Stylist has enlisted author, self-confessed bookworm and contributing editor at The Bookseller Cathy Rentzenbrink to whittle down 2016's book releases to the 10 titles to look out for this year.
2016 is an absolute corker of a year already and I was hard pressed to narrow down the novels I’ve enjoyed to these ten. There’s love of all types here.
Devotion by Louisa Young and Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave are love stories set against the backdrop of war. Anna Hope gives us a romance in an asylum in The Ballroom. What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell is a study in erotic obsession and Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be The Place shows us a couple in crisis.
There’s fun to be had in Eligible, Curtis Sittenfield’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice and heartbreak in Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon. They could not be more different in tone and style, but The Girls by Emma Cline and Not Working by Lisa Owens are both about young women trying to work out how to be alive in the world. And my last word for The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, a joyous and beguiling book that wrapped itself around me rather like its eponymous monster. She’s an astonishing writer and I look forward to her winning the Man Booker Prize one day.
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
1911: John and Ella are inmates in the West Riding Pauper Asylum where a new doctor with radical ideas brings the male and female inmates together once a week to dance in the ballroom. A beautiful love story and a shocking look at the treatment of the mentally ill only a hundred years ago.
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
When an American teacher meets a young man called Mitko in the toilets of the National Palace of Culture in Sofia he becomes obsessed with his desire for him. A slender and achingly beautifully novel full of the gloriously messy pain of unrequited and inappropriate love.
Not Working by Lisa Owens
Claire leaves her job to find herself but then doesn’t know where to look. A sharp and funny read infused with melancholy that exquisitely nails that sensation of being the only one in a group of friends who can’t work out what life is supposed to be about.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I’m partial to a fat novel set during the Second World War and this epic love story, inspired by the author’s grandparents, is a cracker. As soon as war is declared, Mary North leaves her finishing school to sign up, but doesn’t expect to be sent to a school and put in charge of evacuees…
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield
Great fun here as Pride and Prejudice is relocated to Cincinnati and brought bang up to date. Want to read about Lizzie the journalist having hate sex with Darcy the surgeon as the rest of her family show themselves up on reality TV? Of course you do. Kitty and Lydia are somewhat improved and Caroline Bingley just as ghastly as in the original.
(The Borough Press, £14.99)
This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell
There are few things I look forward to more than a new Maggie O’Farrell. Claudette is reclusive former film star hiding out in Ireland and her husband Daniel is a New Yorker with children he doesn’t see back in the States.
When Daniel hears the voice of a former love on the radio, he decides to find out what happened to her. Superb.
(Tinder Press, £18.99)
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Leon has a lovely baby brother called Jake and a Mum who can’t look after either of them. Leon’s not stupid, he doesn’t believe in Father Christmas and he knows when adults are doing pretend faces but it still comes as shock to find that he might be left behind when Jake is adopted because Jake is white and he is not. Heartbreaking and beautiful.
Devotion by Louisa Young
The third in the novel sequence that opened with the stunning My Dear I Wanted to Tell You takes us to Italy in the 1930s where it is all too easy for Nenna and her Jewish family to ignore the threat posed by Mussolini. Thoroughly absorbing and left me wanting more. I do hope there is a fourth novel to come.
(The Borough Press, £14.99)
The Girls by Emma Cline
California, 1969: Evie is 14 and full of longing to be loved or at least noticed when she falls in with a group of older girls and finds herself on the fringes of a cult. By the end of the summer her life will have changed forever. A tense and claustrophobic read that perfectly and painfully conjures the fragile expectancy of teenage girls.
(Chatto & Windus, £12.99)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Reverend William Ransome is trying to keep his congregation calm in the face of sightings of a serpent when newly widowed Cora Seabourne, liberated from a husband who enjoyed hurting her, arrives to investigate. This is a treasure chest of a novel, a literary version of a cabinet of Victorian curiosities that intrigues and delights.
(Serpent’s Tail, £12.99)