Five unmissable summer reads

    17 July 2020

    Summer holidays might be a little different this year, but even if you won’t be enjoying a week or two by the pool in an exotic location, hopefully you’ll still have some time to yourself to get some reading done. Here are five new novels to add to your pile…

    Sisters by Daisy Johnson

    Sisters is a short, sharp shock of a book from Daisy Johnson, whose debut novel Everything Under was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018. The titular sisters, September and July, arrive with their mother Sheela at their new home on the edge of the North York Moors. The narrative switches between July and Sheela, with the sisters’ strange relationship and the reason for their flight from their settled lives in Oxford gradually revealed. The too-close for comfort sibling bond feels a touch familiar and some readers may see the ending coming, but Johnson’s lyrical prose and knack for conjuring unsettling moments makes for an impressive read. Sisters will, I suspect, be a big hit. Released on August 13th.

    The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

    Sparkling first lines are things to cherish, and Eley Williams’s opener to The Liar’s Dictionary is a doozy. “David spoke to me for three minutes without realising I had a whole egg in my mouth”. If, like me, that’s a sentence that immediately makes you smile, then this is a book for you.

    A young woman called Mallory is working at Swansby’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary, a tome known only for being unfinished. Mallory is the dictionary’s sole employee, working under the eccentric heir to the family business. Her two tasks are to field calls from a maniac who wants to blow up the company offices and to wheedle out mountweazels, fake entries that have somehow made it into the dictionary.

    Mallory’s story is intercut with that of Winceworth, the man responsible for the made up words, a repressed, depressed lexicographer working at the dictionary at the end of the 19th century. The Liar’s Dictionary is a wondrous, multi-faceted novel. It’s an absurdist flight of fancy full of funny lines and set pieces that put me in the mind of the films of Wes Anderson. It’s also a joyous celebration of language and a touching human story about how people try to leave their mark on the world. Highly recommended. Released on July 16th.

    By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

    A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar’s 2014 novel cast Hitler as a private eye working the darkest corners of Soho – a set up that was unfolding in the imagination of a Jewish writer incarcerated in Auschwitz. The book embraced pulp fiction and did something startling and magnificent with it. By Force Alone does similar bold things with genre, rewriting the King Arthur legend through a mash up of horror, fantasy, history and black comedy. The narrative voice is deadly serious but there’s a strong undercurrent of gleefulness to the profanity, violence and otherworldly magic that makes By Force Alone a whole lot of fun to dive into. Out now.

    You People by Nikita Lalwani

    If you want a book to read this summer that taps into contemporary concerns, this excellent new one from Nikita Lalwani is the one to read. You People is set in a south-London pizzeria and, as with The Liar’s Dictionary and Sisters, it’s a book of dual narratives. Nia, a mixed race Welsh girl, works as a waitress at the restaurant and is in the capital to escape her family, while Shan, a Tamil on the run from his homeland, dreams of being allowed to stay in Britain and for his wife and son to join him. You People is a tough political novel that avoids preachiness, and Lalwani pulls off a tense climax that brings the two plot strands together with aplomb. Out now.

    Long Bright River by Liz Moore

    A meaty crime novel is a great thing to get stuck into during the summer months, and Long Bright River by Liz Moore fits the bill perfectly. Mickey Fitzpatrick is a uniform cop patrolling a down at heel Philadelphia precinct. She’s trying to track down her drug-addled sister while a serial killer targetting female junkies is on the loose. The story switches back and forth between Mickey’s present day troubles (which also include her struggles as a working single mum) and her difficult past. She’s a beguiling protagonist and the writing is spare and pacey. The picture Moore paints of contemporary urban America is utterly compelling for all of its bleakness. Out now