Home entertainment has been catapulted into a new dimension during the pandemic. Previously more often a byword for self-indulgence, it has become an essential activity to shut out the stresses of a global health crisis.
And while many people have turned to pastimes such as cooking, gardening or painting (alongside the obligatory boxsets) there are those who will have found escapism in books.
UK bookshops have nonetheless struggled, along with the rest of the high street, as their shutters came down.
Yet, there’s an ember of hope in that book sales have remained largely on a par with 2019 rather than crumble, according to market analyst Nielsen. And innovation has flourished with some independent book shops now pushing their online presence and offering the kind of personal service Amazon and the supermarkets can’t match.
A spokesman from Nielsen acknowledges “there are still uncertain times ahead” but believes “people are still eager to buy books – either as gifts or for personal consumption”.
So with this in mind, let’s look at some of the books we might enjoy next year (bearing in mind that what follows is just a snapshot).
Fiction best sellers
Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun
The author: Japanese-born Ishiguro is a heavyweight in the sphere of contemporary English literature. The Booker Prize-winner and Nobel Laureate’s best-known books are The Remains of the Day, Never Let me Go and The Buried Giant. His Nobel honour was for works that “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world” and were driven by a “great emotional force,” said the academy.
The novel: Ishiguro is an “event” novelist in that each new book is heralded by frenzied excitement amongst his fans. And as this is his first since before his 2017 Nobel win, it’s likely to create a greater stir. Like some of Ishiguro’s previous works, the story is set in the future, or an alternative, unsettling version of the world, and explores the nature of being human. It tells of Klara, an “artificial friend” who longs to find a human owner but as the story unfolds will Klara eventually discover her dream is in fact the stuff of nightmares?
Published on 2 March.
Sebastian Faulks – Snow Country
The author: Sebastian Faulks has won an army of fans for his ability to be both very literary yet highly accessible. Although he’s written novels with a contemporary setting (as well as a James Bond book), he’s best known for his historical fiction, particularly his stories set in France – The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Charlotte Gray and Birdsong, which has sold more than three million copies and was made into a BBC series.
The novel: Faulks travels back to early 1900s Vienna. We meet Lena, a spirited, impoverished girl living in a small village with her alcoholic mother, and Anton, the restless son of a bourgeois family. Their lives become unexpectedly entwined leading to a narrative that explores yearning and desire and the impact of history. Faulks used the setting for his epic 2015 novel Human Traces and one or two familiar characters weave in and out but Faulks says this is not a sequel.
Taylor Jenkins Reid – Malibu Rising
The author: Taylor Jenkins Reid is best known for Daisy Jones & The Six, set in California amidst the hedonism of the 1970s music business, which is being made into an Amazon series by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Her other books include The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Forever, Interrupted.
The novel: Think Selling Sunset with knobs on as Taylor Jenkins Reid again plunges us into the intoxicating, heat-heavy realm of intrigue of Malibu, this time amidst the world of the filthy rich. It’s 1983 where we meet the much-envied Riva family and follow the fateful night when their castle of perfection literally goes up in flames, unearthing a seething bed of secrets and lies.
Beth O’Leary – The Road Trip
The author: Beth O’Leary is fast becoming a prolific novelist with this her third novel in as many years. The previous stories, The Flatshare and The Switch showcased O’Leary’s ability to create crowd-pleasing, contemporary fiction with humour and heart.
The novel: It’s one of those nightmare scenarios: bumping into an ex following an acrimonious split. And a collision is precisely what brings Addie and former boyfriend Dylan back face-to-face when he crashes his car into the back of hers. Both are travelling to the same wedding in Scotland but with his car now totalled, Addie has no choice but to give him and his infuriating friend a lift. With 300 miles ahead, the former lovers can’t avoid confronting their messy history.
Paula Hawkins – A Slow Fire Burning
The author: Paula Hawkins had a global best-seller with her debut thriller The Girl on the Train, which has sold 23 million copies worldwide and was made into a 2016 film starring Emily Blunt.
The novel: A Slow Fire Burning starts with a murder on a London canal boat. It seems an open-and-shut case after Laura is witnessed leaving the scene. But it becomes clear nothing is ever quite that clear. Hawkins says: “What I wanted to explore… is the way that no tragedy happens in isolation… I am interested in the way we become the people we are: how we choose what to hold onto and how those things can wound us.”
Some others: A new Daniel Hawthorne crime novel from Anthony Horowitz; An as yet untitled work by Liane Moriarty, and Richard Osman will be revisiting the elderly crime busters of The Thursday Murder Club.
Zakiya Dalila Harris – The Other Black Girl
The author: Zakiya Dalila Harris lives in New York and worked in publishing before leaving to write The Other Black Girl.
The novel: A sly satire and thriller rolled into one as it confronts race, competition and sincerity in the work place. The story focuses on Nella, who has for too long endured the snide attitude of her white colleagues. She’s thrilled when new black recruit Hazel arrives. They kick off on a good footing but then strange things start happening which lead to Nella becoming the office outcast and Hazel the angel. But just who is the culprit?
Marianne Cronin – The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot
The author: Marianne Cronin is a linguistics expert and lecturer, who also performs improvised comedy with the comedy group Box of Frogs.
The novel: A heart-warming story about how friendship can grow between people of different generations. Young girl Lenni and the elderly Margot are both terminally ill in hospital. When they meet in an art class they realise that together they have lived for 100 years. They begin a joint lasting project: to create one hundred paintings showcasing their lives, making us the audience to the remarkable stories of these two loveable characters.
Published on 18 February.
Hafsa Zayyan – We Are All Birds of Uganda
The author: Dispute resolution lawyer Hafsa Zayyan’s novel is inspired by her mixed-race background.
The novel: Protagonist Sameer’s story explores the definition of self-identity and the values we live by in the quest for happiness. Sameer may be a high-flying lawyer but he feels an unexplained emptiness. He starts to look for answers in his family history, which takes him to the 1960s, from Leicester on to Uganda when political and racial tensions were running high. Sameer’s discoveries leave him torn between lives – the glitzy future he should want, a past he’s desperate to untangle and a place to call home.
Kirsty Capes – Careless
The author: Kirsty Capes works in publishing and is a spokesperson for the UK care system, informed by her own experience. She completed a PhD on female-centric care narratives in contemporary fiction, mentored by 2019 Booker Prize-winner, Bernardine Evaristo,
The novel: Set during a hot, claustrophobic summer, this is the touching story of 15-year-old Bess, who has spent her life being let down by the care system. Bess finds out she’s pregnant but with no one she can tell – foster mother, social worker, the father of her child – she faces the rocky road ahead alone, and in the hope of finding how to live on her own terms. Bess’s narration is neither bitter nor self-pitying. Rather, her pragmatism, and humour, make her a compelling protagonist.
Lucy Jago – A Net for Small Fishes
The author: Lucy Jago is a former documentary producer. She’s previously written the biography The Northern Lights and the YA novel Montacute House.
The novel: Billed as “The Thelma and Louise of the 17th Century”, this is an evocative but accessible historical fiction novel inspired by the real Overbury Scandal, which rocked the Jacobean court. Two driven women from opposite ends of the social ladder join forces in a spirit of MeToo to break the cage of male dominance and abuse – dicing with death as a result.
Abigail Dean – Girl A
The author: Lawyer Abigail Dean says that in writing her crime thriller she wanted to “focus on the effects of trauma and the media glare, rather than the suffering which triggers them”.
The novel: A gripping and eerie read which is soon to be made into a TV series. It focuses on Lex and the impact of growing up in her parents’ “house of horrors”. She was labelled Girl A by the press when the atrocities came to light. She’s spent many years trying to forget but when her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home she finally has to come to terms with her past.
Some others: Animal – the fiction debut from Lisa Taddeo; The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent; The Girl in the Walls by AJ Gnuse; Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden; Interviews with an Ape by Felice Fallon; The Prophets by Robert Jones JR.
Sarah Harding – Hear Me Out
Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, here reflects on her early childhood growing up in Berkshire and Manchester and her path to fame as a member of Girls Aloud, which included working as a waitress, debt collector, telephone operator and club promoter, while touring caravan parks and pubs just for the chance to perform.
Harding says: “I can’t rewrite history; all I can do is be honest and wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s really the only way I know. I want to show people the real me.”
David Harewood – Maybe I Don’t Belong Here
A powerful memoir in which Homeland and Supergirl actor Harewood recounts the psychotic episode he suffered in his 20s, what he learned from the experience and how he made the journey to recovery. In particular, Harewood came to understand the extent to which his psychosis and treatment were rooted in race, racism, and his sense of identity in modern-day Britain. This memoir follows on from Harewood’s Bafta-nominated BBC documentary Psychosis and Me.
Published on 2 September.
Matt Haig – The Comfort Book
Matt Haig is best-known for his best-selling quirky novels, such as The Last Family in England, Dead Fathers Club, The Radleys, The Possession of Mr Cave and The Midnight Library. But he’s also won praise for non-fiction, notably Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet. Keeping in the realms of reality, Haig here brings us a charming tonic, fitting for these troubled times. The Comfort Book is a mix of short, hopeful anecdotes and reflections on life to dip into when in need of consolation, and help in seeing hard situations in a softer light.
Stanley Tucci – Taste: My Life Through Food
Actor Stanley Tucci is known for films such as The Devil Wears Prada and The Hunger Games but he’s also a cooking connoisseur. He’s written two cookbooks, directed Big Night, set in an Italian restaurant, and recently completed a documentary on Italian food. And let’s not forget his online tutorials, which regaled thousands during lockdown. Here, Tucci takes us on an anecdotal gastronomic journey recalling how food has been at the centre of his life from childhood, in good times and bad, from five-star meals to burnt offerings, all written with Tucci’s classic wry humour.
Jay Blades – Making It
Jay Blades has become one of TV’s biggest surprise success stories of recent years. His shows The Repair Shop and Home Fix may seem unassuming but their altruistic ethos has struck a chord with millions of viewers. Yet, though Blades is now a household name, it’s been a tough haul to get where he is today. Here he tells of a difficult childhood, his struggle with depression, homelessness and racism, and hopes to inspire others to seek help and follow their dreams.
The Reverend Richard Coles -The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss
The Reverend Richard Coles is as much a media star as a man of the cloth. He’s known for his pop career with the 80s bands Bronski Beat and The Communards and now as presenter of Radio 4’s Saturday Live, and a former Strictly Come Dancing contestant. Since joining the church, pastoral care has been his life’s foundation, and with that comes confronting the reality of death. Yet when his partner died in 2019, much that followed took Coles by surprise, from the volume of “sadmin” he’s had to deal with to the pain of typing a text message to his partner only to realise he’ll no longer reply. In his memoir, Coles hopes his account of living with grief will help others who share his experience.
Some others: Untitled medical history from Adam Kay; The Case of the Married Woman: Caroline Norton by Antonia Fraser; All the Young Men: How One Woman Risked It All To Care For The Dying by Ruth Coker Burks; Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke; Frank and Fearless: A life in Boxing by Frank Warren.