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October 2020 book list Dazed

The books to read through October and the spooky season

There’s Stephanie LaCava’s stylish dive into the art world, Sayaka Murata’s deadpan reflection on alienation, and a radical fusion of queer feminist theory and experimental horror by Jenny Hval

Perhaps you’d planned to spend spooky season in a dingy basement somewhere, dancing to angry techno in between the Log Lady from Twin Peaks and some dude dressed as the “Dreams” guy on TikTok. Or maybe you fancied a Hot Girl Autumn, avec pumpkin spiced lattes and toffee apples. Next thing you know, we’re in second lockdown, led by an incompetent government telling us to “go cyber”. It’s dark. You’re lonely and depressed. You’re watching Emily in Paris and wondering how you got here. Thankfully, we have some books to drag you out of this hellscape and back onto the good path.

There’s Stephanie La Cava’s stylish dive into the gossiping, envious art world, complete with international business trips, hotel rooms, and office gossip, while Rumaan Alam portrayal of white liberals in an apocalypse is crammed with existential horror. Elsewhere, Loud Black Girls offers 20 essays from emerging Black British writers, and Jenny Hval’s Girls Against God dives into the heart of Norway’s black metal scene.


With its accounts of international business trips, hotel rooms, and office gossip, Stephanie LaCava’s stylish The Superrationals might feel out-of-step with the time of its release, but maybe that’s why I enjoyed being enveloped in its tale of a hesitant young woman who is in transit in more ways than one. Telling the story of Mathilde, an art world employee, and also bringing in the perspectives of her It-girl best friend, an older male writer, and a gossiping group of girls in an office – operating much like a Greek Chorus, except these wailing women say ‘Lol’ out loud – the story spans New York, Paris, Munich, London, and Berlin in its chronicle of this cast of disillusioned and detached individuals. With an epochal, romantic female friendship at its centre, it’s a story of interconnected lives that exposes the globalised art world at its seams – in a subtle way, LaCava seems to have foretold the precarity of the economic networks fuelling the culture industry that have been so exposed by the events of this year. Embedded in the novel’s events are a distinct feeling of a kind of controlled helplessness: how often the personal and professional become muddied, and how things are decided for you as a young woman even when you think you are deciding. Think of it as a little like a Whit Stillman film – that is, if a Whit Stillman film included the gossiping, envious voices of those existing outside those narrow cliques of privilege. (CH)

Out now, Semiotext(e)


In Black Sun, the first book in a projected trilogy, Roanhorse draws on pre-Columbian American civilisation to tell the story of a mysterious young man who sets out to avenge a crime. The winner of Hugo and Nebula awards, Roanhorse, an Indigenous author, is no stranger to weaving Navajo elements into her writing, and Black Sun is packed with celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic. Set in the holy city of Tova, around the winter solstice, Roanhorse creates an epic adventure, steeped in struggle and redemption. Roanhorse’s characters are unforgettable; flawed individuals who’ve faced generational trauma and come through the other side. (GY)

October 13, Gallery / Saga Press


Feelings of being an outsider and the pressure to conform combine in this stellar second novel by Sayaka Murata. Set in the wilderness of the Nagano mountains, Earthlings is a luminous story about two friends and their alienation from modern Japanese life. Similar to Convenience Store Woman, Murata’s acclaimed English-language debut, the novel takes a deadpan, detached narrative style, which mimics the protagonist’s unique way of seeing things. Isolated within her dysfunctional family, Natsuki, who believes she’s an alien, refuses to conform to societal roles handed to her. In Murata’s world, freedom is packaged with struggle and sacrifice, which makes Earthlings an exhilarating read that will leave you reeling. (GY)

October 8, Granta Books


The author of Rich and Pretty and That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam has a keen eye when it comes to the lives of nice white liberals, so it’s no surprise that his third novel, Leave the World Behind, begins with an upper-middle class white family vacationing to a luxurious Airbnb in the Hamptons. When a wealthy Black couple show up at their door in the middle of the night, declaring that they are the homeowners, however, they bring news of a strange blackout – and uncomfortable prejudices begin to arise. Already snapped up by Netflix in a heated bidding war, with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington set to star, Alam’s novel is crammed with existential horror, making it particularly pertinent in an era of global pandemic, racial justice uprising, and widespread economic hardship. (GY)

October 6, Harper Collins


From the New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter’s The Cold Millions is a larger-than-life story set against a backdrop of class tensions and free-speech protests in 1909 America. Union organisers, madams, and vaudeville performers converge in this kaleidoscopic portrait of rich and poor, dreams and reality, brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal. Offering parallels to our own time, The Cold Millions is a slice of literary realism, but it’s optimistic too. Walter’s narrative is a thrilling ride that explores human connections and the cost of progress. (GY)

October 27, Penguin


Reading Girls Against God, the second book by Norweigian multidisciplinary artist Jenny Hval, feels like stepping into one of her songs, complete with witch covens, bloody rituals, and yonic structures. The genre-warping novel hopscotches between time and place, beginning in a small town in southern Norway at the cusp of the black metal scene, then to Oslo and beyond. The protagonist is a moody teen, numbed by her small-town existence and riddled with angst. Hval does well as tracking the grotesque banalities of human existence by using a radical fusion of queer feminist theory and experimental horror to guide her growth, and the plot, however non-linear it might be. The result is a unique treatise on magic, writing, and art that’s just in time for spooky season. (GY)

October 29, Verso


Those interested in Sylvia Plath are often just as – if not more – hypnotised by the tragic circumstances of her personal life as they are with her poetry itself. While many of her devotees regard the writer’s suicide as her destiny, biographer Heather Clark sees Plath’s life differently, and aims to paint a fuller picture of the woman, wife, and mother in her book, Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath. Quoting extensively from Plath’s own work – something not afforded to previous biographers – Clark takes the reader through the poet’s childhood, offering new information about her scientist father, her juvenile writings, and her psychiatric treatment. Clark – who presents Plath as a woman determined not to be conventional – then explores the poet’s relationships with her husband, mother, and children, as well as her battle with her mental health, in a biography which brings readers closer than ever to the visionary artist. (BD)

Out October 20, Penguin Random House


Since Taschen first opened its doors in 1980, it’s established itself as the leading publishing house for so-called ‘coffee table’ art books. From Basquiat to Ai Weiwei to Peter Lindbergh to Wolfgang Tillmans, you could name almost any iconic artist, photographer, film, or… Egyptian pharaoh, and Taschen would have a book on them. Now, in honour of its 40th anniversary, Taschen has launched 40 Years of Taschen, comprising new editions of some of the publisher’s most-loved books. Each updated version is being sold as a compact edition, for the very cool price of just £20. (BD)

Out now, Taschen


Curated by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, the authors of pioneering self-help book Slay in Your Lane, Loud Black Girls brings together 20 emerging Black British writers, each of whom are asking: ‘Now we’ve learnt how to Slay in our Lanes, what’s next?’ In a series of essays, the next generation of Black women writers – including authors, journalists, actors, activists, and artists – explore what it means to exist in these turbulent times. Questions include: ‘How can I secure the bag while staying true to my principles?’, ‘How can we teach our daughters to own their voices?’ Other essays explore the cultural impact of Black Panther, offer a celebration of local activism, and provide new perspectives into what’s next. (BD)

Out now, 4th Estate


In her prose debut, Ghost in the Throat, Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa tells two stories. Initially set world’s apart, the tales are astutely brought together through tragedy. The first is set in the 1700s: an Irish noblewoman – on discovering her husband’s murder, and subsequently drinking handfuls of his blood – composes an extraordinary poem, which, centuries later reaches a young mother. A poet herself, the mother comes across the noblewoman’s poem after narrowly avoiding tragedy in her own life, and quickly becomes obsessed with learning the rest of the story. (BD)

Out now, Tramp Press


In an alternate universe in 2020, millennial drudgery, bad office politics, and burnout still exist. Iris Cohen works at ‘Freedom & Co’ a redundantly named creative agency where workers wax lyrical about the dos and don’ts of hashtags. Weighed down by the trauma of her father’s death, unfulfilling romantic encounters, anxiety-driven dips into coke with colleagues-not-friends, and everyday ennui, Iris searches for more. Then she sees an ad for Nyx, a salmon-pink planet where salaries, status, and social media hold no weight. Securing one of few spots, Iris embarks on a one-way trip – is it suicide, adventure, or a golden ticket to a totally new way of life? Though speculative and fantastical, Sauma’s novel goes deep into the heartaches, highs, lows, and risks we take that make us human. Workplace horrors and otherworldly adventure are captured with the same incisiveness, and it’s deadpan funny. You’ll really wrestle with the questions and choices Iris makes. (AC)

Out now, Viking


Eileen Myles told a gathered group of college students that writing was “an alibi for living”. While “alibi” could reflect being “elsewhere,” Myles said, the point of living is “to be here, to be present, which I think is truly the hard part. Yet I keep coming back to it. It’s undeniably true that writing, it turns out, is the easiest way to copy that feeling (of presence), and I’ve been doing that for years.”

The ‘Why I Write’ series is based on the annual Windham-Campbell Lectures at Yale University. In this new book (their 22nd), the writer, poet, and artist reflects candidly on their creative awakening. They are generous with their insight and open-heartedness, traversing intimate stories of friends and lovers, changing identities and existential challenges. It’s a total must-read for anyone enraptured by Myles wit and unconstricted prose, from Chelsea Girls to Afterglow. (AC)

Out October 27, Yale University Press


The short story tradition has always been at the beating heart of the Irish literary scene, from the Gaelic revival to James Joyce. In 2012, Gleeson published The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers, with a mission to bring Irish women’s stories into the canon. With The Art of the Glimpse, Gleeson radically reimagines the canon of the Irish short story, from the classic and familiar to the urgent and contemporary, bringing historically marginalised stories from LGBTQ+ community, women, travellers, and Black writers to the forefront. Sinéad Gleeson is the celebrated author of the excellent Constellations, a stunning collection of essays and stories that trace women’s bodily autonomy, illness, and motherhood. Here, she curates an ambitious, joyous representation of the beloved traditional form. Eimear McBride to Flann O’Brien, Blindboy Boatclub, Sally Rooney, and Melatu Uche Okorie. (AC)

Out now, Head of Zeus


Annie Ernaux’s A Man’s Place is regarded as a modern classic in France – now, it’s been translated to English by Tanya Leslie. Where A Woman’s Story saw the essayist, memorist, and writer reckon with her mother, A Man’s Place traverses her relationship with her father, his life, blustery identity, and death. She writes of her parents – grocery store and cafe owners in rural France – who push for her to have a better life. When she trains to become a teacher, her more nebulous class and flowing social mobility bring new dynamics and tensions to their relationships. No-one writes about family relationships with the nuance, both emotional and analytical, that Ernaux does, and such a reflective, self-critical perspective is even more precious. Her exploration of language in their household is sharp; “anything to do with language was a source of resentment, far more than the subject of money”, and zones in on class as not just money and status, but self-worth and agency. She frustrates at her own challenge to bridge the gulf between her parents as individuals and humans, and as her carers and figureheads. It might initially be read as a cold portrait, but the emotions and passionate thought rage through the taut writing. Likened to Simone de Beauvoir for her astute chronicling of a generation, Ernaux’s prose is intimate and unforgettable.

Out October 28, Fitzcarraldo Editions