Most of 2016 wasn’t great for me, and it ended especially badly. 2017 has still been difficult, but overall a lot better. I finished my new novel and submitted it to literary agents; signed a contract for my first academic book with Manchester University Press; got a new (temporary) job at Durham University; and received a three-year research fellowship to follow on from this job at Queen Mary University of London. I moved to a new city (Newcastle) and am living by myself for the first time in my life, which is suiting me pretty well. I travelled to Aviemore, Porto and the Outer Hebrides.
In unimpressive but personally satisfying goals, I learnt how to put Zombies Run on my phone, managed to get into the swing of swimming proper breaststroke (which I’ve always known how to do, but it took me some time to get over putting my face in the water) and worked out how to make my laptop play things on the TV that came with my new flat.
I have made a list of 30 books I want to read in 2018 – but excitingly, none of them are books I already own, because I’ve virtually finished my TBR pile. Obviously, I can’t write in detail about all of them here, so I’m going to feature a few 2018 releases that I’m especially excited about. If anyone’s interested, I’ve included a full list at the end of this post.
The Western Wind: Samantha Harvey (March 2018). I thought Harvey’s last novel, Dear Thief, was incredible; I’m not normally one to rave about beautiful prose, but Harvey took it to a new level, writing especially well about the ‘endless possibility’ of the past. Her latest takes a different tack; set in fifteenth-century Somerset, it kicks off with a man being swept away by the river. Was this an accident, or was he murdered? The village priest has to investigate. Writing a novel set in Britain or Europe before the 1500s, is, in my view, an exceptionally difficult challenge, but if anyone can pull it off, Harvey can.
Rainbirds: Clarissa Goenawan (March 2018). Ren Ishida has almost finished his degree at Keio University in Tokyo when he hears that his sister Keiko has been stabbed to death in a small town outside the city. Heading to Keiko’s home, he finds himself becoming increasingly involved in the mysterious life she left behind. I usually enjoy books set in Japan, and I’m excited about this debut.
I Still Dream: James Smythe (April 2018). Smythe produced two of my favourite pieces of science fiction with the first two books in his Anomaly Quartet, The Explorer and The Echo. While I wish this was the third instalment of the quarter, I’m still excited about this stand-alone. Seventeen-year-old Laura has invented a rudimentary piece of AI called Organon. As it grows with her, it develops beyond what she could have imagined – and might offer new hope to the world.
The One Who Wrote Destiny: Nikesh Shukla (April 2018). Like many readers, I heard about Shukla’s work through his fantastic edited collection The Good Immigrant and his more recent projects for a literary agency and a journal to showcase the work of writers of colour and other under-represented groups. However, I’ve never read any of his own novels. His new book looks at three generations of the same family who started off in Kenya and moved to Keighley.
You Think It, I’ll Say It: Curtis Sittenfeld (May 2018). While I hated Sittenfeld’s retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Eligible, I’ve loved everything else she’s written (my reviews of Prep and Sisterland are on my old blog), and I’m keen to read this new collection of short stories. It includes what looks like a taster from Sittenfeld’s upcoming novel about Hillary Clinton, which I’m very excited about, as I loved American Wife, her fictionalised version of the life of Laura Bush.
The Female Persuasion: Meg Wolitzer (June 2018). Greer is drawn into feminist activism as a Massachusetts college student when she meets feminist icon Faith Frank, taking her along a very different path from the one she’d imagined. At first, I’d thought this novel was set during the second-wave feminist movement, but it seems to be fairly contemporary, which is a shame, as second-wave feminism deserves more (recent) novels. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued to read a novel that hopefully treats feminist campaigning and organisation seriously, even if I found Wolitzer’s The Interestings disappointing.
Hold: Michael Donkor (July 2018). This debut moves between Ghana and London, focusing on rebellious South London teenager Amma whose Ghanian parents bring house girl Belinda over from Kumasi to set her a good example. When Amma and Belinda develop an unexpected friendship, both their lives are changed forever. It promises to deal with themes of sexuality, identity and sacrifice.
That’s it for now! I’m starting 2018 as I mean to go on: I took part in Sheffield’s 5K parkrun in Graves Park this morning, and planning to meditate, read and work on the edits for my novel for the rest of the day, then watch The Great Festive Bake Off with my mum this evening as a reward.
The Rest of the List
Conversations with Friends: Sally Rooney
Manhattan Beach: Jennifer Egan
Little Fires Everywhere: Celeste Ng
American War: Omar El Akhad
Elmet: Fiona Mozley
Bystanders: Tara Laskowski
Negroland: Margo Jefferson
Attrib.: Eley Williams
Universal Harvester: John Darnielle
Solar Bones: Mike McCormack
How To Survive A Plague: David France
The Lucky Ones: Julianne Pachico
Sing, Unburied, Sing: Jesmyn Ward
Sophia of Silicon Valley: Anna Yen
The Rift: Nina Allan
Borne: Jeff Vandermeer
2084: George Sandison ed.
The Other Half of Happiness: Ayisha Malik
Lullaby: Leila Slimani
Melmoth: Sarah Perry
The Gloaming: Kirsty Logan
The Upstairs Room: Kate Murray-Browne