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Sex, body horror, and star-crossed love: The queer books to read in 2022

2021 was a groundbreaking year for LGBTQ+ literature, and 2022 is set to follow suit – here are some of our highlights of the year ahead

2021 was a stellar year for queer lit, with Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby, Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, Melissa Broder’s Milk Fed, and Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends, among others, demonstrating exciting perspectives on both gender and sexuality. 2022 certainly has a hard act to follow, but it promises to deliver. Highly anticipated titles from internationally established authors and poets, as well as fresh debuts and UK reprints of cult classics, make this a particularly exhilarating year for queer reading.

The arts feature heavily; Liam Konemann’s The Arena of the Unwell and James Cahill’s Tiepolo Blue explore fine art and music in the queer London scene, while Okechukwu Nzelu’s second novel Here Again Now looks at drama and acting in Manchester’s Nigerian community. It will be a huge year for lesbians at sea (fuelling a theory I have that most queer women go through an ocean-obsessed phase), with Julia Armfield’s devastating maritime Gothic novel Our Wives Under The Sea and Hannah Kent’s historical ship-based narrative Devotion. Nat Reeve’s Nettleblack is another historical fiction novel coming our way, exploring both sexuality and gender identities of the Victorian period. 

Titles from Ocean Vuong and Douglas Stuart will no doubt dominate the bestseller charts after the overwhelming successes of both men’s debut novels of recent years. American books in cult-classic Nevada by Imogen Binnie and the acclaimed 808s and Otherworlds by Sean Avery Medlin will be available as UK reprints for the first time. A varied year of reading awaits; here are some of our highlights.

Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield (Picador, March 3)

Following on from her almost unfathomably good collection of short stories salt slow (2019), Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under The Sea is a lesbian Gothic novel that will devastate you. Leah has returned from a deep-sea voyage gone wrong, and her wife Miri must now navigate a newly fraught relationship. Skipping between diary entries from Leah and a reflection of the past and the present from Miri, this is a story that explores the queer potential of both maritime and body horror. 

Devotion by Hannah Kent (Picador, February 3)

With Devotion, Kent is solidified as a queen of historical fiction. As with her international bestseller debut Burial Rights and second novel The Good People, the Australian writer’s latest explores human intimacy in harsh landscapes of the past. Devotion follows the life of Hanne, a teenager in Prussia who emigrates to Australia with her family in 1836. The long and arduous journey across the ocean brings her and Thea, another Prussian immigrant, closer together in ways that both frighten and excite them, resulting in a quietly haunting love story that will become an instant queer classic.

Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books, March 10)

Nzelu’s second novel Here Again Now is ultimately about the concept of success and fulfilment, and how to survive feeling that things could be going differently. Following up-and-coming actor Achike and his friend Ekene, who has recently been made redundant from his job as a drama teacher, Nzelu carefully dissects relationships between men in Nigerian-British communities. Achike and Ekene must reckon their feelings towards each other while also living with Achike’s alcoholic father, highlighting difficult themes that are handled with care.

Tiepolo Blue by James Cahill (Sceptre, June 9)

During the long hot summer of 1995, professor of art history Don Lamb is jolted into his gay identity after moving to London and becoming exposed to the city’s queer scene. Cahill uses his extensive knowledge and experience in the art world and academia to explore the experience of men who ‘belong to a sealed world of fixed ideas – but who sense the possibility of a different life.’ Bringing together the Italian masters and the Young British Artists, this is a debut that looks at art, power, academia, and the potential of the urban setting at the end of the 20th century.

Nevada by Imogen Binnie (Picador, June 9)

Originally published in 2013, Nevada will be distributed in the UK for the first time by Picador in June. Binnie’s debut is already a cult classic for its raw depiction of being a trans woman, in all of its joy, humour and difficulty. The perfect summer novel, this road trip narrative follows Maria in the aftermath of a breakup and her decision to leave New York. Her journey leads her to take on the figure of queer role model to a person she meets in a Nevada Walmart, despite her crippling self-awareness that she doesn’t have it all figured out.

The Arena of the Unwell by Liam Konemann (404 Ink, April 21)

Following on from his non-fiction book The Appendix: Transmasculine Joy in a Transphobic Culture (also published by 404 Ink), Konemann is treating us to his debut novel The Arena of the Unwell. 22-year-old Noah finds himself embroiled in the toxic relationship between two older men in the London indie music scene. An exhilarating reflection on abuse, the NHS, and queerness in the music industry, this is a debut that will surely make waves.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Pan Macmillan, April 12)

Stuart, the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize with his debut Shuggie Bain, is back again with his highly-anticipated second novel Young Mungo. As with Shuggie Bain, this novel is also set in the working-class communities of Glasgow, this time keenly focusing on the tensions across the religious divide. Protestant Mungo and Catholic James must navigate both their differing backgrounds and their relationship, not accepted among either of their families or peers. This is a tense and vivid portrayal of the dangers faced by gay men.

Nettleblack by Nat Reeve (Cipher Press, June)

Fans of Sarah Waters will be enamoured with Nat Reeve’s Nettleblack, which is set to be published by the queer-run Cipher Press in June. A neo-Victorian queer farce that follows a Welsh heiress on the run through letters and journal entries, this is a debut that shines a light on trans and queer identities of the past. Henry Nettleblack is bored and oppressed by her high-society lifestyle, and goes into hiding before she is forced into an arranged marriage. She joins a group of misfits, acting as a band of detective neighbourhood-watch figures, leading her into a number of dangerous escapades in contrast with her former life. A sequel has already been announced for 2023, promising what will inevitably be a much-beloved series.

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, April 7)

Another highly anticipated release, Ocean Vuong’s latest collection of poetry picks up on some of the themes set up in his earlier collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds and hugely successful novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Written after the death of his mother, Vuong interrogates grief and survival as both a deeply personal journey and a shared American experience. Although Time is a Mother deals with loss, it also grasps towards joy and strength, making this a profound and accomplished collection.

808s and Otherworlds: Memories, Remixes and Mythologies by Sean Avery Medlin (Cinder Press, April 14)

Already acclaimed after its US release last year, 808s and Otherworlds is a multi-faceted reflection on Black masculinity as it exists to both writer Sean Avery Medlin and a national media determined to misrepresent it. Set against the backdrop of their native Phoenix, this collection uses different forms (from stories to songs to comedy) to probe the nature of community, place and identity in terms of race and gender. With hip hop at its core, Medlin’s writing reflects on the real and the unreal to tell a story of Blackness in America.