Fiction Editor Millie Walton picks seven titles to add to your must-read list this summer.
From Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood to Max Porter’s Lanny, this septet spotlights new summer titles and classic reads ready for consuming the second your OOO goes on. Bookmarks at the ready…
Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
Eliza Clark’s debut novel Boy Parts is a little bit like a modern-day American Psycho, but told from the perspective of a young female photographer instead of a Wall Street investment banker (and with a little bit less violence). Irina scouts mediocre-looking men on the street, on buses, and in supermarkets, and photographs them in compromising positions. At the beginning of the story, she’s punched in the face by a mother of one of her young models and ends up taking a sabbatical from her bar job to prepare for an exhibition of contemporary fetish art in London, which leads onto a path of savage self-destruction. Irina isn’t exactly a likeable character, but she’s not meant to be. It makes for an amusing, chaotic, unsettling read.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
A lot of people say that this is Zadie Smith’s best novel and they might be right. First published in 2005, On Beauty is a vividly told, deeply insightful and absorbing story about love, betrayal, race, morality, and family politics. The narrative centres around The Belseys, a middle-class family in the US who are based at a fictional college called Wellington. From an outside perspective, African American Kiki, her intellectual English husband Howard, and their three children appear to be the picture of modern liberal success, but as the novel unfolds through a series of painful, hilarious, and unfortunate events, their idyllic life becomes increasingly derailed.
Light Years by James Salter
Like all of Salter’s writing, Light Years is all consuming in the world that it envisions – visceral and dreamlike, rich and sensual. It is, essentially, the story of the marriage slowly coming apart, but while the tone is somber, it’s also gentle, intimate, and playful. Nedra and Viri’s world is filled with glamorous parties, long dinners, and wholesome family activities – days spent by the sea with their two daughters Franca and Danny. Life meanders along, bringing with it a series betrayals and decisions that eventually draws out the family’s centre, and propels the book towards its quietly devastating end.
How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil
Bhanu Kapil recently won the T.S. Eliot Prize for her extraordinary narrative poem How to Wash a Heart which depicts the complex relations that emerge between an immigrant guest and a citizen host. The work was inspired by a news story she read about a “couple in California who had offered a room in their home to a person with a precarious visa status” and builds on an art piece that she performed at the ICA in London in 2019. If you’re the type to be put off by the idea of poetry, don’t be: the writing is compassionate, comic, tender, and painful, exploring urgent and difficult questions about inclusion, hospitality and care.
Lanny by Max Porter
Max Porter’s Lanny is a beautiful, lyrical tale that comes together through fragments of broken speech, whisperings, folklore, and vivid imagery. Set in a rural village, the narrative loosely follows the meandering path of Lanny, a wonderfully idiosyncratic little boy, who likes to build dens and talk to trees. We see him through the eyes of his mother, father, and an ageing artist, who delights in Lanny’s innocent creativity, and also from the perspective of a spirit known as Dead Papa Toothwort (named after a species of native wildflower) who guides us through the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life and ancient histories. It’s a slim novel but overflowing with rich, sensuous details that become more and more surreal as the story unfolds.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Another brilliant debut, Luster is the story of Edie, a broke 23-year-old black woman whose affair with a wealthy white man called Eric leads to a strange and complex relationship with his wife Rebecca and their adopted black daughter, Akila. In an uncomfortable turn of events, Edie ends up moving into the family’s house, located in a manicured neighbourhood in New Jersey, and becomes entangled in their lives. The writing is sharp-witted and coolly detached, but there are also moments of surprising softness and empathy as Edie struggles to make sense of the world and find her place within it.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
It might seem like an odd choice to place Murakami’s famed 1987 novel on a list of recommended summer reads, but there’s something about nostalgia and youth that always seems fitting with the languor and sensuality of warm weather. Essentially, it’s a coming-of-age story which follows Toru, a quiet, serious young college student in Tokyo, who becomes obsessed with the beautiful and fragile Naoko. Naoko is the former girlfriend of Toru’s childhood best friend Kizuki who committed suicide and his death has a last effect on her emotional stability. As Naoko withdraws further into herself and away from the pressures of city life, Toru is drawn to a free-spirited woman called Midori. Nevertheless, it’s his first, hopeless love that he can’t forget.