Guest List: The IoS Literary Editor picks the best books for your summer holiday
Before you stuff your luggage with this year's Man Booker longlist titles, Katy Guest makes a case for some varied alternatives
We Need New Names (Chatto & Windus)
When a novel is praised by Helon Habila and Oprah Winfrey, you have to sit up. This story of 10-year-old Darling, who leaves a shanty town called Paradise for stricken Detroit, sets Bulawayo apart. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (Fourth Estate), middle-class girl Ifemelu is equally disillusioned by life in the US. Sharp, dry humour about racism and relationships in the States and Nigeria can make uncomfortable reading for white British middle-class liberals.
Crace bows out from fiction on a high, but he leaves large shoes to fill. He grimaces at the idea that Harvest, about the threat from sinister outsiders to a small village, and vice versa, might be called Hardyesque, but he may like being compared with Granta Young British Novelist Evie Wyld, whose brilliant All the Birds, Singing (Jonathan Cape) brings a similar sense of menace to a remote island on which something is picking off the sheep …
The Kills (Picador)
House's modern-fangled political thriller was first published with additional video and audio content in four digital parts, the first of which was given away on social networking sites. In hardback it comes in at a massive 912 pages. Fans of much shorter fiction will enjoy Marry Me by Dan Rhodes (Canongate), a collection of typically bitter-sweet, extra-short stories, some of which could probably fit into a tweet. But don't take it on your honeymoon.
The Spinning Heart (Doubleday Ireland)
Ryan's recent debut, set in rural Ireland in the aftermath of the country's financial collapse, captures the voice of a generation. That was once the job of Roddy Doyle, who now speaks for the Irish middle-aged with The Guts (Jonathan Cape). In it, The Commitments' Jimmy Rabbitte tells his family he has bowel cancer. On that theme, Iain Banks's The Quarry (Little, Brown) is the horribly autobiographical story of a man dying of cancer. It's heartbreaking.
McCann's eighth novel opens with the first nonstop transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in 1919, and is a blend of historical fact and pure fiction. Similarly, Michael Arditti's The Breath of Night (Arcadia) throws a cameo by Imelda Marcos into the tale of a young man sent to a remote Philippine village to investigate the sanctity of a dead missionary who finds violence, corruption and a rent boy turned driver. It's part Conrad, part Waugh, part Greene, and pure genius.
Almost English (Mantle)
Marina is a descendant of Austro-Hungarian refugees who lives with relatives in a small flat until she goes to an English boarding school. Also bitingly good on teenage awkwardness is Kate Clanchy's Meeting the English (Picador), set in London during broiling summer and showing the English chattering classes through the eyes of a sensible young Scot. For an affectionate satire of Brits abroad, try Mr Lynch's Holiday by Catherine O'Flynn (Viking), set in expat Spain.
Five Star Billionaire (Fourth Estate)
Aw's third novel, set in Shanghai, is a tale of failing to connect and profound loneliness. Another fine novel about the isolating effect of the crowd is Lionel Shriver's Big Brother (HarperCollins), a desperate story of a man eating himself to death. Also try Jane Gardam's brilliant Last Friends (Little, Brown), closing her Hong Kong-set Old Filth trilogy, in which we finally learn the secrets of Sir Terence Veneering.
The Testament of Mary (Viking)
Toibin's 112-page novel is the first-person lament of the mother of Christ, which we called "searing, stunning work". Tiny novels have set encouraging precedents: Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (166pp) made the 2007 shortlist, and Julian Barnes's 150-page The Sense of an Ending won in 2011. Also biblically inspired is J M Coetzee's dazzling The Childhood of Jesus (Harvill Secker), about a refugee and his stand-in dad.
The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
Set in Calcutta, this "deeply felt novel of family ties that entangle and fray in ways unforeseen and unrevealed" is due out in September. For a grounding in Calcutta's history, politics, food and atmosphere, first grab the non-fiction work Calcutta by the British-Indian writer Amit Chaudhuri (Union Books). The Independent wrote: "Chaudhuri's trysts with the past are entrancing in their lyricism... stunning in their intelligence and percipience."
The Luminaries (Granta)
Its publishers are holding firm to their 5 September publication date, so this 832-page doorstopper about sinister hokey-pokey in the 19th-century New Zealand goldfields will have to wait. Just as well: the reviewer tasked with looking at an advance copy for The IoS says it's so good he's been unable to read another book since. Try instead Shire by Ali Smith (Full Circle Editions), four beautiful miniatures that you'll want to read and reread.
A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
I am told that on hearing about this being longlisted, Canongate staff launched a copy into the sea in a Hello Kitty lunchbox with a letter from the company – an echo of the plot, in which a woman on a Canadian beach finds a box of letters by a Japanese schoolgirl. This year's Man Booker judges presumably forgot that Canadian Margaret Atwood must always be longlisted, but her new novel, MaddAddam, (Bloomsbury, 15 August), the third in the Oryx and Crake trilogy, is sure to be a success.
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Sandstone Press)
The IoS will run the first full-length national newspaper interview with Harris on 25 August, so stand by to read about her debut novel set in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of north-west London. We were also pleased to bagsie the first big interview with Polly Courtney for her novel Feral Youth (Matador), set across London in Peckham, in the run-up to the 2011 riots. Its 15 year-old heroine, Alesha, is the stand-out character of the year.
Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton)
Hamish Hamilton, meanwhile, has brought forward to August this captivating story of a 1940s wartime wife who becomes caught up with a "degenerate" German-Jewish painter imprisoned in an internment camp run by her husband. If you can't wait that long, Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (Doubleday) explores the possible lives of a young woman growing up in England – and maybe Germany – before and during the Second World War.
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