Christmas and the New Year means you’re going to need a book to curl up next to the fire with, right? 2021 has welcomed some real crackers into the literary universe and Megan Thomas has picked out one from every month of the year to see you into 2022.
JANUARY: YOUR STORY, MY STORY
Connie Palmen [trans. Eileen J. Stevens and Anna Asbury] (Amazon Crossing)
Your Story, My Story is a fictional reimagining of the toxic love story and marriage between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, a union that has been probed, dissected and mythologised in the literary world since Plath took her own life in 1963. While Hughes’ adultery is recognised as a catalyst for Plath’s suicide, this book, written from Hughes’ perspective, presents a hypothetical grey area in the life of two prolific writers, exploring everything from the toll of Plath’s fragile mental state, the competition and jealousy that can be expected from two so passionate, and the cut-throat industry that fuelled (or, fuels) creatives throughout their careers. It is important to remember the fictional nature of the novel because the research is so thorough and the prose so enchanting that a reader might be seduced into believing it to be a memoir.
Price: £4.99. Info: here
FEBRUARY: THE WEAK SPOT
Lucie Elvin (Prototype)
A novella to devour: The Weak Spot is a compelling, disturbing work of fiction that leaves the reader contemplative and inspired. In a mountainside town somewhere unspecified in Europe, accessible only by funicular, our protagonist begins an apprenticeship with August Malone, the local pharmacist. Passionate (or, perhaps, obsessive) about the town and the way in which its residents are compelled to leave it, Mr Malone sees his role as not just a source for medical attention, but as a confession-like hub for secrets and the townsfolk’s confidence, which his apprentice soon adopts. She is troubled when he begins using these secrets to advance his mayoral campaign, but with all those surrounded by him so gaslighted by his charisma, nobody is quite certain about what they feel, or why they feel it.
Price: £12. Info: here
MARCH: ACTS OF DESPERATION
Megan Nolan (Vintage)
This debut novel from Megan Nolan captures a wide breadth of emotion and sorrow while remaining a deeply personal, memoir-like tale of love and loss – of self, of another, of an idea of another. The non-linear, fragmented timeline of events gives the impression of travelling through the narrator’s memory rather than of being told a structured story, which has the effect of making the narrator’s inner turmoil and toxic romantic relationship all the more visceral.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
APRIL: WHY REBEL
Jay Griffiths (Penguin)
When I first reviewed Why Rebel for Buzz, I was particularly struck by the messaging around the importance of rebellion, particularly the author’s experience protesting and being arrested during the Extinction Rebellion events in the UK. Her commitment and passion is inspiring. This remains the case months later, but with further reflection, arguably the messaging with the most longevity in Why Rebel is why the planet needs protecting, who and what we’re protecting it for. Griffiths writes poetically about the earth, its inhabitants, their role in preserving the plants, the birds, the air – our willingness to destroy these or turn a blind eye to those destroying these, for socio-economic gain. Looking beyond the obvious treachery of environmental destruction, Griffiths goes deeper, uprooting the miniature ecosystems around which the world expands, admiring their wings and weeping for their extinction. This book reads less like instruction, and more like a plea.
Price: £7.99. Info: here
MAY: HOW TO KIDNAP THE RICH
Rahul Raina (Little, Brown)
Between toxic love stories and environmental decay, this seems like the perfect opportunity to lighten the mood: How To Kidnap The Rich is a hilarious satire that will do just that, which reads like a soap opera that gets more outrageous with every chapter. Ramesh is a poor boy living in Old Delhi. His father is abusive, and Ramesh spends his time working in his father’s tea shop wishing for a better future. Luckily, he’s bright. Really bright. So the All India Examinations, known locally as the key to the West, are his ticket. But his poverty means that when asked to sit the exam for a rich child whose parents can cover the damage, he’s in no position to refuse. Which is how he starts selling the All India Package, sitting the exams on behalf of the country’s elite while he still looks the right age. Things take a more complicated turn, though, when he accidentally scores the highest mark in India and the media take over…
Price: £14.99. Info: here
JUNE: HELL OF A BOOK
Jason Mott (Trapeze)
Another book that resulted in a Buzz review, like How To Kidnap The Rich, Hell of a Book balances joviality with important social commentary expertly, adding a surrealist twist to the mix. Since reviewing, Hell Of A Book has won the US National Book Award for Fiction, adding to the reasons it’s worth grabbing a copy. The protagonist is the author of a book that was a great success, and we join him on his bestseller’s national book tour as he is told by just about everyone who he meets that it is one hell of a book. Drunk, disorientated and hallucinating much of the time, he doesn’t quite appreciate it as much as he could. Interwoven with his story are his visions of a young Black boy, who he refers to as “The Kid”, and strikes a resemblance to a young boy who was recently killed by the police. But is he a vision? The Kid insists he is not, and our protagonist isn’t in much of a place to argue. Ambiguous and packed with astute observations of the state of racism in America, Hell Of A Book is eye-opening and thoroughly entertaining.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
JULY: THE STRANGERS OF BRAAMFONTEIN
Onyeka Nwelue (Abibiman)
This Welsh magazine sending me a book to review which is set 20 minutes down the road from where I grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, seemed uncanny, even if it tells of a tale of this city that I’ve never known. Nwelue shows the dark side of Braamfontein, a suburb of Johannesburg, with a propensity for dialogue and scene that has you picturing it playing out like a film internally. Desperate but ambitious people from other African countries flock to South Africa and to Johannesburg specifically, a city with a reputation on the continent to bring jobs and a better life. But not many find it. Between the gangs, the crime and the xenophobia, our misfit characters realise that the life they’ve chosen comes at a metaphorical cost, a life toll, that they may never be able to afford.
Price: £8. Info: here
AUGUST: MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW
Stephen Graham Jones (Simon & Schuster)
When an author is dubbed the “Jordan Peele of horror fiction”, you’ve got to pay attention. When you learn that My Heart Is A Chainsaw is a tribute to slasher films, it’s got to be a no-brainer. We meet Jade: she’s obsessed with slasher films and thrilled by anyone willing to let her talk about them. In order to rescue her grades to graduate from high school, she’s writing an epic essay series, linked with slasher films (of course). Through her obsessive knowledge, Jade starts to notice that things aren’t quite right in her town which is quickly being gentrified while overlooking the Indigenous genocide which took place there. Or rather, she is noticing that things are falling into an alarming pattern.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
SEPTEMBER: BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU
Sally Rooney (Faber)
A 2021 highlight for me, Sally Rooney’s third novel is as brilliant as the two which preceded it. It is tricky to describe a simple plot because not much happens. Instead, everyday experiences are chronicled. We get more insight into the four main characters’ lives through the emails between two characters, Alice and Eileen. This is an interesting technique to have interspersed between third-person narration and illustrates to the reader how much life is shaped by individual experiences rather than objective truths. Tackling topics of friendship, jealousy, love, loathing, money, socialism, class and life in the Republic Of Ireland, Beautiful World, Where Are You asks questions you didn’t know you needed answering.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
OCTOBER: THE IMPOSSIBLE TRUTHS OF LOVE
Hannah Beckerman (Lake Union)
On his deathbed, Nell’s father says to her: “You need to know that I’ve always loved you even though you were never really mine to love”. At a time so draining, both mentally and physically, one can only imagine the toll this takes on Nell, which she struggles to confront in the time that follows between the funeral, her mum’s slow descent into dementia, and subsequently packing up her family home to move her mum into a home. But this isn’t even the peak of the emotional roller Nell is riding, and though this may seem like a sad premise for a novel, the journey she takes is an inspiring one that highlights the lengths we go to as humans for the ones we love, the sacrifices we make, and the secrets we keep.
Price: £4.99. Info here
NOVEMBER: STAGGERING HUBRIS
Josh Berry (Eye/Lightning)
Staggering Hubris: The Memoir Of Boris Johnson’s Most Classic Spad: The ‘Rona Years, Vol. 1… The name should speak for itself. This satirical romp is a tonic at the end of what can only be described as a tiresome year. Its timing? Well, that’s just a bit of good luck, right? Written in supposed diary format by Rafe Hubris, BA (Oxon), a young 20-something working at 10 Downing Street during the coronavirus outbreak and chronicling each day of 2020, it’s simultaneously scathing and tongue-in-cheek, and ought to provide the laugh you need to stop you from crying instead. Don’t worry: Rafe has written it in very accessible language, to ensure all non-Oxbridge readers can understand his “classic” adventures. He’s very humble, you see.
Price: £8.99. Info: here
DECEMBER: THE NEW FRIENDS
Daniel Hurst (Inkubator)
Have you ever made friends on holiday? Did they buy you champagne and make you crave the luxurious lifestyle they lead? Convince you to invest your savings with them? Disappear? Well, that’s the turn Jamie and Becky’s holiday friendship with Phil and Mel took. While Jamie and Becky may seem like easy targets, Phil and Mel will find that this job was not quite as simple as the previous ones have been. This psychological thriller is a quick read and an absorbing one – perfect for blitzing through on a cold December evening.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words MEGAN THOMAS