A vampire in Shanghai, artists on Hydra, and identical twins run away to New Orleans… dazzling novels plus the best politics, history,and memoir to take you away from lockdown
Weather by Jenny Offill
A darkly witty distress call from Donald Trump’s US, the follow-up to Dept. of Speculation channels our anxieties about climate collapse and political meltdown into the wisecracks of an everywoman narrator. Shaped from fragments shored up against the chaos of now – riddles, anecdotes, fleeting thoughts – it walks the line between hilarity and deadly seriousness.
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
The long-awaited conclusion to Mantel’s trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell is a 912-page rollercoaster of relentlessly absorbing political machination and human frailty, as Mantel tracks the inner life of her subject with extraordinary acuity. Unmissable.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Groundbreaking in style and subject matter, this debut contrasts the experiences of Windrush arrivals in the Midlands and, half a century later, their grandson Jesse, who flees his Jehovah’s Witness background for sex work in London. It is a fearless, illuminating examination of black masculinity and possibility in Britain.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
O’Farrell’s finest novel yet is the story of Shakespeare’s family: his brutal father, his fiercely independent wife and his children, especially his son, Hamnet, lost to the plague at 11 and the inspiration for his greatest tragedy. Atmospheric and down to earth, the book provides a window into Elizabethan society, as well as a timeless portrait of parental love and grief – with surprisingly timely resonances for a new era of epidemic.
A Theatre for Dreamers by Polly Samson
The Greek island of Hydra in the 60s, Leonard Cohen’s expat escape, looks like paradise for creatives and free-thinkers. But what about the female muses inspiring the poetry and cooking the dinners? Samson summons the vision and the reality in a beguiling, deeply evocative portrait of a vanished era.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
One evening in a high-end US grocery store, a black nanny is accused of kidnapping her white charge; the subsequent altercation goes viral. Emira must grapple with the guilt and self-serving good intentions of her employer and overeager white boyfriend in a razor-sharp and very funny dissection of white saviour complex and millennial life.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
Inspired by the Bernie Madoff scandal, the follow-up to Station Eleven is a lyrical account of choice, responsibility and interconnected lives set around the collapse of a Ponzi scheme. Mandel’s prose is as glittering as ever in a novel of hauntings and alternate realities.
NVK by Temple Drake
A new book by Rupert Thomson is always a cause for celebration; here, he uses a pseudonym for a typically original take on the horror genre. In 21st-century Shanghai, a businessman is drawn to a young Finnish woman. But she doesn’t appear to be human … Spare, sexy and atmospheric, it is as deep and dark as a Finnish forest.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Sally Rooney fans will love this caustically witty debut about a spiky young Irish woman teaching English in Hong Kong, surprised by the complications of love and desire. Like Rooney, Dolan expertly skewers the anxieties and miscommunications of class and gender in snappy, page-turning prose.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Identical twins run away at 16 from a stifling small town to 50s New Orleans, where their lives divide: one “passes” as white and marries a white man. But what will happen when the paths of their daughters cross? Bennett’s second novel is an expertly plotted and empathetic exploration of race, identity and colourism in the tradition of Toni Morrison.
Agency by William Gibson
The follow-up to 2014’s The Peripheral time-travels between a version of our world in which Hillary Clinton beat Trump and Brexit never happened, and a futuristic London. Conspiracies and counterfactuals proliferate in a typically dazzling speculation on tech, power and the world’s shadowy forces from the sci-fi visionary.
Redhead By the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Middle-aged Micah has a steady, controlled existence – but life has a way of throwing up surprises in the bittersweet new novel from the much-loved American author.
Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud
A makeshift Trinidadian family – vivacious Betty, her shy son and their kindly lodger – must battle with love, secrets and forgiveness in a wise and exuberant family saga.
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
The sequel to the acclaimed Days Without End revisits John Cole, Thomas McNulty and the Native American orphan Winona, now scraping together a precarious living in Tennessee after the civil war. This time it is Winona’s story: another brutal and thrilling account of violence and shifting identities, told with powerful immediacy.
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
Which would you choose: your own four walls or a virtual existence? To observe or be observed? In this dazzling inquiry into loneliness and connection, which has been given added resonance by the atomisation of lockdown, the latest must-have gadget is a cute little robot controlled by a stranger.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Another Hillary Clinton what-if story – this time, what if she had not stayed with Bill? Sittenfeld follows her 2008 fictionalisation of Laura Bush’s marriage, American Wife, with a thoughtful investigation into choice and fate that unpicks the misogyny and missed opportunities behind the 2016 election.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
In an unnamed Indian city, children are vanishing. Inspired by TV cop shows, nine-year-old Jai and his friends set out to investigate. A debut full of heart and soul with a hugely endearing young narrator, it is a coming-of-age adventure story that does not shirk the realities of slum life, child exploitation and globalised poverty.
Actress by Anne Enright
A woman looks back on the glamorous, troubled life of her famous mother in the Booker winner’s sharp, emotionally acute tale of stardom, sex and motherhood.
The City We Became by NK Jemisin
The sci-fi/fantasy giant Jemisin described this first book in a new trilogy as “my chance to have a little monstrous fun” after the award-winning Broken Earth saga. Her portrait of a New York under threat from an ancient evil, and defended by human embodiments of its five boroughs, is hugely enjoyable, as well as a trenchant take on inequality and gentrification.
Grown Ups by Marian Keyes
Every smooth-running family relies on certain silences and secrets – but what if someone started telling the truth? Laughter and tears intertwine, as ever, in the latest from our leading chronicler of the emotional messiness of contemporary life.
Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins
The word-of-mouth success of lockdown, this riveting exploration of emotional damage is set against the dysfunctional world of Oxford academia. A college master’s young daughter has gone missing: how far is her nanny involved? It is twisty, page-turning stuff, but Atkins also excels at characterisation: the deliciously horrid master and his new wife, the eccentric scholar writing a history of their creepy house, the closed-off nanny with her own secrets and the girl at the centre of it all.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
A glitzy wedding party on a remote Irish island; an ambitious bride and groom for whom appearance is everything; a jostling cast of narrators, all nursing secrets and resentments … and then the storm hits. Gloriously escapist thrills from an Agatha Christie for the Instagram age.
Independence Square by AD Miller
In 2004, an idealistic British diplomat in Kiev is caught up in the pro-democracy protests, trying to head off disaster; 12 years later, he is back in London, a broken man. The two timelines intertwine for a savvy, soulful investigation into corruption, geopolitics and capital from the author of Snowdrops.
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton
A Somerset school is under siege in this tensely emotional thriller, unfolding over the titular three hours: ordinary heroes are revealed, as teachers and pupils are tested by extraordinary events. A breathlessly involving read that is also a disquisition on community, love and self-sacrifice.
The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos, translated by Sam Taylor
In a small French town, there is a library full of unpublished books. When a Parisian editor discovers a brilliant novel hiding among the rejected manuscripts, it causes a sensation: could deceased pizza chef Henri Pick really be the author? A charming, quirky addition to the whimsical subgenre of books about book lovers, done with a light Gallic touch.
Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris, illustrated by James Mayhew
In this gorgeously illustrated picture book, the flood has receded and Mrs Noah begins to plant for the future. An ode to joy, home and hope.
Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
Vibrantly illustrated, this is a fascinating and accessible introduction to the concept of DNA for five- to eight-year-olds.
Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray
A mysterious boy from nowhere, a young inventor with a secret and a deliciously evil villain feature in a suspenseful fantasy adventure for eight- to 12-year-olds.
Children and teens
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone
Scoob and his grandmother take a road trip across the American south in a fast-moving and funny novel for eight- to 12-year-olds that combines a family mystery with a potted guide to the history of segregation.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
A stunning new YA novel in verse from the Carnegie-winning author of The Poet X. Two sisters – one in New York, one in the Dominican Republic – are brought together by grief and love.
Burn by Patrick Ness
Ness’s latest YA blockbuster follows prophecies of armageddon in a world where dragons are real, prejudice bites and teens find love across the divides.
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
The Dutch historian, known for challenging billionaires at Davos, has written an ambitious study which argues that human nature is essentially decent.
One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time by Craig Brown
Following his hugely acclaimed biography-by-anecdote of Princess Margaret, Brown deploys the same technique to re-examine the Fab Four. Choice episodes from their lives, sketches of some of the unlikely people they bumped into (the acid-toting dentist, the comically vindictive police inspector), slivers of autobiography and occasional flights of what-iffery combine in a gloriously rounded group portrait.
Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights by Helen Lewis
The story of feminism is told in lively style via different struggles – divorce, sex, work, the vote – and warns against women who want change always being nice.
Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War by Vincent Brown
A powerful account of the slave rebellion that took place in Jamaica in 1760 situates it in the context of an era of conflict and argues that slavery was itself a “state of war”.
Radical Wordsworth: The Poet Who Changed the World by Jonathan Bate
Bate marks the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth with a biography of fizzing enthusiasm and insight that explains the enduring influence of work that defined views of nature, childhood and the self.
Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back by Mark O’Connell
Although not specifically about pandemics, O’Connell’s book is a prescient investigation into the mindset of preppers anticipating the imminent breakdown of civilisation. Encounters with evangelical Christians, paranoid conspiracists and Silicon Valley billionaires lead O’Connell to bunkers in the midwest, vast estates in New Zealand and even to eyeing up life on Mars.
Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: What War Does to Women by Christina Lamb
A superb, shocking investigation, by a leading foreign correspondent, of how sexual violence against women has always been a weapon of war.
House of Glass by Hadley Freeman
The Guardian journalist spent years uncovering the varied, remarkable stories of her grandmother and great uncles, as her Jewish family endured the Holocaust.
The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well by Daniel Levitin
The neuroscientist’s bestselling guide discusses the latest research on exercise, mental attitude and diet with infectious optimism.
Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West by Catherine Belton
A much acclaimed, revelatory study of the Russian regime follows the money and considers current dangers.
Tribes: How Our Need to Belong Can Make or Break Society by David Lammy
A DNA test leads the Labour MP and former minister to explore what it means to belong to a tradition and to a community within the wider society. Drawing on his own story, Lammy interrogates how and why tribalism emerges and what might be done to bring a divided world together.
The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive by Phillippe Sands
The international lawyer tells the gripping story of how a high-ranking Nazi went on the run to escape justice, as revealed by letters in the possession of the son who still defends him.
A Bit of a Stretch: The Diaries of a Prisoner by Chris Atkins
When documentary film-maker Atkins received a five-year sentence for tax fraud he found himself with an unasked for opportunity to apply his professional skills to a remarkable new world. His vivid observations of violence, injustice, failed hopes and systemic neglect make A Bit of a Stretch a worthy addition to the prison memoir genre.
Sway: The Science of Unconscious Bias by Pragya Agarwal
An acute look by a behavioural scientist at the unconscious influences that affect our everyday decisions, including racism and bias against women.
Clothes … and Other Things That Matter by Alexandra Shulman
An entertaining blend of fashion and personal anecdotes from the idiosyncratic former Vogue editor of 25 years.
Inferno by Catherine Cho
A beautifully written account of how a new mother ends up in a psychiatric facility with postpartum psychosis, interwoven with reflections on the influence of her Korean parents.
Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature by Patrick Barkham
An upbeat and urgent reminder by the Guardian writer of the importance of getting children out of doors, so they can develop a close relationship with wildlife.
A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister
A fun, irreverent but knowledgeable survey, from the Romans through the Victorians to the present day, featuring erotica, sex dolls and … bicycles.
Motherwell: A Girlhood by Deborah Orr
The posthumously published memoir of the renowned journalist focuses on her girlhood in the Lanarkshire town of the title, as she reflects on the power of parents and dreams of escape.
Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss by Rachel Clarke
An NHS doctor interweaves heartwarming stories of palliative care for patients in a hospice with memories of her beloved GP father.
That Will be England Gone: The Last Summer of Cricket by Michael HendersonThis passionate love letter to cricket and the sport’s old ways, from village ground to Test match, is also an elegy to a disappearing set of values.
How to Argue With a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality by Adam Rutherford
An expert in genetics argues against the idea of racial purity: every white supremacist has African and Chinese ancestors. His first sentence is: “This book is a weapon.”
A Race with Love and Death: The Story of Richard Seaman by Richard Williams
The fast cars and short lives of well-bred young motor racing drivers in the 1930s is given a wider context in this rich biography of the little-known Seaman, whose career straddled England and Germany and whose life brought together sport, politics and tragedy.
Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty
An autistic mid-teenager has produced an astonishing, lyrical account of his joyous relationship with nature, and how it helped him get through a difficult year.
Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now by Joshua Wong
The 23-year-old Hong Kong activist and politician combines a memoir and a prison diary with a powerful, resonant warning against creeping Chinese authoritarianism.
Looking ahead …
Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
The rise and fall of a fictional British band in the psychedelic 60s, with real-life cameos from Bowie et al.
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Uncanny timing for this novel about medics in Ireland battling the 1918 flu pandemic.
Summer by Ali Smith
The last in Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, novels rush-published to encompass current events, explores Covid anxiety and climate despair through one Brighton family.
Sisters by Daisy Johnson
The follow-up to the Booker-shortlisted Everything Under is an intense, claustrophobic study of sisterly bonds and domestic trauma.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
A magical library offers endless chances to rewrite life for the better in the latest high-concept blockbuster from the author of How to Stop Time.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Acclaimed American debut about a black graduate student navigating the rapids of race and sexuality.
Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
Women’s reproduction is controlled by the state in the follow-up to The Water Cure, a dark fable about motherhood and patriarchy.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss
One dreary day in a Scottish holiday park – and a rich parade of inner lives, in this thoughtful investigation into community and difference by the author of Ghost Wall.
Must I Go by Yiyun Li
An old woman addresses her secret past in the latest novel from a writer known for her profound engagement with love, loss and mortality.
The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
From the Women’s prize-longlisted author of Freshwater, the surprising story of a Nigerian childhood.
x+y by Eugenia Cheng
The bestselling mathematician has written a manifesto for rethinking gender, drawing on “higher-dimensional” maths to combat sexism, the patriarchy and mansplaining.
Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen
To what extent is the Trump administration an attempt to destroy democracy? An urgent report from the New Yorker writer, which draws on her Soviet childhood.
Rummage by Emily Cockayne
An entertaining, anecdote-rich history of rubbish, recycling and making-do, which considers what lessons can be drawn from the past.
Partition Voices by Kavita Puri
An original and moving collection of testimonies from British Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus about the transformative era of India’s partition.
Who Cares Wins by Lily Cole
The model and entrepreneur offers “reasons for optimism” in the form of interviews with people furthering a more “sustainable and peaceful” planet.
Shadow State by Luke Harding
The Guardian journalist continues his investigations into how Russia’s spies helped elect Donald Trump and backed Brexit – and how they threaten the future of the west.
Intimations by Zadie Smith
A volume of essays, written during the early months of lockdown, which explores work and human relations, “prompted by an unprecedented situation”.
Time of the Magicians by Wolfram Eilenberger
Already a bestseller in Germany, this rich group biography of four philosophers – Walter Benjamin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer – is already attracting attention in the UK.
Bland Fanatics by Pankaj Mishra
Essays from the respected commentator, which grapple with colonialism, the role of America, human rights and … Jordan Peterson.
Why the Germans Do It Better by John Kampfner
The political writer offers “notes from a grownup country” in the context of Brexit and with specially written material on the response to Covid-19.
Originally Published in The Guardian