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We round up some of 2020’s best novels, from Booker Prize Winning Shuggie Bain to bestselling author’s Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road.
If you know a big fan of Normal People, give Noaise Dolan’s Exciting Times a go, or how about Peep Show actor Robert Webb’s first foray into fiction, Come Again?
Take your pick of the best reads below, whether you’re on the hunt for something new or trying to find the perfect Christmas gift.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador)
Stuart, a Scottish fashion designer based in New York, looks set to quit the day job after bagging the Booker Prize with this old-school debut, a semi-autobiographical heart-wrencher about a 1980s boyhood blighted by drink in working-class Glasgow.
Vivid storytelling pins you to the page as the young protagonist toils to look after his alcoholic mum, the novel’s true star.
Buy it for £11.99 at Waterstones.
The Lying Life Of Adults by Elena Ferrante (Europa)
The mysteriously pseudonymous author of My Brilliant Friend, about two bright but poor girls in postwar Naples, came back with a bang in this volcanic coming-of-age novel set on her usual stamping ground – only this time in the 1980s, in the company of a middle-class teen whose aunt opens her eyes to the sordid truth about her parents.
Buy it for £14.78 from Amazon.
The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (Cape)
In a time of Covid-19, perhaps this haunting exploration of violent misogyny down the centuries was simply too dark for this year’s prize judges – why else did they all ignore it?
A riddlingly constructed triptych powered by high-voltage scene-making, it cuts between a gaslit 1950s housewife, a present-day sex worker and a girl on the run from 18th-century witch-hunters. Unmissable.
Buy it for £14.99 from Waterstones.
This Lovely City by Louise Hare (HQ)
Set in a 1950s London still reeling from the war, this terrific debut follows a Jamaican jazzman.
Two years after arriving on the Windrush, he finds his plan to settle down with the mixed-race girl next door thrown into turmoil after he makes a gruesome discovery that ignites racial tensions and sees him lined up as a murder suspect. Hare tells the atmospheric, combustible story with a light touch.
Buy it for £10.44 from Amazon.
Redhead by The Side Of The Road by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus)
Tyler, 79, said she would retire five years ago but thank God she didn’t – this gloriously warm novel felt heaven-sent when it appeared in deepest lockdown.
With exquisite lightness, it follows a happy-go-lucky IT guy who is comically slow to see why his girlfriend takes offence when he doesn’t ask her to move in with him.
Buy it for £12.99 from Waterstones.
Come Again by Robert Webb (Canongate)
After his bestselling memoir, How Not To Be A Boy, Jez from Peep Show added yet another string to his bow this year with this crafty splice of bittersweet romcom and 100mph action adventure.
A widow travels back in time to warn her future husband about his fatal tumour – only to wonder why she ever fell for him in the first place.
Buy it for £11.88 from Wordery.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers (W&N)
Some of the year’s most purely enjoyable reading could be found in this perfectly formed, 1950s-set tale.
A middle-aged local journalist living alone with her mother in suburban London finds herself aimlessly drifting until she’s tasked with interviewing a woman who claims to have had a virgin birth. A droll, charming and wholly absorbing blend of period mystery and romance.
Buy it for £12.99 from Waterstones.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (Dialogue)
The year’s most addictive novel, this page-turning intergenerational family saga explores the ripple effects of racial passing.
It contrasts the fortunes of two light-skinned black twin sisters from the US throughout the second half of the 20th century as one returns to their Louisiana hometown with a darker-skinned daughter and the other lives as a white woman in Los Angeles.
Buy it for £10.00 from Amazon.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (W&N)
This year, the publishing industry’s insatiable hunt for the next Sally Rooney alighted on this astringently funny debut from an altogether spikier young Irish writer.
It follows a millennial Dubliner caught up in a bisexual love triangle while teaching English in Hong Kong. Dry quips and dead-eyed social observation gives this super-smart debut a sweet-and-sour fizz.
Buy it for £8.99 from W H Smith.
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