Image via Giphy.
A very warm welcome to 2024. As is now our annual custom for this time of year, we are going to peer into the tea leaves of the future at the bottom of the literary teacup. In this blog, we will be selecting just a few of the literary highlights that we at Wellington City Libraries are looking forward to. In the process, we hope to spot just a few of the novels that everyone will be talking about this year.
These are of course just the few of the fiction treats that have already been scheduled and announced for this year, many of the books that will feature in the ‘Best of 2024’ lists aren’t even listed yet. Indeed, one of the great delights of the literary world are the surprise novels that seemingly come out of nowhere to become one of the shining stars of that year, so there will be plenty of surprises in store. Having said that, there are already lots of interesting titles to look forward to. So, let’s start off with our list of what to look out for in the fiction world in 2024.
The first book on our list, due out later in January, is a Bird Child and Other Stories by the legendary Aotearoa author Patricia Grace. This is Patricia Grace’s first collection of short stories in 17 years, and needless to say it is already hotly anticipated! Further afield in January, My Friends by Hisham Matar is getting a lot of advance interest. The novel starts off in London during a protest at the Libyan embassy and contrasts the civil war in Libya and life in Britain. Also in January, we have Sigrid Nunez’s The Vulnerables, a lockdown novel beginning in 2020.
In February we have Kitten by Olive Nuttall, a debut Aotearoa novel that’s already causing waves in reviewing circles.
March sees several home-grown literary treats already scheduled including Amma by Saraid de Silva, a novel that moves between Singapore in 1951, New Zealand in 1984, and London in 2018. Scheduled for March we also have When I open the shop by Romesh Dissanayake described by the publishers as “darkly funny, lyrical, angry, and sometimes surreal” novel set in “In a small noodle shop in Te Whanganui-a-Tara”. Another Aotearoa highlight this month is The Space Between by Lauren Keenan, a historical novel set in 1860 in New Zealand. International highlights already announced for March include Percival Everett’s James, a radical retelling of Huckleberry Finn, and You Are Here by David Nicholls.
In April from our own fair shores, we have Ash by Louise Wallace, described by the publishers as a “novel, with poetry”. On the international scene we have Andrew O’Hagan’s Caledonian Road, a novel about a Scottish teacher teaching art history in London and a charismatic young student.
In May one of the months highlights is sure to be Sarah Perry’s latest novel, Enlightenment. This is a novel that moves across space and time, including a 19th-century astronomer whose spirit haunts a stately house in England. May also sees the release of Claire Messud’s This Strange Eventful History, a sweeping family saga starting in World War Two and continuing down through the following decades. There’s also All Fours by Hollywood star Miranda July, described by her publishers as “a wild piece of science fiction”.
June starts off with Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse; in Scaffolding, a book set in Paris in both 1972 and 2019. Kevin Barry’s latest novel is also due in June, called The Heart in Winter, described as an Irish Western set in Montana in the 1890s.
July sees another of the most hotly anticipated Aotearoa titles of the year , The Mires by Tina Makereti. It is Tina’s first novel since The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, which came out in 2018. On The Mires, Tina said the book is about how “big things that happen in the world begin and end locally, in our homes and neighbourhoods.” Verb maestro, mastermind and all-round New Zealand literary superstar Claire Mabey has her first young adult novel due for release this month as well. It is the first book in the Raven’s Eye Bookbindery series, described by the publishers as “A bookbinder’s apprentice and her one-eyed raven meet a strange young scribe…together they unearth the secrets of their world and begin a fight against the oppressive regime that restricts the gift of reading to an elite few and aims to squash an ancient magic.” We are really looking forward to that release!
August sees the release of Eva Baltasar’s Mammoth (And Other Stories). Set in Barcelona and Catalan, it has an unnamed young lesbian woman who yearns to be a mother as its main protagonist. We also have Rare Singles by Benjamin Myers, a novel set in the soul music scene in Northern England and features Myers’ trademark humorous and engaging style of writing. Also this month we have Evie Wyld’s The Echoes, a dark and strange work narrated by a ghost. The action in the novel moves between south London and Australia.
In September we have Creation Lake by Rachel Kushner, a wild and subtly plotted piece of science fiction. The publishers describe it as a “story of a secret agent, sent to infiltrate and disrupt a group of “anti-civvers” – eco-terrorists – in a France of the near future where industrial agriculture and sinister corporations dominate the landscape.”
Finally in this brief roundup of some of 2024’s literary highlights, and with as yet no confirmed publication date, is Auē author Becky Manawatu’s new novel, provisionally titled Papahaua. We are told it is definitely due for release sometime in 2024. That is sure to be another of the most anticipated novels of the year.
Below are just a few of the previous novels by some of the authors listed above.
The sky people / Grace, Patricia
“In this collection of Patricia Grace’s stories we meet the sky people – those under guardianship of Ranginui the Sky Parent – who in these stories are the unwanted, the dispossessed, the wounded in love. But shining through even the darkest human condition is the light to which sky people everywhere aspire. To love and in return to be loved; to create and to belong; even, perhaps fly.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
In the country of men / Matar, Hisham
“In the Country of Men is a stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare. But above all, it is a debut of rare insight and literary grace.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
What are you going through / Nunez, Sigrid
“A woman visits a friend with terminal cancer. Brilliant, strong-willed and alone, the friend, facing death, makes a momentous request. Will she accompany her on a holiday where she will, without warning one day, take a lethal pill to end her life on her own terms? Shaken and grieving, she finds the strength to agree. What follows is an extraordinary story – profound, surprising and often funny – of a lifelong friendship given the ultimate challenge; to witness its end. Utterly of our moment and timeless, What Are You Going Through is a deeply moving affirmation of life in its current existential threat and in its ordinary tragedies – the loss, loneliness, and the love that yet survives.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Dr. No : a novel / Everett, Percival
“The protagonist of Percival Everett’s puckish new novel is a brilliant professor of mathematics who goes by Wala Kitu. (Wala, he explains, means “nothing” in Tagalog, and Kitu is Swahili for ‘nothing.’) He is an expert on nothing. That is to say, he is an expert, and his area of study is nothing, and he does nothing about it. This makes him the perfect partner for the aspiring villain John Sill, who wants to break into Fort Knox to steal, well, not gold bars but a shoebox containing nothing. Once he controls nothing he’ll proceed with a dastardly plan to turn a Massachusetts town into nothing. Or so he thinks. In the process, Wala Kitu learns that Sill’s desire to become a literal Bond villain originated in some real all-American villainy related to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Sweet sorrow / Nicholls, David
“One life-changing summer Charlie meets Fran… In 1997, Charlie Lewis is the kind of boy you don’t remember in the school photograph. His exams have not gone well. At home he is looking after his father, when surely it should be the other way round, and if he thinks about the future at all, it is with a kind of dread. Then Fran Fisher bursts into his life and despite himself, Charlie begins to hope. But if Charlie wants to be with Fran, he must take on a challenge that could lose him the respect of his friends and require him to become a different person. He must join the Company. And if the Company sounds like a cult, the truth is even more appalling. The price of hope, it seems, is Shakespeare.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Mayflies / O’Hagan, Andrew
“Everyone has a Tully Dawson: the friend who defines your life. In the summer of 1986, in a small Scottish town, James and Tully ignite a brilliant friendship based on music, films and the rebel spirit. With school over and the locked world of their fathers before them, they rush towards the climax of their youth: a magical weekend in Manchester, the epicentre of everything that inspires them in working-class Britain. There, against the greatest soundtrack ever recorded, a vow is made: to go at life differently. Thirty years on, half a life away, the phone rings. Tully has news. Mayflies is a memorial to youth’s euphorias and to everyday tragedy. A tender goodbye to an old union, it discovers the joy and the costs of love.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
The Essex serpent / Perry, Sarah
“Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
The burning girl : a novel / Messud, Claire
“Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
The first bad man : a novel / July, Miranda
“Here is Cheryl, a tightly-wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other people’s babies. Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense nonprofit where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate in this one. When Cheryl’s bosses ask if their twenty-one-year-old daughter, Clee, can move into her house for a little while, Cheryl’s eccentrically ordered world explodes.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Night boat to Tangier : a novel / Barry, Kevin
“In the dark waiting room of the ferry terminal in the sketchy Spanish port of Algeciras, two aging Irishmen — Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, longtime partners in the lucrative and dangerous enterprise of smuggling drugs — sit at night, none too patiently. It is October 23, 2018, and they are expecting Maurice’s estranged daughter, Dilly, to either arrive on a boat coming from Tangier or depart on one heading there. ” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
Boulder / Baltasar, Eva
“Working as a cook on a merchant ship, a woman comes to know and love Samsa, a woman who gives her the nickname “Boulder.” When Samsa gets a job in Reykjavik and the couple decides to move there together, Samsa decides that she wants to have a child. She is already forty and can’t bear to let the opportunity pass her by. Boulder is less enthused, but doesn’t know how to say no–and so finds herself dragged along on a journey that feels as thankless as it is alien. With motherhood changing Samsa into a stranger, Boulder must decide where her priorities lie, and whether her yearning for freedom can truly trump her yearning for love. ” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
Cuddy / Myers, Benjamin
“Cuddy is an experimental retelling of the story of the hermit St. Cuthbert, unofficial patron saint of the North of England. Incorporating poetry, prose, play, diary and real historical accounts to create a novel like no other, Cuddy straddles historical eras – from the first Christian-slaying Viking invaders of the holy island of Lindisfarne in the 8th century to a contemporary England defined by class and austerity. Along the way we meet brewers and masons, archers and academics, monks and labourers, their visionary voices and stories echoing through their ancestors and down the ages. And all the while at the centre sits Durham Cathedral and the lives of those who live and work around this place of pilgrimage a their dreams, desires, connections and communities.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
The Bass Rock / Wyld, Evie
“Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other. In the early 1700s, Sarah, accused of being a witch, flees for her life. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community. Six decades later, the house stands empty. Viv, mourning the death of her father, catalogues Ruth’s belongings and discovers her place in the past – and perhaps a way forward. Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life.”( Adapted from Catalogue)
The imaginary lives of James Pōneke / Makereti, Tina
“The hour is late. The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homewards I meet. But I must finish my story for you first. My future, my descendant,my mokopuna. Listen. ’So begins the tale of James Poneke: orphaned son of a chief; ardent student of English;wide-eyed survivor. All the world’s a stage, especially when you’re a living exhibit. But anything can happen to a young New Zealander on the savage streets of Victorian London. When James meets the man with laughing dark eyes and the woman who dresses as a man, he begins to discover who people really are beneath their many guises. Although London is everything James most desires, this new world is more dark and dazzling than he could have imagined.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
The Mars room : a novel / Kushner, Rachel
“It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.
Auē / Manawatu, Becky
“Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding, and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to another violent home. But Arama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow. As long as there’s aroha to give and stories to tell and a good supply of plasters.” (Adapted from Catalogue)