Three new books to read in May
From a satirical thriller to a soon-to-be TV series
This time last year, I wrote about how I love May because it means sitting outside and reading with a gentle sun on your face. I don’t know about where you are, but here in London, we haven’t had much of that yet. Thankfully, the following three novels were so engrossing that I almost forgot about the rain.
Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang
June Hayward is an author whose career is going nowhere, while her former university friend Athena Liu is a literary star. So when she witnesses Athena die in a freak accident, June finds herself taking her unfinished manuscript, and submitting it to her agent as her own. Soon she has published it under the name Juniper Song, complete with a new ethnically ambiguous author photo. What’s the worst that could happen?
There are so many reasons I loved this book that it is hard to fit them all in here, but I’ll try. It’s smart, both in its satire of the publishing industry and its nuanced look at cultural appropriation and cancel culture. It is so pacy and there is so much jeopardy it is near-impossible to tear yourself away. Yellowface is also darkly comic, comes with a deliciously unreliable narrator, and is so very entertaining.
Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson
A coming-of-age story set across three summers of Stephen’s life, and taking place both in south London and Ghana, Small Worlds is a beautiful little masterpiece.
When we meet Stephen, he is just finishing school, and falling for his friend Del, but unlike Azumah Nelson’s debut Open Water (which I adored), this book isn’t a single love story. Instead, it’s about the ways in which our communities shape our lives and loves. It also might just be one of the most lyrical books I’ve ever read.
Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
Greta is a 40-something transcriptionist working for a sex therapist. As she listens in to people’s most intimate conversations, she becomes increasingly and inappropriately fixated on one of the clients. Big Swiss’s real name is Flavia but Greta has gathered she’s tall and from Switzerland - and that she has never had an orgasm.
Then Greta meets Big Swiss in the dog park and they get into a romantic entanglement to end all entanglements. Big Swiss is about desire, trauma, connection and secrets, and is so funny and juicy and good that it’s already being made into a TV series starring Jodie Comer.
My month has been made by a certain early reading copy arriving in the post this week. Zadie Smith’s forthcoming novel - her first in seven years - is called The Fraud and is based on a real 19th century trial. It isn’t out until September, but I’m certain from just the first page it is worth a pre-order. In the meantime, please enjoy this interview Smith gave around the release of her last novel, Swing Time; it’s a great piece which wonderfully captures both her genius and her humanity.