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6 January 2022

What to read in 2022: fiction

The year’s publishing highlights, including novels by Ali Smith, Jonathan Coe and Ottessa Moshfegh.

By Leo Robson

Over the past two years the spread of a pandemic, against a backdrop of environmental disaster, during a Donald Trump presidency and a Boris Johnson premiership, may have confirmed the age-old fear that reality was outstripping the minds of even the wildest practitioner of satire or science fiction. Still, novelists are the cockroaches of the human species, ploughing valiantly on, whether inhabiting a more or less sequestered social world or doing their darnedest to size up the present.

A number of authors are publishing the successors to notable hits. Kamila Shamsie follows Home Fire with Best of Friends (Bloomsbury, September). Mohsin Hamid is publishing his successor to Exit West with The Last White Man (Hamish Hamilton, August). Nick Drnaso, the first graphic novelist to be recognised by the Booker Prize, has produced Acting Class (Granta, August). In Booth (Serpent’s Tail, March), Karen Joy Fowler, the author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, tells a story of six siblings, one of whom proceeded to kill a president; Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life, has written To Paradise (Picador, January), which considers the idea of the United States in three sections and across three centuries; and Douglas Stuart, who won the Booker in 2020 with Shuggie Bain, is offering a star-crossed love story set in sectarian Glasgow, Young Mungo (Picador, April).

The highest expectations may be heaped on Ali Smith, the title of whose latest novel, Companion Piece (Hamish Hamilton, April), may be hinting at its relationship to her seasonal quartet. Monica Ali is resurfacing after a decade-long break with her fifth novel Love Marriage (Virago, February), which revisits the family territory of her debut Brick Lane; Pankaj Mishra, now better-known as a polemical essayist, went twice as long before producing his story of emigration from India, Run and Hide (Hutchinson Heinemann, February).

[See also: 2022 books preview: non-fiction]

Among the year’s most anticipated debut novels are Louise Kennedy’s Trespasses (Bloomsbury, April), a tale of ordinary lives in Northern Ireland during the Troubles; My Name Is Yip (Doubleday, May) by Paddy Crewe, set in small-town Georgia in the early 19th century; Jo Browning Wroe’s A Terrible Kindness (Faber, January), about the 1966 Aberfan disaster; and When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo (Hamish Hamilton, February), a love story set in contemporary Trinidad.

Short stories continued to be viewed as both a commercial dead end and a testing ground for the future novelist. The themed collection seems a sensible compromise, as represented by Jem Calder’s portrait of a precarious generation, Reward System (Faber, May); Jane Campbell’s Cat Brushing (Quercus, July), which explores the lives of 13 older women; and Gurnaik Johal’s We Move (Serpent’s Tail, April), set in the south Asian community of Southall, in west London.

A number of titans and titans-in-the-making are looking backwards, from Anne Tyler in French Braid (Chatto & Windus, March), a family story beginning in 1959; Orhan Pamuk in the Ottoman empire-set Nights of Plague (Faber, September); Julian Barnes in a “loving tribute to philosophy”, Elizabeth Finch (Jonathan Cape, April); and Andrew Miller in The Slowworm’s Song (Sceptre, March); to Jenny Erpenbeck in Kairos (Granta, October), Benjamin Myers in The Perfect Golden Circle (Bloomsbury, May), Ottessa Moshfegh in Lapvona (Jonathan Cape, June), Elif Batuman in Either/Or (Jonathan Cape, May) and Sheila Heti in Pure Colour (Harvill Secker, February) – a “contemporary bible” about art, ageing and grief.

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Many of the biggest titles are reflecting on our times. Jonathan Coe, author of the Brexit novel Middle England, returns with Bournville (Viking, November), which follows a Birmingham family from VE Day to the Covid pandemic. Ned Beauman imagines a world after ecological collapse in Venomous Lumpsucker (Sceptre, July), as does Joy Williams in Harrow (Tuskar Rock, January), while Jennifer Egan explores biotech in The Candy House (Corsair, April) – a “sibling” to A Visit from the Goon Squad. AM Homes, in Phoenix: The Unfolding (Granta, September), offers a state-of-the-union novel, while Honorée Fanonne Jeffers considers American race in The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois (Fourth Estate, January). Commercial hopes are high for the music-industry thriller Run Rose Run (Century, March), a collaboration between James Patterson and Dolly Parton, who makes her adult-fiction debut at the age of 76.

And then there’s the third instalment of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series (Viking, September), the success of which indicates that despite what many of his new novelist-colleagues may believe, readers are really looking for a spot of escapism.

Publication dates are subject to change

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This article appears in the 05 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Johnson's Last Chance