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Books Column August

All the books to read in August instead of melting in a heatwave

Susannah Dickey’s debut is a coming-of-age story pocked with family and bodily trauma, Nina Bouraoui’s book is a defining portrait of shame and identity, and Bolu Babalola celebrates love in all its forms

By now, we can all agree that 2020 has been, and continues to be, an absolute miss of a year. But it still can’t deny us the pleasure of a good, escapist book – and thankfully, there’s lots to choose from. As sweltering heatwaves and tropical thunderstorms are set to pummel Britain in the coming weeks, we’ve chosen our favourite released and incoming books of the month to help you through the long days and hot nights ahead.

Susannah Dickey’s debut is a Northern Irish coming-of-age story pocked with family and bodily trauma, complicated friendships, and increasingly odd thoughts, while Nina Bouraoui’s book is a defining portrait of womanhood and sexuality set against an immigrant lens. Elsewhere, Bolu Babalola’s retelling of love stories from across history offers a decolonised look at romance, and Virginie Despentes’ King Kong Theory, in a newly released English translation, is a fiery alternative to girlboss, corporate feminism.


Written using the second person narrative (where the reader is the main character, the ‘you’), Susannah Dickey’s debut novel is revitalising. Quickly, you’re subsumed into the strange mind of the misfit protagonist with Dickey’s incisive and buoyant prose, following a young woman slaloming wildly on a potholed road to adulthood. It’s a Northern Irish coming-of-age story pocked with family trauma, trying friendships, complicated and at times catastrophic sexual and romantic experiences. It is both beautifully and revoltingly written; the dark and offbeat thoughts that Dickey captures so well, particularly about the unruly female body, sickness, horrible friends-slash-bullies. The spirit and taut wit of the protagonist flexes and twitches on every page. I couldn’t put it down, and savoured every propulsively odd turn. (AC)

Out now, Transworld Publishers Ltd


Virginie Despentes’ back catalogue pulsates with venomous, provocative prose that is both intensely personal and outward looking. King Kong Theory atomises what can be nebulous conversations around sex, gender, the exhausting patriarchal culture we push through, with a wicked style and fierce humour. First released in 2006 and re-released now by Fitzcarraldo, it first gave French women a way to articulate monstrous subjects, from rape and sex work to class, without falling into trope. It’s a memoir-in-brief and political manifesto in one, that feels all the more pertinent in an era of girlboss, corporate feminism. Inhale it, and pass it on! (AC)

Out now, Fitzcarraldo


“France is an outfit I wear: Algeria is my skin, exposed to the sun and storms,” writes Nina Bouraoui, the author of All Men Want to Know, a work of auto-fiction, told through the lens of shame, sexuality, and identity. Written in first person, the book is divided into four sections – knowing, remembering, becoming, and being – which traces different stages of her life, from growing up in Algeria, a sun-soaked yet turbulent place, to beginning her new, independent life in Paris, where she makes her way to The Kat, a legendary gay nightclub, where she watches from the sidelines, afraid of her newfound freedom.

Intense yet gorgeous and deeply moving, All Men Want to Know is a defining portrait of womanhood that grips at the heart of the immigrant experience, about existing between two cultures yet belonging to neither. (GY)

August 2, Viking


In this paperback edition of British-Turkish novelist Elif Shafak’s Booker Prize-nominated book, the protagonist is dead within the first few pages. Told from the perspective of Tequila Leila, an Istanbul sex worker who’s just been murdered in a hate crime, the book traces the last moments of her consciousness as she crosses from life into death.

An unflinching fiction that explores themes of gender, abuse, and political repression, Shafak’s narrative slides effortlessly between the internal and external, the individual and the collective, the complexities of a lifetime and the intricacies of a single day. Despite the Turkish state trying to crackdown on her writings – she was put on trial for her 2006 book The Bastard of Istanbul and has been investigated by Turkish authorities for obscenity following the hardback release of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World –  Shafak remains a brave visionary and a force to be reckoned with. (GY)

August 6, Penguin


In Love in Colour, writer Bolu Babalola takes love stories from across history and mythology, and rewrites them in with a fresh, dappled perspective. From West African folktales, reimaginings of Greek myths, and ancient Arab lore, to stories from countries that no longer exist, Babalola’s retellings bolster a decolonised version of love that isn’t measured by tired western narratives. Moving across perspectives, continents, and genres, from the historic to current-day, Love in Colour is a celebration of romance in all forms. (GY)

Out now, Headline Publishing Group


When Amelia Abraham’s Queer Intentions came out last year, it was celebrated as a “landmark exploration into what it means to be queer today”. A year on, Abraham’s book – now in paperback – is all the more relevant: governments across the world, including Hungary, Poland, and Turkey, are rolling back LGBTQ+ rights, while Boris Johnson is scrapping plans to allow self-identification, and Trump has reversed protections against discrimination in health care for trans people.

Of course, Queer Intentions isn’t without humour either. Written with disarming openness and curiosity, Abraham manages to be incredibly entertaining while remaining thought-provoking and immersive. (GY)


In the last six months, the world has changed immeasurably. The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to adapt to a new way of life: many have had to totally isolate from friends and family, millions have lost their jobs or homes, and protective gear has become the norm. Like the rest of us, writer Zadie Smith was trapped in lockdown at the height of the crisis, questioning what it means to submit to a new reality, or to resist it. This is one of the questions Smith attempts to answer in her new collection of essays, Intimations. Written during the early months of quarantine, Smith examines life in an unprecedented situation, exploring what others mean to us, how people express compassion and contempt in a crisis, and what a post-pandemic world shows about life before COVID-19. Smith is donating all of her royalties from Intimations to charity. (BD)

Out now, Penguin


Originally published in Mieko Kawakami’s native Japanese, the author’s stellar 2008 novel Breast and Eggs is being translated to English for the first time ever this month, opening her bold writing up to a wider audience. Breast and Eggs tells the story of three women: 30-year-old Natsuko, her older sister Makiko, and the latter’s teenage daughter, Midoriko. The mother and daughter have travelled to Natsuko’s rundown apartment in Tokyo so Makiko can get breast enhancement surgery. Unable to deal with her evolving figure, as well as her mother’s self-obsession, Midoriko stops speaking, flooding the trio’s lives with suffocating silence. Exploring working class womanhood in Japan and the ever-changing female body, Kawakami returns to Natsuko’s life eight years later as she finds herself ruminating on the past and looking towards an uncertain future. (BD)

Out August 20, Picador


In Large Animals, Jess Arndt confronts what it means to have a body. The author’s collection of short stories brings together a handful of narrators, all of whom challenge our ideas of gender, reality, and identity. In one, ‘Jeff’ is confused for ‘Jess’, instigating an identity crisis. In another, a couple’s relationship is tested by the discovery of a mysterious STD. Each of the 12 stories will take you on a funny, strange, and often unsettling adventure. (BD)

Out now, Cipher


Lina Wolff’s collection of short stories, Many People Die Like You, is particularly pertinent for 2020. Centring on the spectacle of people in solitude (hello, lockdown), the writer explores the choices we make when we think no one is watching. Wolff traverses the suffocating nature of day-to-day life and the strange instability of our identities and actions. One story sees a chef pulled into the violence of his neigbour’s makeshift porn channel. Another follows an elderly piano student as she’s forced to flee her home after it emerges she slept with her 30-something teacher. In a more distressing tale, a wife commits murder with a hose pumping cava. (BD)

Out now, And Other Stories


Real Life is a great American novel, a great college novel, a great summer novel, a great queer novel, a great novel of life as it has always been lived by young people waiting for their “real life” to begin, and just a really, really great novel. As early copies circulated in this strange lockdown period – a time ripe for finding a protagonist that chimes with you and letting them stick to you like glue – my group threads quickly became a chorus of “WALLACE” (heart eyes emoji), “Wallllaaaace” (eyes wet with tears emoji). A story about a biochemistry student from Alabama – some four years into Grad school at a Midwestern university – the story details the turbulent last days of summer among Wallace and his group of friends, friends that he feels somewhat distanced from even as their lives intersect in enduring, sometimes painful ways. Wallace is Black, and his friends are not – the acutely-observed scenes of the microaggressions he experiences are among the novel’s most unflinching. The author's debut, Real Life has just been long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize. It's the best novel I’ve read this year. (CH)

Out now, Daunt Books