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3 January 2024

2024: The year in fiction

This year’s books highlights include new works from Kevin Barry, Sarah Perry and Ali Smith.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

The 2023 Booker Prize reaffirmed the dominance of Irish authors in anglophone literary culture: four of 13 longlisted novels were by Irish writers, as were two of the six on the shortlist. Its eventual winner, Paul Lynch, is from Limerick. It comes as no surprise, then, that in 2024 there will be another bounty of books by major writers from Éire.

Kevin Barry returns with his first novel in five years and his first piece of historical fiction, The Heart in Winter (Canongate, June), a tale of forbidden love in the Wild West. Caoilinn Hughes is back with her third, The Alternatives (Oneworld, April), a portrait of four gifted sisters, while Colm Tóibín’s Long Island (Picador, May) will reunite readers with the characters of his 2009 bestseller Brooklyn. The acclaimed short-story writer Colin Barrett presents his debut novel, Wild Houses (Jonathan Cape, January), set in the author’s home county, Mayo. As does the critic and memoirist Sinéad Gleeson, whose Hagstone (Fourth Estate, April) follows Nell, an artist who lives on an island that emits strange murmurings.

Of course, there are new novels from Brits, too. Scarborough’s Northern Soul scene is the setting for Rare Singles (Bloomsbury, August) by the Durham-born Benjamin Myers, who won the 2023 Goldsmiths Prize. The Essex Serpent author Sarah Perry returns to her home county in Enlightenment (Jonathan Cape, May), a story that combines love, faith and astronomy, while the Birmingham-born Keiran Goddard writes “a testament to the people and places I love” in his second novel I See Buildings Fall Like Lightning (Abacus, February). Pity (Canongate, February), the first novel by the poet Andrew McMillan, explores masculinity and post-industrial decline in a South Yorkshire mining family, and Orlaine McDonald follows three generations of black women on a south London estate as they reckon with inherited trauma in her first book, No Small Thing (Serpent’s Tail, July). Meanwhile, Rachel Cusk returns with Parade (Faber, July), a novel about art, womanhood and violence.

Ali Smith – regarded by many as the UK’s “national novelist” – introduces a literary puzzle in the form of Gliff (Hamish Hamilton, October). The first of two novels, it will be followed in 2025 by Glyph, which will tell a story hidden in the first. Fellow Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh concludes his Crime series with Resolution (Jonathan Cape, July), and Andrew O’Hagan’s Caledonian Road (Faber, April) is a state-of-the-nation novel that follows one man’s public fall from grace.

Elsewhere, English-language authors escape anglophone cultures. In The Extinction of Irena Rey (Scribe, March), Jennifer Croft, best known for her translations of the works of Olga Tokarczuk, follows eight translators as they gather in a forest in Poland. The Booker-shortlisted author Neel Mukherjee moves between London and the West Bengal-Bangladesh border in Choice (Atlantic, April), about a publisher who embarks on a radical personal experiment, and the debut novelist Harriet Constable travels to 18th-century Venice in The Instrumentalist (Bloomsbury, August), which is based on the true story of Anna Maria della Pietà, a student of Antonio Vivaldi.

[See also: New books for 2024]

There are also delights that appear in English from other languages. In Vladivostok Circus (Daunt, February), by the Franco-Korean Elisa Shua Dusapin and translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, Nathalie arrives at a Russian circus to design the costumes for a trio who perform the show’s most dangerous act. The protagonist of Mammoth (And Other Stories, August), by the Catalan Eva Baltasar and translated by Julia Sanches, is a young lesbian who is irritated by everything in life. Play Boy (Serpent’s Tail, May, translated by Holly James) is the first volume of the French barrister Constance Debré’s autobiographical trilogy following her decision, aged 43, to abandon her marriage. The Third Realm (Harvill Secker, October, translated by Martin Aitken) picks up the characters from the bestselling Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard’s previous works The Morning Star and The Wolves of Eternity. The long-awaited new novel by Haruki Murakami, The City and Its Uncertain Walls (Harvill Secker, November), perplexed readers upon its Japanese publication in April 2023. With a translation by Philip Gabriel due in late 2024, what will English-language readers make of it?

Yet another bestseller smash is likely from Richard Osman, as the author launches a new series (Viking, September), giving The Thursday Murder Club gang a break after four books in as many years. Also likely to be a chart success is You Are Here (Hodder & Stoughton, April), a new love story from David Nicholls, whose hit 2009 novel One Day has been adapted by Netflix and will be available to stream in February. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, whose 2019 debut Fleishman Is in Trouble was also a bestseller and adapted for television, returns with Long Island Compromise (Headline, autumn), a generation-spanning saga exploring the burden of the American dream.

Other acclaimed North American writers with much anticipated fiction in 2024 include Rachel Kushner with Creation Lake (Jonathan Cape, September), a blend of spy novel and farce; Kiley Reid, who follows her bestselling 2020 debut Such a Fun Age with Come and Get It (Bloomsbury, January), about our money-obsessed society; and Percival Everett with James (Mantle, April), a reimagining of Huckleberry Finn.

In June the international literary world will mark a significant anniversary: the centenary of the death of Franz Kafka. Accordingly, a new collection of the author’s stories will appear (Selected Stories, Harvard University Press, May, translated by Mark Harman). Even more enticing is A Cage Went in Search of a Bird (Abacus, May), a collection of ten new stories inspired by Kafka and including tales by Ali Smith, Naomi Alderman, Joshua Cohen, Helen Oyeyemi and Elif Batuman. After all, what’s new doesn’t stay new. Great literature lasts – and encourages others to pick up the pen.

[See also: The New Statesman’s 20 best books of 2023]

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