16 Books You Need To Read This Year

16 Books You Need To Read This Year

This year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction contenders comprised 16 novels honouring both new and well-established writers and a range of genres. Initially chosen by authors Scarlett Curtis, Melanie Eusebe, Viv Groskop and Paula Hawkins, last night the six-strong shortlist – voted for by the public – was revealed. Read on for a short summary of each…


A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

This sprawling novel tells the legend of Troy from an all-female perspective. It begins with a poet wishing to write an epic featuring the women of Troy and praying for inspiration to Calliope, the muse of poetry. Calliope may be wonderfully sardonic towards the poet, but she empathises entirely with the women whose stories she is encouraging him to write. She is determined that they will not be a mere footnote in history; they deserve to be heard and for their experiences to be chronicled. The fragmented story that follows is a deeply moving one. There is not one aspect of brutality or cruelty that has not been meted out to these women. In ancient Troy as in today’s world, the sacrifices of war are rarely isolated to the battlefield.

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Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Fifteen-year-old Ana never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan proposes and promises to take her to New York, she must say yes. It doesn't matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

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The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel

With The Mirror & The Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, and between royal will and a common man’s vision. It begins in May 1536 – Anne Boleyn is dead. Cromwell emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles into short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour.

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Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Joint winner of the Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times that is celebratory, dynamic and utterly irresistible. Lauded by all of Candice Carty-Williams (Queenie) Diana Evans (Ordinary People) and Ali Smith (How to be Both), this is essential reading.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell

On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon has a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. But their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs and their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week. Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

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Weather by Jenny Offill

Lizzie got her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practise her other calling: as an unofficial shrink. For years, she has supported her God-haunted mother and her recovering-addict brother. They have both stabilised for the moment, but then her old mentor, Sylvia, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change to right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilisation. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to acknowledge the limits of what she can do. But if she can't save others, then what, or who, might save her?

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Actress by Anne Enright

From Booker Prize-winning Irish author Anne Enright comes this moving novel about fame, sexual power and a daughter’s search to understand her mother’s hidden truths. This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and the West End. But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime. Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.

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Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child. As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of 16-year-old Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony – a celebration that ultimately never took place. Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history.

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Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

If you’re a fan of Sally Rooney, Phoebe Waller-Bridge or Justin Simien, you’ll love this book. Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican Brit living in London. The novel chronicles her struggles as a young woman – and there are many struggles. She works at a newspaper for a boss that doesn’t register her existence, and where she is made to feel out of place by her white middle-class colleagues. She goes on a break from her long-term boyfriend, Tom, and her family never really listen to her. As you see Queenie make bad decision after bad decision, you really root for her, and hope she’ll finally catch a break. A timely and hilarious debut.

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve. Then their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival at the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny’s and Maeve’s lives. Now grown up, the siblings are drawn back time and again to a place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is the exile of their mother, who is an absence more powerful than any presence they have known. 

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Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Nine-year-old Jai watches too many reality cop shows, thinks he’s smarter than his friend Pari (even though she always gets top marks) and considers himself to be a better boss than Faiz (even though Faiz is the one with a job). So when a boy at school goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from episodes of Police Patrol to find him. With Pari and Faiz by his side, Jai ventures into some of the most dangerous parts of the sprawling Indian city – from the bazaar at night to the railway station at the end of the Purple Line. But kids continue to vanish, and the trio must confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force and soul-snatching djinns in order to uncover the truth.

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The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

At a family wedding, the four Sorenson sisters dot the green lawn in their summer pastels, with varying shades of hair and differing degrees of unease. Their long-infatuated parents watch on with a combination of love and concern. Sixteen years later, the already messy lives of the sisters are thrown into turmoil by the unexpected reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier – and suddenly the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past is revealed. Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us.

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Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Anyone who has followed Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s illustrious journalism career will know she was destined to write a good book one day. In this exploration of marriage and divorce, Fleishman Is in Trouble follows Toby Fleishman, recently separated from his wife and enjoying his single life. In the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, he finds himself looking after his two children full time after his ex-wife Rachel drops their children off at his place and simply never returns. Now Toby must try and figure out where Rachel went, while learning to balance his patients at the hospital, his parental responsibilities and his burgeoning sex life. But while he plays the spurned husband, it might be time for Toby to face up to what really caused the break-up of his marriage.

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How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked. Only three survivors remain, one of them a small child. In a neighbouring village, 17-year-old Wang Di is bundled into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel. In the year 2000, her mind is still haunted by her experiences there, but she has long been silent about her memories of that time. It takes 12-year-old Kevin, and the mumbled confession he overhears from his ailing grandmother, to set in motion a journey into the unknown to discover the truth. Weaving together two timelines and two life-changing secrets, How We Disappeared is a profoundly moving novel.

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Girl by Edna O’ Brien

Captured, abducted and married into Boko Haram, the narrator of this story witnesses and suffers the horrors of a community of men governed by a brutal code of violence. Barely more than a girl herself, she must soon learn how to survive as a woman with a child of her own. Just as the world around her seems entirely bound for hell, she is offered an escape of sorts – but only into another landscape of trials and terrors amid the unforgiving wilds of north-eastern Nigeria, a place where her traumas are met with the blinkered judgement of a society in denial. How do we love in a world that has lost its moorings? How can we comprehend the barbarism of our enemies, and learn forgiveness for atrocities committed in the name of ideology? Edna O'Brien's new novel pierces to the heart of these questions.

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Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie

On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries. Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after. Malachi had to grow up too quickly. Between looking after Tristan and nursing a broken heart, he feels older than his 21 years. Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. Elvis is trying hard to remember to the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things. Pamela wants to run back to Malachi, but her overprotective father has locked her in and there's no way out. It's a day like any other, until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.

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The 25th winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced in September.

Visit WomensPrizeForFiction.co.uk

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