Normal People by Sally Rooney
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year, Rooney’s second novel follows less than a year after her celebrated debut Conversations with Friends. The praise heaped on Conversations applies to her new novel – witty and elegant, both novels are testament to Rooney’s talent for exquisite exploration of inner lives. She writes adeptly about intimacy and brings to life the interiority of her characters. Normal People might, on the outset, be another coming-of-age story of a young couple studying in Dublin trying to find their place in the world, but it is more than that – this is a timeless exploration of what it is like to be young and in love, in the incisive, economical language of one of Ireland’s rising stars.
Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif
British Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif’s second novel is eagerly anticipated, after the exploding success of his debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes, in 2008. This time, the story is set in a refugee camp in an unnamed country occupied by America. The narrators are a US pilot forced to crash land on his way to bombing the camp, a young aspiring entrepreneur whose aid worker is writing a book on the teenage Muslim mind, and a philosophical dog. In the style of his trademark black comedy, Red Birds is an absurdist take on modern conflict, bringing to mind Catch-22.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
This list would not be complete without mentioning the celebrated, internationally-loved Japanese writer’s new book. This is Murakami’s first new novel in four years, and will no doubt be an event. Killing Commendatore is about a Tokyo painter who is hiding away in the mountain retreat of a famous artist after his wife demands a divorce. There, he discovers a painting which has the ability to bend reality. Revolving around art, war, and loneliness, this new novel follows various strange characters and the antihero’s journey of self-discovery.
As Slow as Possible by Kit Fan
A Poetry Book Society autumn recommendation, As Slow as Possible explores the connections between time and place, between people and the environment. Drawing from his own experiences of migration, award-winning Hong Kong-born poet Kit Fan retells the Genesis story drawing on Chinese mythology. The poems in this collection are anchored by this story, while weaving back and forth between East and West, past and present, art and memory. The first part of the book reads like a chromatic travelogue, but the collection ends with a more grounded sequence, ‘Twelve Months’, which focuses on home, the house, and housekeeping.
Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World by William Davies
This is a book very relevant to our times, and indeed is written with the current world context in mind. The Guardian describes the book as “much-needed”, presenting an “original explanatory framework” for what is happening in the world today, Trump and Brexit included. Davies is a rising star in political thought, and in this book offers many contemporary examples, along with historical ones, to argue that it is the speed of life in the digital era that makes public debate and commentary increasingly instinctive and reliant on emotion. It is not a leaning towards “post-truth” or “emotional states” that drives increasingly warlike public discourse, but rather, it is that the speed of knowledge and decision making has become more crucial, sidelining public agreement and expert opinion, instead making us rely on services that are fast.