From Douglas Stuart’s Booker Prize debut to Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid and an enchanting novel from Sophie Kirtley, the best fiction of the year
Douglas Stuart Picador £14.99
This year’s Booker Prize winner is the real deal, and a debut to boot. Despite tough subject matter, focusing on a Glaswegian woman’s long battle with alcoholism and its harrowing impact on her young son, Shuggie, this is such a compassionate novel that it can’t fail to spark gratitude and wonder.
Mr Wilder & Me
Jonathan Coe Viking £16.99
Jonathan Coe returns to glittering form in this elegiac love letter to the Hollywood legend Billy Wilder. Its protagonist, a middle-aged composer and mother-of-two named Calista, looks back to 1977 when she was working with Wilder on his penultimate film.
A bittersweet coming-of-age – and old age – tale, it’s utterly charming.
Such A Fun Age
Kiley Reid Bloomsbury £12.99
Another standout debut, this timely social drama centres on the relationship between a young black babysitter and her privileged white employer. It’s set in Philadelphia, where a racially charged incident kick-starts a plot that’s abuzz with wry insights into dating mores and dining fads, liberal hypocrisy and maternal ambivalence.
Maggie O’Farrell Tinder Press £20
A theatrical footnote inspired this shimmering tale of marriage, creativity and grief. It begins in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1598, on a summer’s day that’s overshadowed by a forewarning: one of William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old twins will not live beyond the week.
Intimately told, it hurtles towards a finale that’s both moving and redemptive.
Rosamund Lupton Penguin £8.99
The three hours in question unfold in a remote Somerset school whose teachers and pupils are being held hostage by two gunmen. It’s a nightmarish premise that makes for a riveting thriller, but as Lupton switches between viewpoints, this sensitive novel also offers something else: an exploration of what binds us together.
Will You Be My Friend?
Sam McBratney Walker £12.99 3+
Little Nutbrown Hare returns more than 25 years after first delighting millions around the world in Guess How Much I Love You. This charming follow-up by the late Sam McBratney again features Anita Jeram’s stunning illustrations and is a wonderful celebration of learning to be independent and the importance of making friends.
A Dancer’s Dream
Katherine Woodfine S&S £14.99 5+
Aspiring ballerinas will cherish this long-read picture book about the classic ballet The Nutcracker. It tells the fictionalised story of Stana, the dancer chosen to play the central role of Clara in the premiere in St Petersburg.
Lavishly illustrated by Lizzy Stewart, this wintry tale is a festive treat.
The Wild Way Home
Sophie Kirtley Bloomsbury £6.99 9+
Enchanting debut about Charlie, who travels back to the Stone Age while running away from the feelings prompted by the arrival of a poorly baby brother. When Charlie saves a lost Stone Age boy from drowning, the pair brave storms, wolves and other dangers while trying to find their way home.
Voyage Of The Sparrowhawk
Natasha Farrant Faber £7.99 9+
In the aftermath of the First World War, two 12-year-old orphans journey to war-ravaged France on a canal boat, the Sparrowhawk, in an attempt to save their futures.
Evocatively written and a real page-turner, this heart-warming novel has been shortlisted for the Costa prize.