1. The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan is published in hardback by W&N
Luke and Celine are happy. They have been together for a while – the logical next step, surely, is getting married. It doesn’t matter if they actually want to be with other people, or prefer playing the piano to being with one another, does it? In Naoise Dolan’s new novel following the excellent Exciting Times, she explores LGBTQ+ identity, how our families form us and subversive female characters in the best possible way. The Happy Couple explores bisexuality, heartbreak and complex characters without ambiguity or cliche, and consistently shows every character as flawed, with a really brilliant plot designed around a day none of us want to come. With some chapters written like a diary and others coming from characters we may presume will be insignificant, this book excellently explores multiple perspectives on one relationship, and has a brilliantly engaging, voyeuristic feel. Each perspective could be a novel in itself, and Dolan once again crafts a brilliant story that leaves you desperately wanting more.
2. Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang is published in hardback by The Borough Press
Yellowface is bold, confronting and quite unlike anything else you’ll read this year. Told from the perspective of white writer Junie – who is an entirely unreliable narrator – it weaves a gripping tale of racial politics and who gets to tell what stories. Junie is jealous of the success of her author friend Athena – who is Asian – and when Athena dies in a freak accident, Junie makes the decision to steal the rough manuscript for her latest masterpiece and publish it as her own – to great success. It’s a book about Chinese workers in WWI and the mental gymnastics Junie does to justify why she’s telling this story – while toning down the racism and making white characters more sympathetic – is astounding. Success comes at a price – and soon Junie is trapped in a cycle of accusations and social media abuse. She is unbelievably delusional – really thinking she’s the victim in all situations, not the person who stole a POC’s work and passed it off as her own. It’s quite heavy-handed in parts – but that feels to be the point. Pacy, it reads almost like a thriller – you won’t want to put it down, despite the main voice being quite so desperately dislikable.
3. Big Swiss by Jen Beagin is published in hardback by Faber & Faber
Big Swiss is Jen Beagin’s third novel and is a tale of sly voyeurism and sexual drama. We’re introduced to Greta, a 45-year-old pharm tech who gives up her job and 10-year relationship to share a rundown house with an anorexic, weed-selling cocaine addict. She meets Big Swiss via her transcription work for a sex and relationship coach and becomes infatuated. The two start an affair – Flavia, or Big Swiss as Greta calls her, is larger than life and as damaged as Greta, due to past trauma. Their relationship is doomed to fail, however, we are kept wondering if they can overcome their past traumas and move on. It’s darkly funny, full of clever analogies and quite emotive.
4. The Success Myth by Emma Gannon is published in hardback by Torva
This is a thoroughly thought-provoking and engaging read. Emma Gannon’s The Success Myth explores the commonly held myths about what it traditionally means to be successful, from money to happiness and ticking society’s ready-made boxes. Through looking at her own journey and interviewing other successful people, Gannon delves into the reasons why our overly celebrated and traditional version of success might be making us feel lonely, unfulfilled, and dispirited – but she believes there is a way to do things differently. The Success Myth aims to help you discover what truly sparks your interests and how to uncover your individual path to a fulfilling life, whatever that may look like. You will not be able to put this book down.
Children’s book of the week
5. I Am Oliver The Otter by Pam Ayres, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne, is published in hardback by Macmillan Children’s Books
This is a beautiful rhyming picture book by the well-known British poet and broadcaster. Telling the story of Oliver the Otter and his life on the river bank, the story is interwoven with facts about these lovely animals. Did you know, for example, that sea otters like to sleep holding paws in pairs and that they can be found all over world except Australia and Antarctica? During his journey of discovery, Oliver meets Ottilie, the ‘silkiest and nicest’ otter he has ever seen, and before long, the couple have pups (also known as kits). Cosying up together, the family settles down in their underground home until the babies are old enough to swim. As well as featuring stunning pictures by illustrator Nicola O’Byrne, the book issues an important plea to children to help look after waterways and free them from pollution. It is sure to delight children aged two to 10.