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The Best Books of 2020: Debut Fiction

Posted on 9th November 2020 by Mark Skinner

In a year of upheaval and turbulence it has often been left to the freshest literary voices to tackle contentious issues and reflect the current state of society. From blistering evocations of the modern Black experience in Rainbow Milk and Such a Fun Age, to wry accounts of millennial angst in Ghosts and Exciting Times, 2020's UK fiction debuts have provided some of the most powerful reading of the year.    


 

Award-Nominated Fiction

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An uncompromising yet tender and warmly witty exploration of love, pride and poverty, Shuggie Bain charts the endeavours of its eponymous protagonist – an ambitious and fastidious boy from a dire mining town with a thirst for a better life.
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Devastatingly acute and acerbically funny, Doshi’s forensic account of a toxic mother-daughter relationship expertly skewers betrayal and regret with withering skill.
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Set in the afterglow of the great American Gold Rush, Zhang’s haunting and heart-breaking debut follows the brutal journey of two immigrant teenage girls after the unexpected death of their sole parent.

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A campus novel told from the perspective of a Black student, Taylor’s powerful tale embraces themes of grief, desire and alienation in rich, eloquent prose.
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A boldly original and darkly humorous dystopian vision, Cook's debut explores humanity's disdain for nature and the boundlessness of maternal love.
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An unflinching depiction of the perpetual violence of London’s streets written from brutal first hand experience, Who They Was deconstructs honour and revenge, brotherhood and betrayal with great emotional honesty.
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Contemporary Fiction

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Already a millennial icon thanks to her Waterstones Books of the Year-shortlisted memoir Everything I Know About Love, Dolly Alderton turns her scalpel-sharp pen to fiction, with this big-hearted debut about the unravelling of a seemingly successful life.

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Psychologically astute and dryly funny, Exciting Times delivers an enthralling dissection of love, commitment, power and privilege in the international circles of contemporary Hong Kong.

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A fearless meditation on race, class, religion, freedom and sexuality, Mendez’s debut maps the journey of a young Black gay man with a Jehovah’s Witness upbringing, as he makes a fresh start in London.

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Sparkling and utterly original, If I Had Your Face provides a surgical overview of the complex social hierarchies and the absurd beauty standards in modern day Seoul, through the parallel stories of four young women.

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By turns witty and profoundly thought-provoking, the stories that comprise Why Visit America provide timely and fascinating commentaries on the state of the modern US – and beyond.

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Tackling the contentious issue of sexual abuse with unflinching enquiry and emotional complexity, My Dark Vanessa interrogates the blurred lines between consent and manipulation and how both memory and context can shift alarmingly over time.

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Perfect reading for fans of Normal People and Fleabag, Frazier’s electrifying debut charts the vexed relationship between a pregnant teenage pizza delivery driver and a stressed-out, middle-aged mum.

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A landmark publication in Nam-Joo’s native country where it kick-started a nascent MeToo movement, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 throws a grenade under the appalling misogyny and paternalism of South Korean society.

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Addressing issues of guilt, grief, identity and friendship, Napolitano’s heartwarming UK debut traces the path through life of the sole survivor of a tragic plane crash.

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Revolving around an inconclusive case of assault, Petty’s breathtaking debut examines the nature of trauma and truth through a unique cast of characters and experimentation with form.

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With an unconventional family unit at its heart, Persaud’s novel probes the intricate connection between love and trust, and what happens to the former when the latter is disrupted.

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An evocative portrait of marriage and adultery, Crossan's adult fiction debut explores the singular agony of losing someone the world can never know was yours.
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Period Fiction

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The most iconic love stories of myth and folklore from West Africa to Ancient Greece, vibrantly reimagined in bold, striking prose; Love in Colour beautifully illustrates the timelessness of classic storytelling.

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A soaring debut set in London in the aftermath of the Second World War, This Lovely City charts the course of a jazz musician newly arrived in London on the Empire Windrush, and the opportunity, excitement, prejudice and love he finds in the dizzying metropolis.

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A gloriously gothic extravaganza, perfect for fans of Sarah Perry and Bridget Collins, Healey’s darkly atmospheric tale of a wartime menagerie haunting the corridors of the eponymous stately home is a masterclass in slow-burning tension.

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A complex coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the Iranian coup of 1953, Hozar’s debut brilliantly evokes the Middle East at a time of tumult and intrigue.
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With a remarkable sense of authenticity, Afia Atakora’s exquisite debut lights up an unfamiliar corner of American Civil War history, reimagining life on a Southern plantation in the Reconstruction-era.

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