With 2019 nearing its end, minds will soon start turning to the year ahead and the books it has in store for us. So here it is; a look at some of the releases scheduled for 2020 that I’m most excited about. I’ve put them in publication order, as far as I could track down specific dates. But there’s a lot to cover, so let’s just get started!
The Teacher by Michal Ben-Naftali | 21st January | Open Letter
An elusive but respected high school teacher in Tel Aviv commits suicide. Thirty years later, one of her students delves into her past, hoping that the secrets of her life will help make sense of her tragic death. After discovering that she was a Holocaust survivor, the book goes on to explore ‘the impact of survivor’s guilt and traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no trace’. This sounds like an incredibly poignant read.
Alice by Heart by Steven Sater | 4th February | Razorbill
A teenage girl is sheltering in an underground tube station during the Blitz. When her best friend falls deathly ill with tuberculosis, she begins reciting the beloved story that first bonded them, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, drawing on the power of storytelling and the wonder of the imagination to sustain life and provide escapism from the horrors of reality. I adore the art of storytelling as a theme, and feel incredibly nostalgic about Wonderland, so this sounds like it could be fantastic!
The Illness Lesson by Claire Beams | 6th February | Doubleday
This is billed as ‘an intensely vivid debut about women’s minds and bodies, and the time-honoured tradition of doubting both’. Set in a school afflicted by a mysterious illness, the setup has a lot of parallels with Wilder Girls, which I loved. The lone female teacher must hide her own symptoms so she can stand against the sinister physician and male authorities that threaten the girls under her care.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave | 11th February | Little, Brown & Company
Set in Norway in the early 1600s, The Mercies is ‘a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession’. When the menfolk of a remote village are wiped out in a horrific fishing accident, the women must fend for themselves. Several years later, a dominating figure arrives from Scotland, believing the place to be plagued by witchcraft. His wife, however, is both awed and terrified by the sight of independent women. I enjoyed Deathless Girls by the same author recently, and historical fiction set in remote locations is a niche I adore. I believe the book also has some queer representation, which is another big plus.
The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall | 12th February | Dzanc Books
An atmospheric and suspenseful historic mystery based around the Franklin expedition, and set amidst ‘a gothic landscape of locked towers, dream-like nights of snow and ice, and a crumbling mansion rife with hidden passageways’. That is so my brand. Props to Rachel for bringing this one to my attention recently.
The Companions by Katie M. Flynn | 3rd March | Gallery/Scout Press
Early reviews for this seem to be fairly polarised, but the concept is just too brilliant not to give it a mention. Set in the near future, the dead can now be uploaded into machines that serve as companions to the living. Whilst the wealthy can pay to remain within the custody of their family, the less fortunate are rented out to lonely strangers. When one companion retains intellectual autonomy, she defies her owner’s commands and breaks off in search of the woman who killed her. I hope I gel with the author’s style, as this seems like the kind of sci-fi I could really adore.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey | 10th March | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
During WWII, a natural history museum collection is moved out of London and placed in a country house for safekeeping. Hetty has been put in charge of looking after the collection, but upon arrival at the manor, she finds a tyrannical homeowner, a young woman plagued by nightmares, and a series of increasingly strange and unnerving goings on. Having stumbled into ‘a place of secrets and terror’, Hetty soon begins to question her very sanity. This sounds like my ideal read. No pressure.
New Waves by Kevin Nguyen | 10th March | One World
Margo is a brilliant programmer, tired of being overruled as the company’s sole black employee. She teams up with Lucas, a low paid Asian worker who feels invisible, to try and steal the tech start-up’s user database, but the heist goes wrong and Margo is killed in a car accident. Suspecting there may have been more to his friend’s death, Lucas delves into Margo’s secret online life, revealing just how little he actually knew about her. The book explores ‘secrecy and surveillance, social media and friendship’, and the struggle to establish true intimacy and connection in a tech-based society.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell | 31st March | Fourth Estate
When a 32-year-old’s former teacher is accused of sexual abuse by another of his students, she is forced to re-evaluate the dynamic they shared in her teens. Was their supposed love actually an abuse of power? Was her great sexual awakening tantamount to rape? This sounds like a fantastic and emotionally charged response to the #MeToo movement, and a very worthwhile contribution to the discussion on historic cases of abuse.
Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight | 31st March | Viking
Described as ‘a spellbinding novel of emotional and intellectual intensity’ at the meeting point of ambition and desire, Hex follows a PhD candidate’s research into the fine line between poison and antidote. All the while, she becomes increasingly obsessed with her female tutor, and is drawn into a tangled web of illicit affairs, grudges, and heartbreak.
The Island Child by Molly Aitken | March | Canongate Books
‘Rich, haunting and rooted in Irish folklore, The Island Child is a spellbinding debut novel about identity and motherhood, freedom and fate, and the healing power of stories.’ I don’t really need to know more than that to be very excited about this one. The gorgeous cover doesn’t hurt though, to be fair.
Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo | 14th April | Anansi International
A Korean woman’s life has been dictated by misogyny is its many forms. When this systematic gendered belittling starts taking its toll, she begins to display strange behaviour, leading her husband to seek the aid of a psychiatrist. I love books that dissect gender roles and mental health in this way. A ‘clinical assessment of the everywoman’ rendered in ‘eerie prose’, this sounds like it could be a little gem from the translated lit scene.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh | 21st April | Penguin Press
I haven’t read any of Moshfegh’s work yet, but she’s an author I’ve been interested in for a while. Her newest offering is ‘a triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy’, and it follows an elderly woman who becomes obsessed with solving the mystery behind a note she finds, alluding to a murder in her new hometown.
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige | 28th April | Alfred A. Knopf
Juliet was struggling with her dissertation and the perils of postpartum depression when her husband Michael suggested a family sailing trip. The narrative is presented in two distinct parts; Michael’s captain’s log chronicling the events of the trip itself, and Juliet’s efforts in the present-day to come to terms with the tragedies that played out at sea. ‘Exuberant, harrowing, witty, and exquisitely written’, Sea Wife is a survival story, but it ‘also asks a pertinent question for our polarized political moment: How does a crew with deep philosophical differences and outmoded gender roles bring a ship safely to shore?’
Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh | 7th May | Hamish Hamilton
I enjoyed Mackintosh’s debut, The Water Cure, and really like the sound of her next offering. ‘Bold and chilling, it pushes beneath the skin of female identity and patriarchal violence, to the point where human longing meets our animal bodies’. The plot is based around a twisted form of lottery that dictates women’s futures. I love the theme of fate versus freewill, so my interest is very much piqued!
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas | 12th May | Custom House
Described as a literary page turner, Catherine House is a gothic mystery that seemingly combines ‘the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go’. That sounds excellent, as does the secluded, elite university setting.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson | 4th June | Jonathan Cape
I loved Everything Under, and Johnson’s new novel sounds like it could be excellent as well. Two sisters move to a long-abandoned family home to escape a serious case of bullying, but the arrival of a boy threatens to come between them. ‘With its roots in psychological horror, Sisters is a taut, powerful and deeply moving account of sibling love’.
Thin Girls by Diana Clarke | 9th June | Harper
A young woman is stuck in an anorexia rehabilitation centre. When she hears that her twin sister has been drawn into a bizarre dieting cult run by a faux-feminist dictator, she determines to get well so she can gain her freedom and save her. It’s ‘an exploration of toxic diet culture as well as the power of sisterhood, love, and lifelong friendship’, and I’m very much hyped.
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook | 11th August | Harper
This futuristic dystopian is set in a world ravaged by the effects of climate change. The Wilderness State is an area of protected land; the last where the air is clean, and plants and animals still thrive. Bea accepts on offer to be one of the first people to enter the Wilderness State, hoping the clean air will save her ailing daughter, Agnes. The experiment aims to test if humans and nature can live in harmony, but Agnes’s newfound wildness draws her away from her urbanised mother, and with the government threatening to develop the Wilderness State, the book explores whether or not we can find a way to work with the natural world rather than against it. I’m very excited about this one!
Gay Like Me by Richie Jackson | 8th October | Harper
The only non-fiction on my list, Gay Like Me is an open letter from the author to his son. As a gay man himself, Jackson felt compelled to reflect on his own experiences, and to examine cultural and political change throughout the years, when his 18-year-old son came out to him. Described as ‘angry, proud, fierce, and tender’, it’s ‘a blueprint for our times’ that celebrates progress whilst highlighting lingering prejudice faced by the queer community.
I’m going to have to stop there because this post is already way too long. It’s by no means a comprehensive list of all the exciting books coming out next year, but more than enough to start building some hype! What upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
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