identity and authenticity in the online age, and the lies we like to tell ourselves.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, published by Bloomsbury (out Feb 16)

Patricia Lockwood follows up her wildly successful 2017 memoir, Priestdaddy, with her fictional debut, No One Is Talking About This. In many ways, it’s the perfect novel for 2021: an irreverent study of our scattered, unstable minds after years of infinite scrolling and throwaway memes. It’s also, at times, disarmingly profound, morphing unexpectedly into a tender celebration of love, kindness and the power of human connection.

Empty Houses by Brenda Navarro, published by Daunt Books (out February 25)

Hailed as “one of the best-kept secrets in Mexican literature”, Brenda Navarro’s first novel, Empty Houses, caused a sensation when it was first released in its native Spanish. Next month, the English translation of this story – which traces the desires, regrets and social pressures of motherhood – hits the UK.

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel, published by Simon and Schuster (out March 2)

Colombian writer Patricia Engel tells a timely and urgent story about an undocumented family living across the North and South of America. The novel is written from the perspective of each family member, exploring their struggles with regret, state violence and the constant, simmering threat of deportation.

Acts Of Desperation by Megan Nolan, published by Jonathan Cape (out March 2)

Megan Nolan’s debut novel, Acts Of Desperation, is one of the most anticipated books of the year. The Irish writer is known for her effortlessly poetic, soul-baring essays on human psychology and desire, and has already secured bylines in the New Statesman, Observer and The New York Times. Acts Of Desperation – an “anti-romance” about a young woman ravenous for love, lust and validation – lives up to the hype.

Klara And The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Faber (out March 2)

Another huge literary event this year is the return of Kazuo Ishiguro. The Nobel Prize-winning visionary behind Never Let Me Go and Remains Of The Day returns with a moving new novel, titled Klara And The Sun. Told from the perspective of a young Artificial girl, it revisits familiar themes from the author: namely, what it means to be human, and what it means to love.

This One Sky Day by Leone Ross, published by Faber (out April 15)

Set on a fictional Caribbean archipelago, This One Sky Day is a sun-soaked, magical realist romance about two lovers trying to find their way back to each other. Expect serious escapism – it‘s a world where “goats are jealous, gods are mischievous, [and] vaginas drop out unexpectedly”.

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami, published by Europa Editions (out May 25)

Hailed by critics as one of Japanese literature’s “brightest stars”, Mieko Kawakami burst into the global market last year with her first English language novel Breast And Eggs. Her follow-up, Heaven, is a gripping and original study of teenage cruelty, told from the tortured perspective of a 14-year-old boy.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, published by Bloomsbury (out Jun 1)

Part Get Out, part Devil Wears Prada, The Other Black Girl follows the story of Nella Rogers, a 26-year-old Black editorial assistant working at an all-white publishing house. When a new woman of colour starts working in the cubicle alongside her, she’s initially pleased for the company – but the situation quickly twists into something much more sinister. 

Filthy Animals: Stories by Brandon Taylor, published by Daunt Books (out June 24)

Written by Booker Prize finalist Brandon Taylor, Filthy Animals is a series of short stories about young creatives in the American midwest. These emotionally charged vignettes – which are all interlinked – explore a breadth of themes, including sexuality, loneliness, mortality, and violence.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney, published by Faber (out September 7)

And of course, to top it all off, this year sees the return of literary wunderkind Sally Rooney. After bewitching the world with Normal People and Conversations With Friends, the author is back with a surprise new novel: Beautiful World, Where Are You. The story focuses on “the lives and loves” of four young friends as they worry about sex, the future, and the world they live in. Will they find a way to make it all beautiful? Only time (approximately nine months of it) will tell.