The fall fiction season offers an embarrassment of riches. Photo: Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
> Novel Encounters
Novel Encounters: 8 Great September Reads
From Some of Our Favourite Writers / BY Nathalie Atkinson
This month is to the fall book season what the September issue is to fashion: a juggernaut. (Lest there be any doubt, in the UK nearly 600 new titles will publish in a single day, on September 3.) Publishers are keeping pace as reading booms in the pandemic: in September alone there are new novels from favourite authors like Nick Hornby, Marilynne Robinson, Gail Bowen, and Annabel Lyon alongside daring literary debuts from Marlowe Granados (Happy Hour) and Su Croll (Seeing Martin). Make sense of the teeming bookshelves with our fiction highlights for the month ahead.
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Gyasi’s expansive Homegoing chronicled the damaging effect of the slave trade on Ghana’s Gold Coast across generations. To explore the divide between science and faith, her new novel scales it back and focuses on the minutiae of a Ghanaian family in Alabama. A gifted neuroscientist explores the neural pathways of addiction in lab mice in order to unlock the secrets of addiction and depression; the former because of her brother’s death from heroin addiction, the latter for her mother’s ongoing mental health battle. It’s a character study of a woman who is struggling to make sense of her family’s pain and tragedy.
2>One by One
Ware has written modern pastiches of Henry James and Daphne du Maurier suspense classics and in her latest psych suspense novel transposes Christie’s ingenious And Then There Were None setup to a luxury ski lodge – all while skewering tech culture and its toxic inner workings. The members of a successful startup gather at a remote five-star French resort, but their team-building retreat takes a sinister turn after a deadly avalanche. The very idea of tech workers isolated without internet and cellular service is delicious even before you factor in the creeping dread of isolation, suspicion, and paranoia.
3>The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett
When quiet loner Eudora Honeysett, 85, finds her quality of life diminishing she’s determined to go on her own terms, and books an assisted dying appointment with a Swiss clinic. Unexpectedly, she forges a friendship with her new neighbour Rose, a spunky 10 year old, and widower Stanley. Alternating chapters flash back to the life events that brought Eudora to this moment, contrasted with episodes from the present and the irrepressible zest of the new young friend who changes her outlook. The novel is a heartwarming lesson in both how to embrace life and how to say goodbye.
4>The Thursday Murder Club
A spy, a nurse, a trade union official and a psychiatrist walk into a bar –actually, make that an exclusive retirement village in Kent. In this clever, witty and lighthearted crime debut, four pensioners skip the games of bridge and instead meet up to drink wine and solve cold-case murders. Inevitably, an actual homicide that happens on their seemingly idyllic doorstep proves irresistible, as is the diverse life experience that each septuagenarian sleuth brings to the art of detection. Bonus: Steven Spielberg has just bought the movie rights, to be adapted by the same screenwriter who did The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
5>The End of the Day
The circular storylines about forgiveness begin with an imperious New York matriarch, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, who heads to Connecticut to try to restore a 50-year-old friendship. Next it alights on Kauai, and the daughter of the family’s longtime Mexican servant. Each successive character’s story is entwined in the tangled branches of the secrets, estranged relationships, and family ties in this elegiac novel that covers 60 years in a single day.
6>The Midnight Library
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want,” the poet Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal. In Matt Haig’s wistful tale these are all possible. When a young woman named Nora despairs of living and attempts to end things, she discovers that limbo is a library filled with volumes of her life. Like the love child of The Butterfly Effect and Terminator but told with deceptive simplicity, every book on the shelves is an alternate biography of her life, the Choose Your Own Adventure version recounted with the benefit of hindsight after changing just one choice. The question is whether infinite do-overs are more exhausting than living with regret.
7>The Talented Miss Farwell
This buzzy novel (and its rumoured six-figure publishing deal) was inspired by the story of Rita Crundwell, who, while working as controller and treasurer for her Illinois town, embezzled more than $50 million over two decades. From the title, comparisons to Patricia Highsmith are obvious, but it explores the mindset of a con artist obsessed with owning fine art and leading a double life, and the reasons an ordinary woman would play such a long game of cunning self-invention.
It’s easy to see why Chang was named a writer to watch this season. She started writing Bestiary as a college sophomore, inspired by a memoir assignment about her grandfather. What took shape instead is a saga about three generations of Taiwanese-American women. It’s sprinkled with the Chinese zodiac (and a touch of magical realism) and considers how their cultural mythology has shaped their lives.