13 must-read books for 2018
2018 is already lining up to be a year of rich pickings for bookworms. We’ve trawled through the new releases and picked 13 of our favourites – from debut novels to moving memoirs and long-awaited poetry collections. So clear your diaries and prepare to fall in love…
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
If you were a fan of The Essex Serpent, Gowar’s debut novel could be just what’s missing from your bedside table. Dark, original and with a gorgeous cover to boot, it’s a story of love and obsession set in Georgian London. When merchant Jonah Hancock acquires a mermaid one day, he’s suddenly transported into a world of high society, courtesans and danger.
Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
There’s been a lot of buzz around this psychological thriller. It’s a courtroom nail-biter that follows a seemingly perfect couple as they unravel, when MP James Whitehouse is accused of a terrible crime. Vaughan deftly weaves in her knowledge of the political machine (she was a political correspondent before turning her hand to fiction) and ratchets up the tension by telling the story from the perspective of the three characters: James, his wife and the barrister convinced of his guilt.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
Leila Slimani’s deeply unsettling novel has been garnering rave reviews on both sides of the Channel, as well as scooping the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Delivering a literary punch in its opening lines that’ll leave you reeling, it’s a tautly written meditation on motherhood and class. Set in Paris, the story centres around a wealthy couple, their two children and Louise, their – seemingly perfect – nanny.
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
Laura Carlin worked in a bank for 28 years before (luckily for us) she found a talent for writing atmospheric, historical fiction. In The Wicked Cometh she thrusts us into the darkest parts of early 19th-century London. Wickedness reigns down murky alleys and the poor are rapidly disappearing. But Hester White, a bright young woman from the slums of Bethnal Green, is determined to uncover the truth.
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
In her follow up to Swing Time, Zadie Smith presses the pause button on her fiction to bring us a delightful collection of conversational essays. She casts an erudite eye over a vast range of subjects – from Jay-Z lyrics and social media to German old masters and the story of black America. Dip in, enjoy and find out whether Justin Bieber should be more like Socrates.
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover grew up in rural Idaho, part of a fundamentalist Mormon family. She wasn’t registered for a birth certificate and didn’t attend school. In summer she bottled peaches, and in winter she gathered emergency supplies, so that when the World of Men failed, they’d all be ok. This remarkable memoir offers a glimpse into Westover’s world, and traces her monumental efforts to educate herself out if it.
Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope
It’s seven years since Wendy Cope delighted us with her trademark wisdom and wit, in Family Values. Now she’s back with a new collection that promises to explore our human foibles, whilst showing compassion for the big themes – love, death and childhood. A group of poems about Shakespeare – commissioned for The Bard’s 400th anniversary – also feature.
Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
If you grew up wishing you’d find yourself in Narnia every time you opened your wardrobe, or that you’d stumble down a rabbit hole at the bottom of the garden, then you’ll love this memoir. Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan explores how our beloved children’s books shape us, and what inspired their extraordinary creators. You’ll be dusting off your most treasured stories for a re-read before you’ve got to the end.
To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine
Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys explored the thrilling counter-culture of the 70s. Now the former Slits guitarist is back with a second instalment that promises to be just as raw. The title is inspired by a bag Albertine finds as she sorts through her dying mother’s things – labelled “To throw away unopened”. With humour and sensitivity she dissects the truth about family, feminism, ageing, and her identity as a rebel and outsider.
Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam
This is a debut novel that promises big things for its young author. Half-Scottish, half-Palestinian Salam spent six months living on a small South Pacific Island. Out of her experiences, she’s fashioned a richly-textured, vivid tale (you can practically taste the papayas and smell the jungle). When Beatriz Hanlon accompanies her missionary husband to Advent Island, she knows there’ll be challenges but she settles into missionary life. That is, until an unexpected guest arrives and they’re pushed to breaking point.
Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce
It’s 1940 and the Second World War casts its shadow over the capital. Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a war correspondent when she bags a plum job at a London paper. Or so she thinks. Instead, a mix up leads to her typing up letters for Henrietta Bird’s problem page. But once Emmeline starts reading the ones Mrs Bird discards, she just can’t help but write back. An irresistibly warm-hearted story that’ll make you laugh and cry.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey
Healey’s prize-winning first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was deeply touching and inventive: a mystery told from the viewpoint of a narrator who’s slipping into dementia. This follow up delves into family relationships and mental illness, and also has a secret at its heart. Jen’s teenage daughter goes missing, only to return four days later, apparently unharmed – but she refuses to tell anyone where she’s been. It’s up to Jen to find out what really happened.
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up on the Stones Estate, summer means football, music, freedom and (hopefully) girls. But when a British soldier is killed, their estate is caught up in riots and nowhere is safe. At once searing and tender, Gunaratne’s first novel unfolds across 48 hours. For anyone interested in the big issues facing society today – identity, radicalism and community – this is an essential read.