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Fall Into Fiction

11 books to read in September, including new offerings from Colm Tóibín, Colson Whitehead, Liane Moriarty and Anthony Doerr / BY Nathalie Atkinson / September 3rd, 2021

You’ve made your way through our top CanLit picks of the season and have pre-ordered the new Lauren Groff and Sally Rooney, two literary sensations of millennial fiction. Here are the September books we can’t wait to add to our to-be-read pile – now add them to yours.

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1The Magician Colm Tóibín

Tóibín’s 2004 novel, The Master, charted the life of author Henry James and his latest considers that of Thomas Mann, the acclaimed Irish author of novels like Buddenbrooks and Death in Venice, who won the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature. The biographical novel follows Mann from turn of the 20th century in small-town Lübeck, into the Great War and through the rise of Hitler, the Second World War and the Cold War, and considers his unconventional partnership with his wife, how his struggles with his homosexuality informed his work, and the personal cost of his pursuit of success as a writer. (Sept. 7)

2Rock Paper Scissors Alice Feeney

Ten years of secrets are at the heart of this chilling psychological suspense novel about an unhappy couple’s anniversary weekend. Amelia, screenwriter Adam, and their dog, Bob, venture deep into the snowy and remote Scottish Highlands to either rekindle or more likely – this is a domestic thriller, after all – blow out the flame. (The power goes out, so even the elements are against them). Readers are privy to the painfully honest letters Amelia writes to her husband each year, a few good lies, and – thanks to the famous novelist whose books Adam adapts – some satisfyingly clever misdirection. (Sept. 7)

3The Mad Women’s Ball Victoria Mas, trans. by Frank Wynne

This prize-winning French bestseller takes place in La Salpêtrière, the infamous asylum where many of the residents are survivors of sexual trauma. Set in 1885, leading up to the clinic’s annual costume ball, it’s told from the alternating perspectives of a nurse and two inmates. In part it explores how, for centuries, the sexist psychological diagnosis of “hysteria” has been used as a tool against women who didn’t bow to the patriarchy. Critics praise the dark Gothic tale, which “elegantly blends feminist history and spiritualism, and poignantly demonstrates how the hospital is both prison and refuge for its residents.” The much-anticipated movie adaptation (written, directed by, and starring French actress Mélanie Laurent) premieres at TIFF before landing on Prime Video on Sept. 17. (Sept. 7)

4Assembly Natasha Brown

This powerful literary debut from a British writer, which author and playwright Ali Smith calls a “quiet, measured call to revolution,” is slim as a stiletto knife and eviscerates just as neatly. Tightly narrated in episodic, stream-of-consciousness vignettes that have drawn comparisons to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, a Black British woman is preparing for a garden party at her white boyfriend’s family estate. As she navigates the exhaustion of achievement, the novella forms a damning commentary on capitalism, misogyny, colonialism, racism and class. (Sept. 14)

5Harrow Joy Williams

This month Williams, 77, will be honoured with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction for her singular body of work (recently profiled in The New York Times). This is her first novel since The Quick and the Dead was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize 20 years ago, and it is an idiosyncratic, teenage, coming-of-age story of corporate sabotage and sedition. Set in the near future (and possible the end of civilization), our young heroine finds herself at a resort on a toxic lake, where the elderly residents are in fact a survivalist community of passionate eco-warriors. Expect themes in common with Ill Nature, Williams’ 2001 collection of ecological essays. (Sept. 14)


6Harlem Shuffle Colson Whitehead

In the tradition of pioneering Black crime fiction writers (like the celebrated noir novels of Chester Himes), this entertaining novel is nominally about a heist gone awry, but encompasses the politics of race and power. Protagonist Ray Carney seeks respectability with his legitimate furniture showroom while making ends meet as a reluctant fence for his old pals. Set in the early-sixties in Harlem, it is divided into three parts, beginning in 1959 through the Kennedy era to the 1964 World’s Fair and Harlem riot. Once again, two-time Pulitzer winner Whitehead (for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys) is a virtuoso of genre. (Sept. 14)

7Apples Never Fall Liane Moriarty

In her latest twisted suspense tale, the bestselling Australian author of Big Little Lies and the current escapist TV fantasy, Nine Perfect Strangers, unpacks the events leading up to the mysterious disappearance of a 69-year-old Sydney woman. She’s half of a popular and charismatic retired tennis couple that have been married more than 50 years. Moriarty transforms the whodunit into a family saga as their four adult children revisit their childhood to re-assess family dynamics and the truth of their parents’ complicated marriage. A prestige TV adaptation is already underway, naturally—from the producer of Noah Baumbah’s Marriage Story. (Sept .14)

8The Book of Form and Emptiness Ruth Ozeki

After her father died in 1998, for months Ozeki heard his voice calling her name. It was startling, comforting and also painful, the American-Canadian writer and filmmaker told Publishers Weekly about the haunting experience that formed the idea for her new novel. (Her previous book, A Tale for the Time Being, was a finalist for the Booker Prize.) Benny is a mixed-race teenager who starts to hear voices after the death of his Japanese father, and the book is often moved forward by way of interactions between Benny and the everyday objects that surround him, like a chair and a book. (Sept. 21)

9The Wrong End of the Telescope Rabih Alameddine

Alameddine, a National Book Award finalist for 2014’s heartrending An Unnecessary Woman, follows an Arab-American trans woman’s journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos Island. Mina is a Lebanese doctor estranged from most of her family and now living in the United States; the novel’s main spine is about her recollections of the people there and the experience of cultural displacement and connection, particularly between the physician and a resolute matriarch who is dying of cancer and keeping it secret from her family. The characters and stories interwoven with Mina’s are inspired by the lives of real people and from the author’s work in refugee camps. (Sept. 21)


10Cloud Cuckoo Land Anthony Doerr

The scope here is more ambitious and more sprawlingly complex than Doerr’s surprise Pulitzer-winning hit, All The Light We Cannot See. A long-lost, ancient Greek myth unites five characters across three timelines: the 15th century siege of Constantinople, present-day Lakeport, Idaho, and a 22nd-century space mission that roams the galaxy in search of a livable planet. As the separate, nesting stories explore how the world is broken by issues like climate instability and disinformation, Doerr reveals how they are inter-related through a shared love of storytelling and in the hopeful pursuit of the utopia of the title. (Sept. 28)

11Eight Perfect Hours Lia Louis

A snowstorm throws Noelle together for one night on a blocked highway in England with a stranger who turns out to be her perfect soul mate, but Sam is on his way to the airport to return to America. The premise might remind you of An Affair to Remember or Before Sunrise, but Louis (of Dear Emmie Blue) has said she was partly inspired by the movie Serendipity, so Sam and Noelle’s paths continue to cross in unexpected ways. Noelle had given up on her modest dreams to help her ailing mother, but the encounters inspire a new perspective. Because sometimes you just need an unabashedly romantic and heartwarming story. (Sept. 28)


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