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The Best Books of 2021: Fiction

Posted on 11th November 2021 by Mark Skinner

Whether it's smoking out spies with John le Carré, navigating the madness of modern society with Raven Leilani or riding into battle with Richard Sharpe (by way of Bernard Cornwell), there have been plenty of superb stories to hold us spellbound in 2021. Draw up a brand new to-be-read pile courtesy of our selection of the year's finest novels and short story collections. 

 

 

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One of contemporary literature’s brightest talents follows up the former Waterstones Book of the Year Normal People with an incisive and affecting dissection of the lives and loves of a quartet of young friends in Dublin and the west of Ireland.
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A luminous new novel from the Nobel Prize-winning author of Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, Klara and the Sun explores the uncharted implications of AI to human relationships and the abiding question of what it means to love.
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Characteristically taut and incisively written, the final completed novel from the unassailable master of espionage finds an independent bookshop owner caught between the sinister attentions of a Polish emigre; and the dogged suspicions of a British spy chief.
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The author of The Overstory returns with an arresting tale about the need to keep those we love safe that follows a widowed young father, faced with the task of bringing up his son who has a little-understood health condition.
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A chance encounter reunites newly widowed Lucy Barton with her first husband in this stunningly intricate portrait of love, loss and a decades-long partnership from Elizabeth Strout’s masterly pen.
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Doing for coronavirus what Summerwater did for Brexit, Moss’ blazing novel of the state of the nation during the pandemic is characteristically wise, witty and emotionally engaging.
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Once more bending fictional forms to his will, Murakami delivers a hypnotic collection of short stories ranging from jazz to baseball to intricately crafted dreamscapes, all narrated in the first person.
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A tender and emotionally complex debut about the relationship between two young Black British artists, Open Water shines a light on the ways love and race can be interlinked in modern society.
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The journalist and author of Jog On delivers a scorchingly black satire of family dysfunction and the media’s obsession with murder, as the engaging anti-hero Grace reveals the full extent of her gleeful homicidal spree.
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Audacious and provocative, Leilani’s firecracker of a debut charts Edie’s awkward slalom through modern life, from dead-end hook ups and crushed ambitions to a romantic liaison that has disaster written all over it.
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Tackling the issue of long-term mental illness with wit and candour, Mason’s remarkable novel takes a rounded, empathetic look at the condition through the experiences of a middle-aged woman who has struggled to find contentment in her adult life.
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A poignant tale of longing and discovery from the bestselling author of The Book of Two Ways, Wish You Were Here follows a young woman whose carefully planned life is thrown off course by a pandemic, as she finds herself on a romantic holiday – alone.

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Suffused with a sensual passion, Hall’s deft novel finds a dying sculptor reflecting on love, lust and lockdown in limpid, impeccably crafted prose.
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As everyday objects start talking to fourteen-year-old Benny in the wake of a family bereavement, he seeks refuge in a library populated by unforgettable characters in this breathtakingly original and compassionate novel from the author of A Tale for the Time Being.
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Intelligent and unflinching, Pride and Piazza’s incendiary novel focuses on the aftermath of the shooting of a Black teenager and the effect it has on two close friends, forced to confront their differences for the first time.
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The award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things delivers a profoundly humane and engrossing exploration of an Antarctic researcher brought low by tragedy and desperate to communicate with the outside world.
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In search of meaning in her life, a woman invites an artist to stay with her in this stunning study of the redemptive and destructive powers of art, from the author of Outline, Transit and Kudos.
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A much-anticipated second novel from the award-winning author of Homegoing, Transcendent Kingdom charts the experiences of a Ghanaian immigrant family in modern America.
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One man’s journey through the vividly realised landscape of Sri Lanka’s troubled north in search of answers becomes a voyage into memory and trauma in this illuminating novel that confronts, with great insight and sensitivity, the legacy of the Sri Lankan civil war for communities, individuals and a nation’s divided cultural identity.
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A scalpel-sharp and suspenseful dissection of New York society snobbery perfect for readers of Shirley Jackson and Ottessa Moshfegh, Feito’s electrifying debut tracks the paranoid descent of a writer’s wife as she begins to sense that her marriage is built on a lie.
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Following two young Black women carving their careers in the unexpectedly sinister world of book publishing, Harris’s razor-edged debut is at once a gripping thriller and a shrewd piece of social commentary.
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Heralding the arrival of a breathtaking new literary talent, Johnson's searing debut details a visceral racist attack in Charlottesville and the complex interplay between a group of the targeted, holed up in Thomas Jefferson's historic plantation home.
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Navigating the complicated waters of family-making and motherhood in the twenty-first century, this exciting and very funny debut follows the lives of three trans and cis women living in New York.
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Published as a book for the first time, this dynamic coming-of-age story and online sensation chronicles the charismatic Keisha as she navigates love, ambition and the challenges and dreams of her inner-city community.
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A house unwilling to give up its secrets and a teenager with an enquiring mind; Gnuse’s acute dissection of grief, memory and unlikely friendships plays equally well as sinister thriller and poignant meditation.
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Steeped in a sense of ominous dread and rendered in precise, emotionally acute prose, Greengrass follows up the acclaimed Sight with the tale of a small band of individuals preparing for the onset of a slow-moving catastrophe.
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Through a clever and gleeful whodunit about a doctor who discovers a macabre trade in body parts from his hospital, the Nobel Prize-winning giant of Nigerian literature serves up a blistering indictment of personal and political corruption.
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Following the privileged Cleverly family as they navigate the jungle of modern living, The Echo Chamber is a deliciously constructed story about reputation and presumption from the bestselling author of The Heart’s Invisible Furies.
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This quietly unsettling novel from the author of the internationally bestselling My Struggle series sees a group of ordinary people witness an mystifying phenomenon in the morning sky and find their lives altered by something they cannot explain.
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Suffused with an evocative sense of place and character, this sublimely constructed novel from the author of The Librarian centres on the relationship between a woman and her Albanian gardener as they bring a long-neglected garden on the Welsh Marches back to life.
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From the author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, these ten perfectly formed short stories about all aspects of lockdown life provide a warm and wise chronicle of the emotional effects of the pandemic.
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A powerful meditation on the value of human connection, poet Patricia Lockwood’s mordantly funny debut novel explores the pitfalls of social media in an entirely original fashion.
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The debut novel from the author of the bestselling phenomenon Three Women centres on Joan, the most provocative and mesmerising narrator you will encounter in 2021.
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Perfect reading for fans of Raven Leilani and Jenny Offill, Brown’s incendiary debut investigates the stories we tell ourselves about race and class through the burgeoning realisations of a young Black British woman.
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An irresistible slice of satire, Askaripour’s blazing debut takes a scalpel to America’s sales force and office culture through its incisive, firecracker of a story about race, capitalism and ambition.
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A riveting tale of love, ambition and immortal fame, this award-winning debut from the author of Circe retells the story of the Trojan War and its greatest hero from the point of view of his closest friend Patroclus.
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The bestselling author of the Shopaholic series returns with another side-splitting novel about the madness of family life and a party to end them all.
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From the internationally bestselling author of P.S. I Love You comes a much-anticipated, life-affirming novel about kinship, connection and finding the people through whom you find yourself.
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The author of Daisy Jones and The Six returns with a wonderfully juicy recreation of the glamour and excess of 1980s California, and one night that will bring the shimmering world of the Riva family crashing down around them.
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A coincidence reunites Addie with her ex on a road trip to a friend’s wedding in this funny and moving third novel from the bestselling author of The Flatshare and The Switch.
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Brimming with Giovanna Fletcher's characteristic positivity and feelgood storytelling, Walking on Sunshine is another unputdownable tale of friendship and love peopled by unforgettable characters.
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The incisive and tantalising fiction debut by the author of The Sisterhood, Insatiable charts a vulnerable young woman’s entry into a world of power, ambition, influence and greed.
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The debut adult novel from Jessie Cave is a spry yet reflective comedy of sisterhood, loneliness and second chances as a rootless young woman starts to piece her life back together again.
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Centred on an eminently credible love triangle and the emotional fallout of a chance affair over the course of half a century, Heller's mesmerising novel fizzes with sexual tension and the devastating tragedies that can unwittingly be set in motion.
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From the author of When God Was a Rabbit comes the enchanting tale of an unlikely friendship between a British soldier and an alleged spy in a wartime Tuscany ripe with colour and the ghosts of the past.
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A talking cat enlists a high school student’s help on a wild book-saving mission in Natsukawa’s spellbinding story featuring unwitting book torturers, greedy publishers and a whole lot of literary magic.
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A witty, tender-hearted novel about the misadventures of a serial funeral crasher, The Black Dress is a playful evocation of breaking free from isolation and moving on with love and life from the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
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In this mesmerising seventh instalment in her bestselling series, Lucinda Riley sets the six D'Apliese sisters on a global quest for the last missing piece that might unite their family at last.
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With her household on the edge of ruin, a woman who’s lost her zest for life suddenly propels herself into action in this smart, funny and heart-warming tale of familial love and determination from the beloved presenter.
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An uncannily accurate portrayal of the whirlwind of modern family life, Mangan's side-splitting novel introduces Liz and her weird and wonderful brood as she attempts to make it through the year without losing it completely.
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With her wonderfully executed debut that reimagines the classic tale of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur, Jennifer Saint joins the likes of Madeline Miller and Pat Barker in forging mesmerising retellings of ancient Greek myths from a female perspective.
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The ninth thrilling instalment of the bestselling Outlander series finds Jamie and Claire engulfed by the American War of Independence whilst Brianna and Roger are forced to question the wisdom of their time travelling adventures.
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A luminous feat of imagination from the acclaimed author of All the Light We Cannot See, Cloud Cuckoo Land traces five unforgettable characters through three distinct time periods, all connected by a prized copy of a mysterious ancient text.
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All set for fresh adventure, Richard Sharpe returns in spectacular, swashbuckling style in the first novel in Bernard Cornwell’s mega-selling series since 2006.
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In the aftermath of the Trojan war, old feuds and new ambitions are brought into play in this mesmerising follow-up to the bestselling The Silence of the Girls.
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In the twentieth pulsating instalment of Scarrow's epic Eagles of the Empire series, the honour of Rome hangs in the balance and Cato and Macro must once again defend the empire, this time on British soil.
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Collecting beautifully evocative stories from the pen of the much-missed Spanish author of The Shadow of the Wind, The City of Mist is an enduring testament to Zafon’s gifts as an imaginative storyteller and compassionate observer of human nature.
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An enticing short fiction collection from the bestselling author of The Six Tudor Queens series leads the reader on a journey of discovery through the carefully guarded secrets of the Tudor court.
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Set amidst the unrest and political powerplay of fifteenth-century England, Garthwaite’s vivid, breath-taking novel reimagines the life of Cecily, Duchess of York – a mother, wife and shrewd political player in the Wars of the Roses.
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Gathering Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator into one beautifully presented hardback volume, the Ancient Rome-set Cicero Trilogy amply demonstrates Robert Harris' sublime storytelling skills.
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A kaleidoscopic tale of devotion, ecstasy and divine visions from the author of Fates and Furies, Matrix traces the path of a 17-year-old cast out from the French court as she becomes the prioress of a penurious English convent.
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A pitch-perfect evocation of nineteenth-century London, Tremain's beautifully wrought novel follows the fortunes of a foundling child and the dreadful secret that she carries within her heart.
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The author of The Doll Factory serves up another slice of gothic Victoriana centred upon a girl who is kidnapped only to be thrust into the world of the circus.
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The untold story of King Lear’s wife, written out of history yet with a mesmerising tale to tell, lyrically imagined by a hugely exciting new literary voice.
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Set during four funerals across four decades, Galgut’s panoramic study of one white South African family’s tribulations foregrounds the intimately personal in the epic narrative of a rapidly changing nation.
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Set in a richly evoked 1960s Harlem, the award-winning author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys spins a meticulously plotted and paced tale of petty criminals and failed heists, which masks a deeper meditation on morality versus expediency and the difficulty of leading a good life in a bad world.
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The author of A Gentleman in Moscow pays glorious tribute to the landscape of 1950s America in this hugely entertaining road-trip undergone by a quartet of misfits in pursuit of their dreams.
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From the author of The Architect's Apprentice comes a bittersweet tale of star-crossed love and the legacy of secrecy on future generations, played out in a vividly evoked island setting.
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The unresolved fate of three Cornish lighthouse keepers haunts the community, and especially the trio of women who loved them, in this uniquely crafted and darkly evocative novel.
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Vibrantly alive with multilayered characters and dazzling set pieces, Crossroads finds the acclaimed author of Freedom and The Corrections delivering a breathtaking saga of family dysfunction at a pivotal moment in America's twentieth century.
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Concluding The Tattooist of Auschwitz trilogy with the fictionalised account of real-life siblings held in the notorious death camp, Three Sisters follows its protagonists from wartime Poland to Communist Slovakia and beyond.
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Set in Vienna during the First World War and in the looming shadow of the rise of Fascism, Faulks’s elegant, psychologically acute novel tracks a small group of individuals as they struggle to come to terms with the destruction of an old world and the terrifying new shape of its successor.
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From the author of Golden Hill comes a tender, endlessly inventive novel that resurrects five children killed in a wartime bomb-blast and asks what kind of a future these working-class youths would have had.
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Beautifully balanced between harrowing and humorous, Case Study follows a woman who seeks out a captivating psychotherapist whom she believes to be responsible for her sister’s suicide.
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A sobering examination of prejudice, justice and the dispensability of truth, The Fortune Men tells the story of Mahmood, a chancer and petty criminal who finds himself wrongfully charged for murder in 1950s Cardiff.
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Set aboard the fateful 1912 voyage of RMS Titanic, Imrie’s sweeping period novel entwines the destinies of a group of sharply drawn characters with humanity, compassion and page-turning aplomb.
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Mapping the lives of a fearless female aviator and an actor who portrays her on screen decades later, Great Circle is an expansive tale of passion and ambition from the author of the award-winning Seating Arrangements.
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Having brilliantly reconstructed the final years of Henry James in The Master, Toibin turns his attention to Thomas Mann in this lyrical evocation of the life of a twentieth-century literary titan.
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A young governess must navigate the challenging dynamics of family life underneath the polished surface in this powerful examination of an Edwardian marriage, truth and deception from the author of The Familiars.
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Available in English for the first time, Simone de Beauvoir's incandescent autobiographical novel paints an enthralling portrait of a formative female friendship in interwar Paris.
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Comments

David Lewis

What about "Black Drop" by Leonora Nattrass? View more

David Lewis
13th November 2021
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