Assuming the pollen bomb didn’t let you take shelter inside Piriteze, it’s the first reading season in the park; or, if you’re really lucky, brave an EasyJet flight at 6:20 a.m. to a more remote and milder location.
From compelling memoirs and modern romances to buzzing debuts and sleek new novels from virtuoso favourites, here’s your spring reading list.
Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart
In a word: Glasgow lyrical realism.
The story of Stuart’s first novel is now a literary tradition: rejected by 44 publishers, Shuggie Bain got caught up in a song and won the Booker Prize. No pressure? Necessarily Young Mungo, Stuart’s second, is also a triumph: a dazzling dissertation on sexuality, poverty and religion. In early 1990s Glasgow, Protestant Mungo Hamilton is an outsider in a tough East End estate, his only respite an awkward, clandestine affair with James, a Catholic boy from the year before – until Mungo’s bitter alcoholic mother sends him on a gruesome camping trip that will scar him for life and threaten this relationship forever.
(Available now, £16.99, Pan Macmillan: Buy here)
Don’t get on a toast by Freddy Taylor
In a word: Powerful snapshots of grief and love.
When Freddy Taylor was 21, his father was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Quickly, an outgoing television producer became a chemotherapy patient whose mood swings were wild and speech sometimes unintelligible. Don’t Put Yourself On Toast is a version of the diary Freddy kept at the time, recalling the unexpected ups, downs and surreality of his father’s illness, his complicated guilt over their relationship, the fleeting moments of hope and the omnipotence of love. Always sad, often uplifting, it will stay with you.
(Available now, £12.99, Short Books: Buy here)
None of this is serious by Catherine Prasifka
In a word: millennial love.
Prasifka is the latest on the apparent treadmill of brilliant young Irish novelists who deal with the millennial condition with acerbic gusto (see also: Sally Rooney; Naoise Dolan). None Of This Is Serious follows Dublin students Sophie and Grace as they fall in love and love, with IRL and boys online, and worry about whether their friendship can survive an unknown future.
(Available now, £12.99, Canongate: Buy here)
Yinka, where is your husband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
In a word: Loud beginnings.
It’s a witty romantic comedy set in Peckham that’s both funny and poignant, exploring family ties and love with a deft and elegant twist. Yinka’s mothers and aunts keep asking her when she’ll find a man, but inevitably it’s not that simple… You’ll be cheering on our heroine from page one – and you’ll be asking when the first novelist Blackburn will come outside.
(Available now, £14.99, Penguin: Buy here)
We Move by Gurnaik Johal
In a word: Virtuoso short stories.
Johal was born in West London in 1998, which makes him 24 years old. Millennial Crones: Don’t hold it against him, as We Move is a superb collection of interconnected short stories all set in the suburbs of West London, exploring love, identity and community, and expertly woven and imagination. A new storyteller has arrived – imagine where he might be at 30?
(Available now, £12.99, profile: Buy here)
The Fake Up by Justin Myers
In a word: a Romeo & Juliet of modern times (on Instagram).
Myers – aka The Guyliner – returns with his third novel, a playful romantic comedy that doubles as a satire on influencers, modern media and imposters. When Dylan and Flo split up, their pals are thrilled. So when they get back together, they must keep it a secret, especially as their star-studded careers go stratospheric — which means lies, disguises, and sneaking around. He has heart and bite: Myers uses his razor-sharp eye for observation, dialogue and character to the wittiest effect.
(Available now, £16.99, Little, Brown: Buy here)
The Red of My Blood by Clover Stroud
In a word: Love, sorrow and brotherhood.
When Stroud’s sister died of breast cancer at 46 – just after she had years to live – her world fell off its axis. The Red Of My Blood is a literary memoir about the brutal first year after his sister’s death, a grief so raw it’s intoxicating. It’s tough but redeeming (really).
(Available now, £16.99, Doubleday: Buy here)
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian
In a word: Crazy gem.
This gritty, magical debut from Sathian, a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop (made infamous by a screenplay in Girls), went a little under the radar when it was released last year – except for Mindy Kaling. , who picked it up and will make it into a TV series. Don’t make the same mistake when the paperback comes out next week – this clever coming-of-age tale dazzles. Neil Narayan really wants a date with the girl across the road, Anita, who spends her free time brewing a magic potion that will get her into Harvard. When Neil becomes a co-conspirator, they accidentally shatter their world in a way that will reverberate for years.
(April 28, Simon & Schuster, £8.99: pre-order here)
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
In a word: Stylish science fiction.
Mandel’s canon of elegant, otherworldly novels include the best-selling Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. Sea Of Tranquility is another virtuoso imaginative story, a time-jumping piece of modern science fiction that – remarkably – connects an Edwardian exile in Canada in 1912 and a future inhabitant of a lunar colony (really). It sounds weird, but Mandel fans (and they’re avid – some have Station Eleven tattoos) will know to expect his usual taut prose and out-of-this-world storytelling.
(April 28, £14.99, Pan Macmillan: pre-order here)
Candy House by Jennifer Egan
In a word: post-modernism of a former student of Pultizer.
Egan’s latest film picks up where A Visit From The Goon Squad – his Pulitzer Prize-winning post-modern hug – left off, exploring the dark side of our modern hyper-connected world in a patchwork of eclectic chapters and episodic. “The Candy House is every bit as compelling as its predecessor,” promises Standard reviewer Sam Parker. Phew.
(April 28, £17.99, Little, Brown: pre-order here)
People Person by Candice Carty-Williams
In a word: Queen(ie) of modern fiction is back for round two.
Rejoice, Carty-Williams returns. His second novel, People Person, follows Dimple Pennington, a 30-something with an unfulfilling career, a lousy boyfriend and a gaping sense of loneliness. Until his four half-siblings resurface and they are all forced to reconnect with their absent father, Cyril. Funny, tender, poignant – everything you expect from Carty-Williams.
(April 28, £12.99, Trapeze: pre-order here)
Raven Smith’s Men by Raven Smith
In a word: Boys boys boys.
Writer, town charmer and meme magician (see: @raven_smith) is part hilariously funny memoir, part treatise on men, patriarchy and masculinity – and where it fits into it all. As he says, “There have been disc jockeys and knob jockeys. Sad sacks and nutacks… amateur sociologists, privilege apologists and sometimes scatologists… You will have your own men, in all their maddening, labyrinthine complexity. In these essays you meet mine.
(April 28, £14.99, Harper Collins: pre-order here)
We Do What We Do In The Dark by Michelle Hart
In a word: Love, lust, obsession.
When your fans include Meg ‘The Wife’ Wolitzer and Torrey Peters, author of last year’s hit Detransition, Baby – well, you know you’re doing something right. We Do What We Do In The Dark is the story of Mallory who falls in love with an enigmatic elderly woman and struggles to survive the affair.
(May 3, £18.99, title: pre-order here)
Tell Me Everything by Laura Kay
In a word: Sex, psychology and modern love.
Kay’s warm and intelligent stories deal with messy main characters and their messy relationships. Natasha is a therapist who plays quietly on the couch but it’s tumultuous behind the scenes – she still lives with her ex-girlfriend, still banging women who aren’t right for her. And then she meets Margot, and has to face her desire to self-sabotage everything.
(May 26, £16.99, Quercus: pre-order here)
Sadia Azmat sex bomb
In a word: Smart addresses sexuality and religion.
Azmat is a comedian, BBC radio presenter and general voice of a generation, whose insightful and irreverent comedy has won her legions of fans. Sex Bomb is her candid and thoughtful memoir about lust, sexuality, religion and culture, ranging from newsagent porn to arranged marriage, to the politics of sex and her feelings about the headscarf. A must read for spring.
(May 26, £16.99, title: pre-order here)
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Struab
In a word: The life of the time traveler.
Straub has mastered witty, warm novels that tell modern tales with a literary twist. Her fourth, This Time Tomorrow, might be her best: a clever, nostalgic and romantic tale about Alice, who, on the eve of her 40th birthday, with her dying father, finds herself in 1996, reliving the night of her 16th date. ‘anniversary. Half Russian doll, half David Nicholls, he has the makings of a dreamy and witty contemporary classic. NB: side effects may include booking a flight to New York – this doubles as a love letter to the Big Apple.
(June 9, £16.99, Penguin Michael Joseph: pre-order here)
Phoebe’s Book The lock is out now