Once upon a time, being a female author in a man’s world often meant changing your name.
Writers such as Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) and Ann Petry (Arnold Petri) famously wrote under male pseudonyms in order to be taken seriously. Even JK Rowling adapted her first name from Joanne in a move intended to help Harry Potter appeal to boys as well as girls.
Fast-forward to present day and thankfully, the fiction market is flooded with women who are happy to reveal their real names.
For that reason alone, it’s always worth celebrating female authors: and iconic bookseller Barnes & Noble give us a good excuse to do so with their pick of the most anticipated new books for September.
The shortlist was compiled by their bookselling team, and it also marks the gradual return of the publishing season following delays caused by the outbreak of coronavirus earlier this year. Here are five books by female authors in the mix (including the latest offering from bestselling writer Yaa Gyasi, pictured above) that we’re particularly looking forward to. Dive in and get curating that autumn wish list.
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie
This is not only a new book but a new author, too. There’s a lot of excitement around Asha Lemmie’s epic coming-of-age debut set in post-World War II Japan. Eight-year-old Nori is the child of a scandalous liaison between a married Japanese aristocrat and her African American GI lover. After her mother abandoned her, she is concealed to the attic of her grandparents’ imperial estate – but a chance encounter with her older half-brother offers an unexpected, and turbulent, route to freedom. This is one for you if you can’t resist a sweeping drama that is steeped in identity politics and a rich sense of history/place.
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is a master of moral ambiguity, and this latest offering based around the life choices of a death doula will not disappoint. Dawn has devoted herself to guiding others peacefully away: but when a freak accident brings her face-to-face with her own mortality, she’s forced to rethink the meaning of life. Caught between two very different choices, she must confront the missed opportunities of her past, including a long-lost lover, as she considers: who makes us who we are, and who do we leave behind when we go? An intimate and relatable read for anyone who’s struggled at a crossroads in life.
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
“Lies, lies, adults forbid them and yet they tell so many”: the new novel from Elena Ferrante explores the murky world of adult deception set across two very different versions of Naples. When teenager Giannì overhears her father comparing her to her “ugly” aunt Vittoria, whose face has been removed from all family photos, she is set on a path to discover who Vittoria really is. Her journey unmasks a deep division between a city that’s at once aspirational and vulgar; but the question is, where is she reflected best? Like My Brilliant Friend, this coming-of-age tale is set to be adapted into an original TV series and has already won legions of fans in Ferrante’s native Italy, where it was published last year.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing won huge critical acclaim thanks to its unflinching portrayal of the slave trade relationship between Ghana and the US, and the impact this had on generations to come. Transcendent Kingdom is Gyasi’s follow-up, centreing on a Ghanaian family living in Alabama. Gifty is a Stanford PHD student struggling to understand her family’s experience of addiction and loss through the prism of neuroscience. At the same time, she finds herself looking to the evangelical faith of her childhood for answers. Religion, science, love and belief all interweave as motifs in this raw and emotionally charged story.
Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass by Lana Del Rey
The debut book of poetry by American songwriter Lana Del Rey features “eclectic and honest” musings on everything from long-lost lovers to climate change. It was originally released as an audiobook earlier this month, with Del Rey reading poems set to music by Jack Antonoff, of indie pop band Bleachers. A hardback book version of the project will be available at the end of this month, marrying together Del Rey’s typewritten manuscripts with original photography to form an “extraordinary poetic landscape”. An intriguing and fresh project for anyone drawn by the integral connection between poetry, art and music.