12 books that made a splash this year
For the discerning reader in your life, try one of these books - they and their authors have wowed the critics and awards judges this year…
The winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, this fierce, visceral novel explores a world where women are the more physically powerful gender, and follows the fortunes of four girls and women whose lives are transformed by the power they discover. Chair of the judges Tessa Ross praised Aldernan’s “brilliantly imagined dystopia, her big ideas and her fantastic imagination”. The book is currently being adapted for television by Alderman and the people behind Broadchurch, so you haven’t felt the last of the power yet.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this is the long-awaited second novel from the author of Booker-winning debut The God of Small Things, which was published twenty years ago. The story follows Anjum, who used to be Aftab, from Old Delhi to Kashmir and on to Central India through years of peace and war. The New York Times called it “gorgeous, supple and playful” while the Financial Times said “Roy’s second novel proves as remarkable as her first”.
Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction, Schama’s cultural history has been described as “a glittering gemstone of a book” by The Times. In the second part of an epic narrative chronicling an entire people’s search for a home across the centuries, Schama covers the Jews’ journey from their expulsion from Spain in 1492 to a point of apparent hope at the turn of the twentieth century, charting a course from Venice to China, Kerala to California, and bringing to life a cast of fascinating personalities.
Harari is the author of bestselling popular science juggernaut Sapiens, which chronicled the history of humankind. In Homo Deus he turns from our past to our future, looking at the forces that might change humanity’s fate in the years and decades to come. Featuring on most of the newspapers Books of the Year lists, the book he explores what challenges the human race is likely to encounter in the not too distant future and how we can, and will, deal with them. A mix of philosophy, science and history, it grapples with some of the biggest questions around whilst remaining incredibly incredibly easy to read.
Any new title from John Le Carré is always hotly anticipated, and A Legacy of Spies was no different. This one tells the story of Peter Guillam, a disciple of George Smiley, who has recently retired to France when a letter summons him back to service, and his decisions during the Cold War are brought under scrutiny. Described as “Splendid, fast-paced and riveting” by the Sunday Times, it’s a must-read for fans of razor sharp thrillers.
Another novel full of wit, warmth and heart from Marian Keyes; this time it’s about Amy, whose husband is taking six months out of their life to ‘find himself’ in South East Asia. It’s a break, not a break-up, but it’s Amy who is left to pick up the pieces. The Times called it “a blizzard of wit and wisecracks - mercilessly funny”, and it’s been raking in the praise from critics and readers alike since it was published in September.
One of, if not the, most anticipated books of the year, this book sees Philip Pullman return to the world and characters he created over twenty years ago in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Following midnight release parties at bookshops up and down the country, the reviews have deemed it worth the wait. Described as “full of wonder” by the New York Times, with The Guardian praising Pullman’s “immense power of kinaesthetic visualisation”.
The first collection of short stories from Oscar winner Tom Hanks are as charming, intelligent and funny as their author. Exploring many aspects of the human condition, the stories take in people from all walks of life, including two friends embarking on an affair, a veteran dealing with his past and a teenage surfer discovering secrets about his father. The Guardian was impressed: “There is often a powerful sense of other lives imagined at a level that goes deeper than writerly research.”
The eagerly awaited fifth book in Brown’s Robert Langdon series touched down this autumn. The Sunday Times described it as something “for anyone who wants more brain-food than thrillers normally provide”, while Langdon remains “as engaging a hero as you could wish for”, according to the Mail on Sunday. In this instalment, the professor of symbology and religious iconology finds himself in Bilbao, where a controversial tech magnate claims to have made a scientific discovery that challenges the very foundations of human existence.
This book is the second part of Smith’s ambitious seasonal quartet, which reacts in almost real-time to the world around us. Last year’s Man Booker-shortlisted Autumn, with it’s lyrical exploration of Brexit, was deemed a “beautiful, transient symphony” by the Guardian, and Winter is a compelling follow-up. The plot of this novel follows a group of people brought together over the festive period, and explores how art and love survive in a post-truth world.
From the author of the sensation that was The Martian – the sleeper sci-fi hit that built up a huge audience of devoted fans before being adapted into a mega-budget film starring Matt Damon - comes a novel about Artemis, the first city on the moon, whose permanent population is primarily criminal. Our heroine is Jazz, who lives in a poor area of Artemis and has not entirely left behind her life of crime back on Earth.
Continuing the space theme, this is the new book from Britain’s most beloved astronaut, Tim Peake. Based on his own missions, he’s compiled a personal guide to life in space based on the thousands of questions he’s been asked since his return to Earth. Warm and wise, this must-read title covers everything from training to take-off, spacewalks to spacesuits, and the book is full of illustrations and photos that make it the perfect present for would-be astronauts of all ages.