Nothing beats a summer read. Lazy afternoons on picnic blankets or swing-chairs, poolside lounging or languishing on beach blankets are made infinitely more enjoyable when engrossed in a diverting novel. This year, there are a roster of brilliant new books emerging, particularly those by debut female authors who already look set to become serious literary stars. We caught up with five of the best new voices to take with you this summer.
Natasha Brown, Assembly
This slimline novel may be minuscule at just over 100 pages, but it packs an oversized punch. A nuanced, form-redefining exploration on class, work, gender and race, Brown’s debut has already garnered mass hype from the industry. In fact, Bernadine Evaristo crowned her the 'Next Big Thing' - not bad for a first-time writer who has spent the last decade working in finance. “Writing had become my guilty pleasure over the years,” she says. “It wasn’t I started reassessing my life that I realised this is what I wanted to be spending more time on and then, luckily, everything just happened organically.”
Assembly plays with words and structure deftly, and this seems consciously done. “I wanted to approach race and class from a very nuanced language perspective. So rather than it really even coming from a place of frustration, it was more about what are the ways that we communicate with each other? And how does that sometimes break down?” she explains. “Assembly is very concerned with different stories that we tell ourselves: cultural narratives, how we understand what it means to be British, what it means to be successful, how we understand identity and how we've constructed that. I really wanted to draw attention to the fact that these things aren't really there. We’ve assembled them.”
Louise Nealon, Snowflake
“I adore books. Aside from my family and friends, books are the most important relationship in my life,” says Nealon, whose debut, Snowflake, which was published in May, has already had TV rights snapped up by the team behind Normal People. Although thinly based on her own experiences of growing up on a dairy farm in County Kildare and leaving for university in a big town, the story of main character Debbie is far from memoir. “If Snowflake was entirely factual, it would be extremely boring. Sure, I started writing about things I knew, but the story began to grow legs, and that’s where the magic happens,” she explains. “I get really excited when I can’t keep up with my characters and I no longer have control of the story.”
Nealon laughs at the fact the world is already clamouring to dub her the new Sally Rooney and herald Snowflake this year’s millennial narrative du jour. “I didn’t set out to do anything consciously,” she smiles. “In fact, I am really glad that I’ve gotten to a place where I have let go of the world of the book, and it is able to exist independently without me. The story isn’t mine anymore, it belongs to the reader who opens the cover and brings their own imagination and experiences to the pages.”
Francesca Reece, Voyeur
From Paris to the South of France, with narrative strands that wind beautifully through London’s Soho and the hot streets of Athens, Voyeur seems as though it may be your standard airport novel: scandals in sunny climes. But Francesca Reece’s stirring debut is much more than the sum of its wanderlust parts. In fact, its origins lay within medieval literature. “It was about 2015 and I was totally obsessed with the use of doppelgängers in these really old texts,” she says, rolling her eyes self-deprecatingly and dubbing herself pretentious. “That was really where the main crux of the novel came from. I was fascinated by what would happen if someone came into your life who looked exactly like someone from your past.”
Her debut, which tells the story of Leah, an aimless graduate living in Paris, and Michael, an ageing literary star whose lives become irrevocably tangled after a chance meeting, deals with notions of memory and perception – how one’s identity can often be misappropriated in the eyes of someone else. “For me, I wanted to depict the layers of people’s voyeurism,” she explains. “That, and I was dead set on writing a central character who purposefully lacked ambition. We don’t seem to let people loaf around anymore. There’s a lot to be said for loafing around!”
Abigail Dean, Girl A
“It’s really easy to think none of it really happened, because it played out during lockdown,” says Dean of the fact that her novel, released in January, has become a global bestseller. The TV rights have been snapped up by Sony, with the director of Chernobyl already attached. “It’s all just utterly surreal.”
Dean wrote Girl A, a smart and compulsive tale of a woman who escapes from an abusive family home, in snatches of time around her incredibly taxing job as a corporate lawyer. A fan of true-crime, it was inspired by the tales of families like the Turpins, whose lifelong abuse of their 13 children came to light in 2018. “I obviously had to do a lot of heavy research to get into the head of someone who had experienced that,” she explains. “I also was just transfixed by the fact that we so rarely see what happens next for these kids, after their rescue, after the trial. What do they do with their lives? How do they get over it? What happens to their dynamic as siblings? I wanted to explore all of that in the novel.”
Melody Razak, Moth
So many of the events depicted in Razak’s assured debut, Moth, feel so elaborate, awful and painful, that it’s hard to believe they really happened. “That’s what hit me, when I first started hearing stories about the partition of India,” she says. “It made me realise that so few of us know the horrors of this time.”
A British-Iranian writer, Razak is also a pastry chef, who ran a cake shop in Brighton for eight years before embarking upon an MA in creative writing. She wrote Moth, a powerful family narrative set in partition India and Pakistan, while on long train journeys travelling through India, a country she is “utterly in love with”. “My main focus was on the women,” she says. “Women were currency at this time and so many were lost. We so rarely hear these voices and I wanted Moth to do that, to tell it all from their perspective.”
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