A deep dive into ballroom culture, a psychological thriller, and vision of a women-only island – these must-reads will keep you busy until summer
However you’re feeling as 2018 trudges interminably on, at least there are books to look forward to – and there are some wonderful ones coming out in the next few months to add to your reading list.
Fiction that imagines different worlds can deepen our understanding of the fault lines underpinning our own. Arkady by Patrick Langley and The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh are stunning debuts that do just this: in The Water Cure, a bleak island where three sisters live in isolation is the backdrop to a haunting story of abuse, death, and desire, while a desolate urban sprawl is the setting for Arkady’s story of brotherly love.
Continuing the family theme, this year sees the publication of two very different novels that delve into the subject of motherhood. Leïla Slimani’s Lullaby is a suspenseful psychological thriller whose huge acclaim is well deserved, not least for its shrewd and insightful portrayal of motherhood and parenting in contemporary French society. I’m also in awe of Jessie Greengrass’s extraordinary first novel Sight, in which a woman’s experiences of pregnancy and birth spark reflection on her own matrilineal history. Both books will linger with me for a long time.
Given the current state of the world, it sometimes feels like a wonder that love can exist, let alone thrive. I’m excited for books on modern love by Joanna Walsh and Olivia Laing, both known for inventively pushing against the boundaries of genre. And when I need to be transported far away from the here and now, I’ll turn to Joseph Cassara’s vivid The House Of Impossible Beauties, a beautiful and heartbreaking book set in 1980s New York. Here's a complete reading list to keep you busy until summer.
LULLABY BY LEÏLA SLIMANI (FABER, JANUARY)
French-Moroccan author and journalist Leïla Slimani won France’s most prestigious literary prize for Lullaby, published last year in France and this year in English translation, making her only the 12th woman to do so. The 2012 murders of two children by their nanny on New York’s Upper West Side inspired the plot of Lullaby, a taut psychological thriller billed as “the French Gone Girl” that scrutinises class, race, labour, and motherhood in contemporary France.
PEACH BY EMMA GLASS (BLOOMSBURY, JANUARY)
Fans of Eimear McBride should seek out this novella, which follows the eponymous young narrator in the days immediately after a violent sexual assault. Glass packs plenty of action and emotional heft into Peach’s hundred or so pages, conveying trauma, fear, and despair with spare and affecting language. It’s little wonder that George Saunders declared that this brutal little book “renews one's faith in the power of literature”.
SIGHT BY JESSIE GREENGRASS (JOHN MURRAY, FEBRUARY)
In her first novel, Jessie Greengrass, author of the short story collection An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, weaves together reflections on pregnancy, grief, and motherhood with an illuminating history of the X-Ray, psychoanalysis, and the caesarean section. Written in gorgeous, crystalline prose, Sight is a moving exploration of perception and wonder.
THE HOUSE OF IMPOSSIBLE BEAUTIES BY JOSEPH CASSARA (ONEWORLD, FEBRUARY)
Joseph Cassara’s debut novel is set in 1980s New York, where a cast of gay and trans characters form a community centred on the House of Xtravaganza, an all-Latino ballroom house inspired by the real House of Xtravaganza featured in Paris Is Burning. Beyond the glamour of the ballroom scene, Cassara’s characters face loss, abuse, and neglect, and he tells their stories with a humane and generous heart.
ARKADY BY PATRICK LANGLEY (FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS, MARCH)
Arkady traces the lives of two brothers from early childhood, following their treacherous journey together through forbidding urban wastelands, towards some kind of redemption or hope. It’s a gripping story, and Langley’s rich language and profound empathy combine to make Arkady an incredibly powerful novel.
BREAK.UP BY JOANNA WALSH (TUSKAR ROCK PRESS, APRIL)
The follow-up to Walsh’s 2016 Vertigo, which unfolds in a series of connected short stories, Break.up is a “novel in essays” about love and desire in the age of the internet that promises more experimentation with the form. (For more Joanna Walsh, queer anthology Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature, which includes contributions from Eley Williams, Juliet Jacques, and more, also looks set to be a must-read, and the account @read_women is one of the best things on Twitter.)
THE WATER CURE BY SOPHIE MACKINTOSH (HAMISH HAMILTON, MAY)
Three sisters live on an island, their bodies safe only as long as they remain isolated from men. After the death of their father, three men wash up on their island, and they are forced to confront desire, abuse, and love. Chilling and topical, The Water Cure is a breathtaking debut.
CRUDO BY OLIVIA LAING (PICADOR, JUNE)
What could be more exciting than the publication of non-fiction writer and arts critic Olivia Laing’s first novel? The three books Laing has published to date — To The River, The Trip To Echo Spring, and The Lonely City — beautifully entwine travel writing, personal memoir, and large-hearted literary biography. A semi-autobiographical work of fiction written feverishly last summer, Crudo “charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017”.
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION BY OTTESSA MOSHFEGH (JONATHAN CAPE, JULY)
Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, a horrifying and bleakly funny psychological thriller, was shortlisted for the 2016 Booker Prize. Her second novel My Year Of Rest and Relaxation, about a woman who attempts to escape alienation via narcotic hibernation, promises to be every bit as daring and inventive.