Books

From a fresh look at Jane Austen to Zadie Smith's new release: the most captivating new reads of November

Posted by
Sarah Shaffi
Published

There's only one place to start when it comes to books, and that's with Zadie Smith's first novel in four years, Swing Time. But there are plenty of other treats too, from a gorgeous Christmas poem in Ruth Padel's Tidings to humour and nostalgia with Enid Blyton's Five Go Gluten Free and laughs aplenty at Jade Chang's portrait of post-financial crash America The Wangs Vs the World

There's humour of a different kind in Ruby Elliott's It's All Absolutely Fine, a collection of brilliant illustrations on mental wellbeing. For those who want to curl up with an absorbing novel (once you're done with Swing Time), you have your pick from Brad Watson's Miss Jane, which I'm so glad crossed my path, Morgan McCarthy's intriguing The House of Birds, and Wray Delaney's addictive An Almond for a Parrot.

If you're pressed for time pick up Joy Williams' short story collection The Visiting Privilege and delight in stories full of depth and emotion. And finally, Helena Kelly's Jane Austen: The Secret Radical will mean you'll never look at Pride and Prejudice the same way again.

Click through to see Stylist's pick of the best books for November 2016...

  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

    Smith's first novel since 2012's NW takes us back to Smith's familiar north London, as well as across the world, as it puts female friendship under the microscope. Swing Time is partially about two young girls living on an estate who want to grow up to be dancers, and how their relationship changes as external forces put them on different life paths. This book is at its strongest when it's exploring the relationship between the unnamed narrator and her childhood friend Tracey, but I also loved the racial politics that come up again and again in the narrator's life, especially as she starts working for a Madonna-like superstar. 

    Get it here

  • An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney

    This is the first adult novel from Delaney, better known as award-winning children's author Sally Gardner. Told in first person, we get to know Tully Truegood as she awaits trial in prison for murder.  Tully's voice is so engaging, it feels like a friend talking to you (albeit a friend with a very, very different life to yours). This is definitely a novel for grown ups - it's a fun, explicit romp with real stakes that will have you trying to finish this book in one sitting.

    Get it here

  • It's All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

    An illustrated account of daily struggles with mental health, It's All Absolutely Fine started online, with Elliot posting her cartoons under the handle RubyEtc. It's All Absolutely Fine will make you laugh out loud and feel a deep ache in your gut simultaneously as it brings to life the way we all sometimes feel like curling up in a ball, and explores Elliot's own battles with anxiety and eating disorders, among other things. Above all, it's just so completely human.

    Get it here

  • Tidings by Ruth Padel

    This poem, meant to be read aloud, explores what Christmas might mean to us today - not just a time of celebration but also of conflict and loneliness. Narrated by Charoum, the Angel of Silence, on the one night he can speak - Christmas Eve - we follow a little girl, a homeless man and a fox, and also see Christmas around the world and throughout history. Lyrically beautiful, and accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Sarah Young.

    Get it here

  • Enid Blyton's Five Go Gluten Free by Bruno Vincent

    The latest set of books from your childhood to be given the parody treatment are Enid Blyton's series featuring Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the Dog. Now all grown up and living together in London, in Five Go Gluten Free, the five go on a gluten free, sugar free, fun free diet when Anne is gifted a recipe book and a spiraliser, and hijinks ensue. This book amused both the clean eating sceptic in me and the Enid Blyton fan, with its perfect characterisation - Julian is more smug than ever, Anne more enthusiastic/grating, George as practical in adulthood as in childhood, and poor Dick is just trying to make sure everyone is happy. Delightful fun, as Anne would say.

    Get it here

  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson

    Inspired by the true story of his great-aunt, Brad Watson's novel follows the life of Jane Chisholm, born with a genital birth defect in rural, early 20th century Mississippi. This book, which almost reads like a collection of interlinked short stories, explores not just Jane's life, but that of the small-town doctor who treats her like the daughter he never had, as well as Jane's parents, who love her in their own way but whose relationship with each other is tense. Unexpectedly beautiful and full of humour, this is a touching novel about an engaging girl who grows into a strong woman.

    Get it here

  • The Wangs Vs the World by Jade Chang

    Charles Wang has lost everything - the fortune he built through his make-up factories, his house, his cars. Now, angry at America for taking back the dream, he embarks on a road trip across the country with his wife Barbra, teenage daughter Grace and son Andrew, on his way to his eldest daughter, disgraced artist Saina's house, all the while trying to find a way to reclaim lands in China he believes belong to him. A story of the immigrant experience, capitalist society and creativity versus business, The Wangs Vs the World made me think while laughing out loud.

    Get it here

  • Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

    Jane Austen - creator of dashing heroes and witty heroines, purveyor of romances set in gently rolling countrysides and charming houses. But is there more to Austen than her Regency romances would have us believe? Helena Kelly certainly thinks so, and in an addictive debut book lays out the case that Austen's novels are actually revolutionary and have much to say, and that Austen was a radical.

    Get it here

  • The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams

    I'd not heard of Joy Williams before, but I wish I had. This collection of her short stories contains previously published and new work. Williams' stories are funny and surreal and a little bit dangerous. I loved the opener, a poignant and sad look at what happens when illness strikes a shattered family, while The Excursion flits between past and present seamlessly and is as disturbing as it is unputdownable. A great collection to dip in and out of.

    Get it here

  • The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy

    A dual narrative set in modern-day and 1920s Oxford, The House of Birds has an intriguing house at its centre. When Oliver, having quit his City job and finding himself a bit lost, decides to take on the job of managing a refurbishment of a house inherited by his girlfriend, he stumbles across a book written by Sophia, a woman in 1920s Oxford who wants nothing more than to learn. Partly inspired by Virginia Woolf's experience of being turned away from the Bodleian Library, this novel is about history, finding yourself, and the hunger to learn and become more.

    Get it here