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Notable Novels of Spring 2022

recommended by Cal Flyn

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

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Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
by Cal Flyn

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If you're nervous of what 2022 has in store for us, you're not alone. But at least there will be plenty of excellent new books to read. Here, Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn offers a round-up of the notable novels of spring 2022, including exciting new work from Sheila Heti, Ali Smith and Marlon James.

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape by Cal Flyn

out now

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
by Cal Flyn

Read
Buy all books

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling some trepidation about the turn of the new year, given what the past two have had to throw at us. But at least we have plenty to look forward to in publishing terms, including hotly anticipated books from big hitters like Emily St John Mandel, Douglas Stuart, Marlon James and Jennifer Egan. Here’s a brief round-up of the notable new novels of spring 2022.

 

New books from established authors

Hanya Yanagihara, author of the heartbreaking and critically acclaimed bestseller A Little Life, is imminently to publish To Paradise, her third novel. Yanagihara’s new book is set in an alternate world, one in which the American Civil War has produced a continent of rival territories—a Disunited States. It’s divided into three parts, each a hundred years apart. The final instalment takes place in a dystopic 2093 as pandemics sweep the world. Characters appear and reappear in different guises, changing ethnicity and gender. It’s a novel of huge ambition, and one likely to arouse a great deal of critical attention; already the Guardian has called it “impressive” and “significant”, the New York Times warned it “simultaneously bedazzle[s] and befuddle[s]”. To Paradise is the novel everyone will be talking about in spring 2022.

Monica Ali (author of the Booker-shortlisted Brick Lane) will publish her long-awaited fifth novel Love Marriage  here in the UK in February and in the US in May. Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) will return with Booth, a fictional account of the life of John Wilkes Booth, the stage actor and Confederate sympathiser who assassinated Abraham Lincoln—and those of his his many theatrical siblings.

I’m particularly excited about the February arrival of Pure Colour by Sheila Heti, surely the smartest, most erudite and exacting writer working today. I was riveted by her postmodern philosophical novel How Should a Person Be?, in which a character called Sheila (who is very like, but not an exact facsimile of, the author) holds long discussions with her friends, including a painter called Margaux (who is very like, but not an exact facsimile of, the Canadian artist Margaux Williamson). And her daring meditation on whether to become a parent, Motherhood—much of which unfolds as a dialogue governed by the rolling of dice, using a technique borrowed from the I-Ching—must have prompted thousands, if not tens of thousands, of earnest debates. Both of those books are perhaps only nominally considered to be fiction, but Pure Colour has been billed by the publisher as “a galaxy of a novel” which combines realism with surrealistic elements (at one point, the protagonist’s father moves through her as a spirit, at another she becomes a leaf), and asks the reader to consider life and death, the nature of art, and the nature of… well, nature. Unmissable.

Also of note: Booker Prize-winner Marlon James returns with the second novel in his bestselling fantasy Dark Star Trilogy, Moon Witch, Spider King (March 3); Lucy Foley (The Hunting Party, The Guest List) returns with a new twisty, multi-perspective thriller The Paris Apartment (Feb 22 in the US, 3 March in the UK); while Sarah Moss’s slim Covid novel The Fell—out in the UK since November—will reach the US (1 March).

Looking ahead, April offers an embarrassment of riches. Douglas Stuart is due to release his second novel, the breathlessly anticipated follow up to his Booker Prize-winning, million-copy-selling debut Shuggie Bain; Young Mungo has been described as a working class Romeo and Juliet, in which two men from either side of Glasgow’s sectarian divide fall in love for the first time. The first review just dropped (Kirkus says it’s “romantic, terrifying, brutal, tender, and, in the end, sneakily hopeful”) so get your pre-orders in pronto.

I’m also very excited about Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House, which is a ‘sibling novel’ for her remarkable novel-in-stories A Visit From the Goon Squad, which must be one of my favourite-ever books. Emily St John Mandel (author of that most beautiful of post-apocalyptic novels Station Eleven, another from my all-time top ten) will publish Sea of Tranquility, a time travel book that leaps from the Canadian wilderness to a colony on the moon—a perfect book for people like me, who love those books that fall into the science fiction–literary fiction intersection on the publishing Venn diagram. There’s also Companion Piece by the great Ali Smith to look forward to, her follow-up to her beloved Seasonal Quartet, and Julian Barnes’ Elizabeth Finch, a portrait of an intellectual crush.

 

Notable new novels in translation

Olga Tokarczuk’s masterpiece The Books of Jacob, which was specifically cited when she won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, will finally reach the United States. It’s translated by the American author and critic Jennifer Croft, who also translated Tokarczuk’s International Booker Prize-winning FlightsThe Books of Jacob—published in the original Polish in 2014—is a thousand-page tome on the life of Jacob Frank, a self-proclaimed messiah in 18th century Poland who declared his followers exempt from moral laws, and encouraged them to break all forms of religious and sexual taboos. It is, inarguably, a daunting prospect, but it’s a worthy reading project for dark winter evenings. The Guardian called it “dense, captivating and weird…a visionary novel that conforms to a particular notion of masterpiece—long, arcane and sometimes inhospitable.”

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Also of note: one of Denmark’s most celebrated writers, Tove Ditlevsen (The Copenhagen Trilogy) will publish The Faces, a portrait of one woman’s slide into mental illness (26 Jan); Fernanda Melchor, author of the multi-award-winning Hurricane Season, will publish another work of brutal, torrential prose, Paradais (March 22); and one of my favourite discoveries of last year, Olga Ravn’s The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century, which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, will arrive in the US—an eerie translation by Martin Aitken will be available from 1 Feb.

 

Notable debut novels of spring 2022

I’ve had my eye on quite a few literary debuts this season, not least Julia Armfield’s beautifully unnerving Our Wives Under the Sea. Armfield previously published a remarkable short story collection, salt slow, which saw her shortlisted for the title of Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year here in the UK, and this book underlines her reputation for finely crafted tales of the horrifying, the strange and the contemporary gothic.

Also of interest: Oklahoma poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s first novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois will be published in the UK on 20 Jan after garnering rave reviews in the States; Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers, a feminist dystopia in which ‘failing’ mothers are sent to a government-run re-education unit, is very freshly released and will appeal to those who enjoy Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks or Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket; and Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, which follows a large cast of characters through generations in the centuries that follow a calamitous plague.

As ever, we love to hear about the books that you are personally looking forward to—or have just discovered. Don’t hesitate to get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We always love to hear from you.

 

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Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn is a writer, journalist and the deputy editor of Five Books. She writes for The Guardian and Granta, among others. She is the author of Thicker Than Water (selected by The Times as one of the best books of 2016), and Islands of Abandonment, an acclaimed nonfiction book about how nature rebounds in abandoned places (2021). She was made a Macdowell fellow in 2019.

Cal writes regular round-ups of the best new fiction, which can be browsed here. Follow her on Twitter: @calflyn.

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Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn

Cal Flyn is a writer, journalist and the deputy editor of Five Books. She writes for The Guardian and Granta, among others. She is the author of Thicker Than Water (selected by The Times as one of the best books of 2016), and Islands of Abandonment, an acclaimed nonfiction book about how nature rebounds in abandoned places (2021). She was made a Macdowell fellow in 2019.

Cal writes regular round-ups of the best new fiction, which can be browsed here. Follow her on Twitter: @calflyn.