Reading lists

New literary fiction books to read in 2020

From Daisy Johnson’s exploration of sibling rivalries to the final book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, this is the literary fiction to read in 2020.

Miranda Freeman
Literary fiction books for 2020

Actress by Anne Enright (20 Feb)

Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright returns with a moving story that captures the glamour of post-war America juxtaposed against 70s Dublin, while examining the corrosive nature of fame. Norah's mother Katherine is a successful theatre performer but as she starts to uncover her mother’s secrets, their lives unravel with disastrous results.

All About Sarah by Pauline Delabroy-Allard, trans by Adriana Hunter (12 Mar)

An intoxicating novel that tells of an all-consuming and intense affair between two women – a thirty-something single mother and a vivacious violinist. Already a literary bestseller in France, Delabroy-Allard's debut accurately portrays the destructive pull of desire. 

Aria by Nazanine Hozar (12 Mar)

In Iran in 1953, driver Behrouz finds an abandoned baby in an alleyway, and adopts her. As Aria grows up she is torn between three women are are fated to mother her: Behrouz’s wife, who beats her; the wealthy widow Fereshteh, who offers refuge but not love; and impoverished Mehri, who has secrets with the power to shatter Aria’s life. Set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution, Aria combines an intimate family story with the tale of sweeping national change. 

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld (26 Mar)

In Evie Wyld’s novel three very different women living years apart are linked together by the Bass Rock, which juts out of the sea off the Scottish mainland. In the early 1700s there is Sarah, accused of being a witch. In the aftermath of the Second World War there is Ruth, trying to find her way in a new house with a new husband. And in the 21st century, Viv mourns the death of her father. A story about how women are made small by the men in their lives, but can find freedom in sisterhood. 

You People by Nikita Lalwani (2 Apr)

A moving human drama that exposes the true Britain we live in, set in an Italian restaurant in London where half the kitchen staff are illegal immigrants, each shadowed by a complex – and often harrowing – backstory.

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (9 Apr)

Micah Mortimer is content with his life, doing errands for work, running every morning and maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime. But then his 'woman friend' Cassia tells him she's facing eviction because of a cat, and a teenager shows up claiming to be Micah's son. Redhead by the Side of the Road is a story about love and family, and about the things that make us unique. 

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (9 Jul)

What would the world look like if Hillary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton? That’s the scenario Curtis Sittenfeld explores in her history-that-almost-was novel, Rodham. The book chronicles Hillary's college career, including her romance at Yale Law School with the charismatic Bill. But their brief engagement ends, changing history as we know it. What follows is an alternate vision of our world, with Sittenfeld exploring the compromises demanded of women in a world ruled by men. This is set to be one of the most talked-about books of the year. 

The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams (16 Jul)

Two lives from the past and the present intertwine in a curious tale. A rebellious Victorian 'lexicographer' Peter starts to input false words into dictionaries, and in a parallel modern world, an overworked intern Mallory discovers them while undertaking a dreary data entry task. Slowly their narratives intertwine, as Peter imagines which future person will discover his words, and Mallory follows a breadcrumb trail of literary clues…

The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri, trans by Alice Menzies (16 Jul)

A proud patriarch returns home to visit his adult children, only to find his son a failure and his daughter having a baby with the wrong man. Over the course of 10 days, the relationships of the family will be strained, especially because the son is duty-bound to his father through something called 'the father clause'. This is a tender and bruising novel about what it means to be a good parent. 

Belladonna by Anbara Salam (16 Jul)

Summer 1956, in a conservative Connecticut town and Bridget and Isabella meet. When they are offered the opportunity to study at the Academy in Italy, Bridget is thrilled at the chance to go to Europe and spend nine months with her best friend. Once in Italy, the two girls become more intimate, but Bridget soon grows increasingly afraid of losing Isabella's attentions. As she gets more desperate, she goes to greater lengths to keep Isabella's attention, and the results is a coming-of-age story with a dark edge. 

Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey (16 Jul)

An unflinchingly honest story of a teenage misfit navigating her way through life in a bid for happiness. Each year our protagonist stops along the way to recount disastrous dates, dead pets, crashed cars and lost loves - with an underlying reminder that underneath it all, we’re all a bit abnormal and that’s fine. 

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (23 Jul)

Channelling South Korea's growing obsession with cosmetic surgery, this gripping story centres on four young women struggling to survive in a modern Seoul where women compete to entertain businessmen in ‘secret salons’ and rivalries turn violent. With undertones of the societal gender imbalances that we continue to face in the modern-day, it’s a pertinent read for 2020.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (17 Jul)

A powerful and caustic debut about the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the fine line trodden between obsession and betrayal. As a young woman, Tara approached life with reckless abandon much to her parent’s chagrin. But now, as she grows older and more forgetful, her teenage daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman that never cared for her. 

Summer by Ali Smith (6 Aug)

We were taken to a transient dreamscape with Autumn. We revisited timeless myths in Winter. We took a cynical turn in Spring (and enjoyed several Brexit-inspired puns along the way). Now, Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet, exploring austerity in Britain, comes to an epic conclusion with Summer.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson (13 Aug)

An electrifying new novel from the author of Everything Under that examines the fractious relationship between two sisters. When July and September move across the country with their mother to an abandoned family home, a boy arrives and unsettles the bond between the siblings. With undertones of psychological horror, Sisters is reminiscent of horror classics, but told with a delightfully modern tone.

Must I Go by Yiyun Li (20 Aug)

An intimate novel of secret lives and painful histories told from the standpoint of octogenarian Lilia Liska, who discovers the recently-published and long-forgotten diary of her past lover. Told through one-way correspondence, Li explores grief and resilience, loss and rebirth.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney (20 Aug)

Acclaimed poet Elaine Feeney delivers a wildly funny and desperately tragic story about hospital-bound Sinead, who strikes up a relationship with two neighbouring patients. It’s a tale that shines a light on young women’s struggles, the realities of institutional failures and the darkly present past of modern Ireland.

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh (27 Aug)

On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you'll be: a white ticket grants you children, a blue ticket grants you freedom. Calla knows how the lottery works, and that there's no going back once you’ve taken your ticket. But what happens if you're given the wrong life? Blue Ticket is a devastating look at motherhood, free will and patriarchal violence. 

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain (10 Sep)

From Bath to Borneo, Islands of Mercy follows two very different people who are locked together by their desire and ambition. In Bath in 1965, Jane is torn between a dangerous affair and a conventional marriage, while in Borneo eccentric British ‘rajah’ Sir Ralph Savage is compromised by his passions and sees his schemes relentlessly undermined. Taking readers from English tearooms to a tropical island and the transgressive fancy-dress boutiques of Paris, Rose Tremain’s novel is a feast for the senses. 

Trio by William Boyd (8 Oct)

In the summer of 1968, a producer, a novelist and an actress are involved in making a Swingin' Sixties movie in sunny Brighton while simultaneously leading secret lives. As the film shoot continues, the trio's hidden worlds begin to take over their public one and the pressure builds to breaking point. William Boyd's newest novel looks at what makes life worth living, and what you do if you find it isn't. 

Love by Roddy Doyle (15 Oct)

Roddy Doyle’s new novel is the story of two old friends, Joe and Davy, who meet up one night in a Dublin restaurant. Neither knows what the night has in story for them, but Joe has a secret he wants to tell Davy and Davy has a grief he wants to keep hidden from Joe. As the drinks flow, the pair revisit and try to reconcile their versions of the past, from bungled affairs and broken hearts to what eventually drove them apart. 

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