If I had to pick a single book I'm most excited about in 2016, it would be Anna Raverat's second novel, Lover (10 March). The follow-up to her amazing 2012 debut Signs of Life, it's about a woman taking 'a long look at her long marriage' after she finds out her husband may have been cheating. Given how expertly Raverat handled relationship themes in Signs of Life, I have no doubt it will be moving and effective.
One of the few 2016 books I've already read is Lucie Whitehouse's fourth novel, Keep You Close (10 March). I wasn't keen on her last book, Before We Met, but this is a big improvement, an evocative mystery about the death of an artist in what appears to be an accident; her former best friend, whom she hadn't seen in ten years, decides to investigate. It's a tenuous link, but I'll put Freya by Anthony Quinn (3 March) in the same paragraph because it's also about a pair of best friends - in this case journalist Freya and would-be novelist Nancy, who meet as teenagers in 1945; the story charts the evolution of their lives and careers over the next twenty years.
Hot Milk (31 March) is Deborah Levy's first novel since the Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home. Following a mother and daughter holidaying in a Spanish village, the story is 'a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic, examining female rage and sexuality'; it 'explores the strange and monstrous nature of motherhood, testing the bonds of parent and child to breaking point'. There are more unhappy families in All Things Cease To Appear by Elizabeth Brundage (8 March), a murder mystery spanning generations which also 'combines noir and the gothic in a story about two families entwined in their own unhappiness'.
A Girl in Exile by Ismail Kadare (24 March), translated by John Hodgson, is 'a stunning, deeply affecting portrait of life and love under surveillance', telling the story of a writer who comes under suspicion after a girl is found dead with a signed copy of his latest book. Where Love Begins by Judith Hermann (3 March), translated by Margaret Bettauer Dembo, offers a darker take on a transformative relationship, as a 'happy and unremarkable' protagonist suffers the unwanted attentions of a sinister neighbour. In The Half Life of Joshua Jones by Danny Scheinmann (24 March), the title character pretends he's the boyfriend of a girl in a coma (a genderswapped While You Were Sleeping?), but her real identity turns out to be more than he'd bargained for.
Dog Run Moon: Stories by Callan Wink (3 March) is a collection that's already gathering acclaim; its tales play out 'against the rugged backdrop of the untamed West... populated by characters who are toughened by life but still tender enough to bleed, to cry, to care, and to dream'. The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks (8 March) sounds like a more whimsical set of short stories - a 'veritable cabinet of curiosities' that's earned the author comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link.
Maestra by L.S. Hilton (10 March) is a thriller with buzzworthy potential - indeed, its Amazon subtitle promises 'the most shocking thriller you'll read this year'. Reportedly the first part of a trilogy, it features a devious heroine who works in an auction house and discovers an art fraud-related conspiracy. The Truth About Julia by Anna Schaffner (23 March) also touches on controversial themes, tracing the motivations of a young woman who blows up a London coffee shop, killing 24 people, via her conversations with an investigative journalist.
Finally, on 3 March, Penguin will be publishing 46 new Little Black Classics, encompassing 'authors and works new to the Penguin Classics list, from around the world and across the centuries - including fables, decadence, heartbreak, tall tales, satire, ghosts, battles and elephants.'
I'm really looking forward to the much-talked-about Not Working by Lisa Owens (21 April), in which a woman quits her job with the aim of finding her 'true vocation', only to find her life unravelling. Camille Perri's The Assistants (21 April) is, if not exactly on the same street, then at least in the same neighbourhood, with its tale of a broke long-time PA who has to decide what to do when she discovers an opportunity to exploit the expenses system.
April is a strong month for books that have already appeared on lots of 2016-most-anticipated lists. There's Shtum by Jem Lester (7 April), about three generations of the same family, including mute ten-year-old Jonah, moving in together; a short story collection 'of baroque beauty and a deep sensuousness' from Helen Oyeyemi, titled What Is Yours Is Not Yours (21 April); The Bricks that Built the Houses (7 April), which sees performance poet Kate Tempest turn her hand to fiction with a 'multi-generational tale of drugs, desire and belonging'; and Eligible (21 April), Curtis Sittenfeld's modern reinterpretation of Pride & Prejudice, which transplants the Bennet sisters to modern-day Cincinnati.
One I haven't heard much about but am pretty excited for: Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell (5 April). Like her debut, The Other Typist, it's set in New York City, though this time the era is the late 1950s and the story concentrates on three idealistic young writers. I'm also interested in finally reading The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan (7 April), originally slated for publication last year but repeatedly delayed. It's set in a Scottish caravan park during an unnaturally cold winter, so harsh that people are starting to think the world is ending, and is described as 'a humane, sad, funny, shimmeringly odd and beautiful novel... about people in extreme circumstances finding one another, and finding themselves'. And my beach read of choice (not that I'm likely to need one in April) will be 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson (12 April), which promises to 'transport readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past, where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes'.
The authors are new to me, but I'm tentatively adding these two to my wishlist as well: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (5 April), which traces the history of a painting through the story of two women - the artist who painted it, and a student who creates a forgery 300 years later; and Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke (7 April), a story-within-a-collection-of-stories about the author's creation of the book Foreign Soil, as well as that book itself, and its eclectic, global cast of characters.
There's lots more to come from this month: What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (7 April), the story of an American in Bulgaria who becomes obsessed with a charismatic young hustler; Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (28 April), translated by Nancy Forest-Flier, a tale of a cursed town with a modern twist - a group of teenagers decide to make the local haunting go viral; Prodigals by Greg Jackson (7 April), a collection of 'desperate, eerie stories' which 'map the degradations of contemporary life'; The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox (7 April), about a man with three families, all of which are kept secret from one another; and Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg (19 April), a modern noir set in the underbelly of Houston, with three female protagonists.
Everything I'm hearing about Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman (5 May) is making me more excited about it. A story about the friendship and rivalry between two teenage girls in the wake of a suicide, it's had great early reviews, and Stylist described it as 'a mini Thelma & Louise as directed by David Lynch'.
May is a good month for debut novels. Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss (26 May) is set in the New York art world in (no surprise) 1980, with a focus on three characters: an artist, a critic and a muse. The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz (3 May), translated by Elisabeth Jaquette, 'evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism, and a very real vision of life after the Arab Spring' in a nightmarish interpretation of near-future Egypt. The Trap by Melanie Raabe (19 May), translated by Imogen Taylor, is a thriller that looks sure to be a hit (film rights have already been sold) - it's about a writer who pens a novel about her sister's murder with the aim of ensnaring the killer, who was never caught. Another thriller with big potential is Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan (19 May), in which an agony aunt receives an anguished letter - purportedly written by a girl who's been missing for years.
Hunters & Collectors by M. Suddain (5 May) has an arresting one-line pitch: apparently, it 'reads like Vonnegut directing Grand Budapest Hotel, in space'. This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets (12 May), translated by Valerie Miles, is a Spanish novella about a woman recovering from the death of her mother over the course of a summer by the sea. Sockpuppet by Matthew Blakstad (19 May) is an internet-focused thriller based around the idea of what happens when an 'online celebrity', which is actually an artificial construct designed to test code, starts spilling people's secrets. Last but not least, Now and Again (5 May) is the second novel from Charlotte Rogan, author of the 2012 hit The Lifeboat. It sounds quite different from her debut; a woman who works at a munitions plant finds evidence of a high-level cover-up and develops a taste for excitement alongside her desire to right injustice.
The Girls by Emma Cline (16 June) is very high on my personal list of books to get excited about in 2016. The setting is Northern California in the summer of 1969. A lonely teenager, desperate to be noticed, is enthralled by a group of carefree girls and 'is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader'. The Power by Naomi Alderman (4 June) also sounds intriguing: it takes a simple idea - in this story, women are invariably physically stronger than men - and portrays a world in which 'sources of control have shifted... violence is enacted in surprising new ways and the link between physical strength, status, sex and power is made plain'. And of course I'll definitely be getting hold of The Essex Serpent (16 June), the second novel from Sarah Perry - an unconventional love story in which the central couple 'meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned'...
Fen by Daisy Johnson (2 June), a collection of linked stories, sounds very unique - it portrays the titular fen as 'a liminal land' where 'the wild is always close at hand... animals and people commingle and fuse, curious metamorphoses take place, myth and dark magic still linger'. As does The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (28 June): 'two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of a desert in a story of two friends, sisterly love and courage - a gripping, starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control, and of what it means to hunt and be hunted'. In fact, it looks like a strong month for idiosyncratic fiction in general; there's also The Many by Wyl Menmuir (17 June), in which a man moves to an isolated coastal village and is unsettled by the attentions of the locals (as well as a'dream of faceless men'), and the 'postapocalyptic psychological thriller' The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis (30 June), narrated by a girl 'who has just learned that her adopted father may be a serial killer, and that she may be his next victim'.
Silence Electric (9 June) is Essie Fox's fourth novel, but looks to be a departure from her previous tales of Victorian gothic; it starts off in the 1970s and examines the history of a silent movie star, uncovered when a young journalist finds her photograph in a junk shop. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (2 June) is set amongst the New York restaurant scene, as a newly arrived waitress 'finds herself pulled in by the darker elements of the service industry and the city's ever shifting demimonde'; Invincible Summer by Alice Adams (7 June) follow four friends from university through to their thirties as they pursue diverging paths; and in The Crime Writer (2 June), Jill Dawson reimagines a year in the life of Patricia Highsmith.
July and beyond
Quite a bit to look forward to in the second half of the year, even though details are thin on the ground. Among my most anticipated is Lions by Bonnie Nadzam (5 July); the blurb says it's 'a scorching, haunting portrait of a rural community in a "living ghost town" on the brink of collapse, and the individuals who are confronted with either chasing their dreams or - against all reason - staying where they are'. I loved Nadzam's brilliant first novel Lamb, and I'm hoping this will be just as memorable.
In The Last One by Alexandra Oliva (14 July), a woman enters a survival-themed reality show, only to find it may be a game without end. It's a debut and has already been translated into 20 languages, so safe to say it'll probably be big, as will The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney, a 'Hitchcockian thriller' that doesn't come out until September but is already being talked (tweeted) about as one to watch. Meanwhile, The Trespasser (11 August) is the sixth entry in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series. This time the focus is on Antoinette Conway, and it looks like the plot's as much about police in-fighting as it is the crime that's being investigated.
The Strays by Emily Bitto (15 August) won the Stella Prize in 2015 and is now getting its UK publication; in its portrait of an artistic family and their friends and hangers-on, it covers 'Faustian bargains and terrible recompense, spectacular fortunes and falls from grace'.
Two big books by established authors come out in September: there's The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (1 September), charting the relationship between two actors in mid-nineties London, and Nicotine by Nell Zink (8 September), which 'features smokers' rights activists, real estate troubles and a very strange love triangle'.
And that's a wrap! It's safe to say 2016 is going to be a very good year for new fiction.
Books to look forward to in 2016, part 1: January & February