New Books for the Must Read List

Towards the end of the year, all the new books appear that publishers are keen to push for Christmas. Here’s a look at some of the titles I’m excited about, most of them authors I’ve read before and admire hugely.

The Magician by Colm Toibin
This novel describes the life of Thomas Mann, a complex man, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, and a secret homosexual, living in Munich among the bohemian and intellectual set. This in itself makes for an interesting story. But throw in the rise of Naziism, the rumblings of war and the development of fascism and communism across Europe, and the scope of the novel expands hugely. At one time I really enjoyed the novels of Thomas Mann. I found them engrossing for the richness of the writing, the characters and the way they captured an interesting time and place, so this one is definitely one for the list.

The Gardener by Salley Vickers
This novel about two sisters who buy a cottage in the country with an overgrown garden, and the Albanian gardener they hire to tame it, is sure to be a good read. Family dynamics, secrets and an English rural setting are always appealing in fiction. Vickers is a terrific writer as she puts her own varied careers as an actress, cleaner and psychoanalyst to good use in her novels. She is wonderful with characters and the turning points in their lives that define them. I loved Dancing Backwards, Cousins and Miss Garnet’s Angel so I am really looking forward to this one.

Oh, William by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is a character who crops up here and there in Elizabeth Strout’s novels set in Maine. Not so long ago, she had a book to herself – My Name Is Lucy Barton – and her story continues in the new book which according to the blurb captures ‘the enduring bond between a divorced couple in a poignant novel about love, loss and the family secrets that can erupt and bewilder us at any point in life’. Some readers may regret the story doesn’t focus on that unforgettable character Olive Kitteridge, but I’m rather glad to have the chance to check in with Lucy again.

Lily: a tale of revenge by Rose Tremain
Tremain has been writing stellar novels since the 1970s. I loved The Gustav Sonata and The Road Home for the plotting and characters written with immense humanity. The new book is set in Victorian London, following the life of a foundling, her attempts to make a living for herself and the terrible secret she hides. It sounds a gripping story in itself with an atmospheric setting but add Tremain’s brilliant credentials as a novelist and this is sure to be a very satisfying read.

A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford
Not long ago I reviewed The Lost Lights of St Kilda, a wonderfully atmospheric historical novel based on a community eking out an existence on a wild Scottish island. Now we’ve got a new story, similarly set in a remote part of Scotland, with an old country estate, family secrets and a kind of cold case mystery at its heart. Gifford is becoming one of those authors you can depend on for an engaging and haunting read so here’s one for the bedside pile.

The Shadows of Men by Abir Mukherjee
Making its way to the top of my list is the new Wyndam/Banerjee novel set in 1920s Calcutta. While these are mystery novels in one sense, they also describe a lot of the politics of the day, the rule of the British and the racial tensions that simmer beneath it. There’s heat and dust, the heady 1920s, class and privilege. The writing is witty, and Mukherjee doesn’t stint from throwing Wyndham into some truly precarious situations to keep the plot simmering. In The Shadows of Men, the two policemen investigate the death of a Hindu theologian while the city is on the brink of religious war.

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