Books in 2023: Fiction to Look Out for This Year

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The Worst Person in the World
The Worst Person in the World, 2022(Film still)

From Nicole Flattery’s massively hyped upcoming novel set in Andy Warhol’s Factory to Megan Nolan’s 1990s murder mystery; these are the books to have on your radar this year

If your reading list is long and the piles of books on your nightstand never reduce, get ready for more of the same, as 2023 promises to be a year of stellar fiction. From masterful world-building to missing children, murder mystery and toxic masculinity, there is storytelling to suit any mood by some of the most exciting voices in literature today.

Brutes by Dizz Tate (February 2023)

Charting the disappearance of celebrity preacher’s daughter, Sammy, Brutes is set in the midst of a blistering Florida summer where discomfort and disquiet reign from the very first page. The narrative opens as a chorus – one voice speaking for all of the girls who watched Sammy with seemingly obsessive fascination, which makes for unnerving reading: the cliquey, pack animal voice of these teenagers is as unpleasant as it sounds, and brilliantly executed by Tate. The novel then alternates between chorus and each of the individual friends’ voices as the end of innocence is revealed and childhood bonds are shattered.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (February 2023)

This debut is a collection of linked short stories that bring one family’s history and heritage into sharp focus. Set predominantly between Jamaica and Miami, themes of race, class, belonging, rivalry, shame and masculinity are ever-present, as is Hurricane Andrew, which serves variously as threat, backdrop and metaphor. Told in both the first, second and third person – and depending on the narrator in American English or patois – Escoffery’s rendering of place and experience sings with authenticity and heart. Audiences will find themselves caring deeply about each character, no matter their flaws or missteps. These are clichés, but we’re going there with “unputdownable” and “devoured in one sitting”.

Nothing Special by Nicole Flattery (March 2023)

Set in New York in the late 1960s and narrated by Mae, a 17-year-old typist at Andy Warhol’s Factory, this debut has been massively hyped already and rightly so. Mae’s insight into a world of seedy glamour – wealth, drugs, perversion – is less via the parties she goes to with her strange, secretive friend, Shelley, and more to do with the tapes the pair are charged with transcribing. These voices and sounds dominate the girls’ waking hours, giving each a sense of purpose and superiority in a city that typically favours beauty and status. Flattery’s writing is deeply original, which makes this a truly bumper read for prolific underliners and margin note makers.

Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (March 2023)

Set as the Vietnam War draws to a close, Wandering Souls follows three children forced to flee their homeland for Hong Kong in a little boat, their parents in another. But when their parents never arrive, the siblings must navigate their new life as orphaned refugees with only each other to lean on, in a world where compassion seems thin on the ground. Depressingly, the action cannot be confined to history – Pin’s story is as relevant now as it ever was. You won’t get through this without your heart breaking.

To Battersea Park by Philip Hensher (March 2023)

When the state orders the population to stay indoors and not socialise with one another (sound familiar?) a variety of realities emerge as lives and landscapes change. Hensher has always been masterly in marrying observations of the minutiae of the lives of ‘ordinary’ people with huge, soaring themes – and To Battersea Park is no exception. 

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey (April 2023)

When the eponymous X dies, her grieving widow CM sets about writing a biography of her late wife – a powerful but enigmatic artist – in a bid to both honour and understand her. But CM’s research turns up way more than she bargained for, uncovering the unimaginable secrets and deceptions X kept hidden. Alongside X’s interior world, both CM and readers discover what life was like in the Southern Territory – a region governed by theocratic rule – after the Second World War. To say it is the opposite of an easy read is not to imply that Biography of X is some kind of turgid slog. It’s just that Lacey’s vision is so large scale, her imagination so mammoth and her prose so confident audiences are set to feel challenged – in the best possible way – by what is a hugely ambitious read.

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld (April 2023)

Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel focuses on Sally, a super-successful TV writer who believes she is immune to romance. She rolls her eyes at gendered status quos – unremarkable man dating hot younger woman – especially when her staggeringly ordinary male colleague, Danny – “a schlub” – does exactly this. But Sally’s cynicism is about to be tested when she meets a famous, beautiful and much younger man. Both the name and the premise might feel slightly cheesy – in the manner of, well, romantic comedies. And in anyone else’s hands such a plot might feel basic. But Sittenfeld is so witty – her prose is full to the gunnels of pithy one-liners – and quite simply a masterful storyteller, so any preconceptions we had turned out to be totally misguided. Romantic Comedy is not only a total joy to read but it reminds us why Sittenfeld’s work is frequently bestselling and critically acclaimed.

Chrysalis by Anna Metcalfe (May 2023)

This debut feels deliciously timely, promising to explore the “blurred line between self-care and narcissism” in an online world. In Chrysalis, Anna Metcalfe creates a protagonist through the respective lenses of three onlookers, who witness her change dramatically from the person they first knew, to who she becomes. One is a male stranger, one is her mother and one is a close friend. Obviously, this narrative creates a strong and unsettling sense of distance between the readers and the novel’s focus. Although her perspective is missing – what we know of her is what is reported and how she chooses to present herself online – this doesn’t feel like a shame, rather it raises questions about all sorts of themes including solitude, influence and agency. The big one is of course: how well do we really know anyone? Metcalfe is a properly clever writer – she moves deftly between the voices of her narrators with ease, while her prose is assured, unforced and almost graceful. 

Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan (June 2023)

Megan Nolan’s debut novel, Acts of Desperation – a deep dive into the dark, intimate life of a messy twenty-something – was highly critically acclaimed, so it’s no surprise that the Irish writer’s second novel has been widely anticipated. Ordinary Human Failings is set in London in the 1990s and is a murder mystery that follows the work of a tabloid reporter investigating an Irish family implicated in the death of a child. The tone, pace and plot are a dramatic departure from Nolan’s debut, which makes it all the more intriguing.

Lazy City by Rachel Connolly (August 2023)

This is the debut from Rachel Connolly, whose essays and think pieces are unfailingly assured: she never hedges, which is both rare and refreshing. In Lazy City readers are treated to the same poise. Set in Belfast, we meet Erin, a young woman who has abandoned her postgrad and is navigating grief, a toxic relationship with her mother and a complicated bind with religion among other things. Connolly writes especially well about parties, sex and hangovers – it’s brilliantly visceral – but it’s when she tackles self-esteem and unfulfilled potential that her prose really sings.