Last week we took to Twitter to ask readers about all the books by women authors they had devoured through this year. We got a great mountain of recommendations that weren’t published in 2016. While we parse that list here is a sub-list: the hot releases from 2016. This crowdsourced reading list spans across fantasy, science-fiction, mystery, humour, comics, non-fiction and regional literature and will keep you busy well into the next year. Enjoy maadi.
1. A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge by Ambai
Tamil author CS Lakshmi, better known by her pen name Ambai, has ventured into crime fiction and we’re over the moon about it. Because her protagonist Sudha is a spirited and eccentric middle-aged cinnamon tea fanatic. This novella sees her get to the bottom of three mysteries, she unearths a case of sexual assault within the family, convinces neurotic parents to get a grip on themselves, and helps a woman of a venerable age chase her dream of living alone. Ambai mixes social commentary with quirky characters to make this novella a page-turner. Read more about the book here.
2. Sauptik by Amruta Patil
The second volume of Amruta Patil’s lush and vivid retelling of the Mahabharata is told from the point of view of Ashwatthama, whose madness and position as an outsider she uses deftly. Drawing from both the epic as well as Puranic legends, this graphic novel adds new dimensions to familiar characters and reconfigures the relationship between nature and civilisation. The art provides a whole other layer to the narrative, recycling typical elements to create an intricate collage. Read more about the book here.
3. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
Comedian Amy Schumer uses her own life to create a sprawling collection of essays, annotated journal entries, vignettes and listicles – a chapter for every year of her life. The work, she insists, is neither autobiographical (“I just turned 35, so I have a long way to go until I am memoir-worthy”) nor self-help (“I’m a flawed fuck-up, and I haven’t figured anything out, so I have no wisdom to offer you”). Going far deeper than her raunchy onstage persona, she traces her childhood, her complicated relationship with her family, her forays into romance as well as her career with absolute honesty. As The Guardian puts it, the book “would still be a success if it wasn’t funny, because it is so unashamed and human”.
4. Chain of Custody (Inspector Gowda #2) by Anita Nair
Anita Nair’s second Inspector Gowda novel is your dependable go-to Indian crime fiction. Here, Gowda goes after the child- trafficking business in Bengaluru. When Nandita, the 12-year-old daughter of Gowda’s help disappears, the lawman and his team must race against time to find her. This is however not just the story of one missing child – the point is to make it much bigger. From Moina, a Bangladeshi girl forced to submit to the depredations of her many customers, to Krishna, who has no qualms about exploiting children, Nair makes us privy to the thoughts of both the oppressed and the oppressor. What makes Nair’s Gowda endearing is the fact that he is no superhero; he is a policeman who has to deal with red tape, attention-seeking bosses and shabby office furniture while solving crimes.
5. Own It: Leadership Lessons from Women Who Do by Aparna Jain
In-depth interviews with 200 working women form the nexus around which Do It develops. Relevant and realistic as described by our reader @riddhikamble, this book highlights stories of harassment and discrimination as well as those of success and inspiration in the workplace. Jain examines gender and sexism, lays bare subconscious biases and articulates the experiences of women, while supplementing all this with insight and advice on how to thrive in the corporate world. Read more about the book here.
6. Ashvamedha by Aparna Sinha
Ashvin Jamwal at the age of 25 takes the oath to become the youngest Prime Minister in India and unknowingly enters a world of power and authority as the world faces a threat from an unknown enemy, Hades. Despite being treated as a hero by the world, he is just a pawn in the entire game being prepared for sacrifice. Set in a world laden with corruption, this is a book about a game to seek absolute power and control. The commendable narration and the cast of complex characters ensure a heady thriller of gripping suspense and twists.
7. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Set in Bennett’s native southern California, The Mothers perfectly captures the constraints of a small town where anybody’s business is everybody’s business. The Mothers’ black conservative Christian setting is a punishing atmosphere for anyone to grow up in. The book’s young protagonist, Nadia, returns home after years in college. While she has changed, the town remains eerily familiar. Bennett paints the very familiar feeling of returning to a place one was once was intimate with and the conflict one feels on realising that everyone has gone on with their lives without them.
8. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Greenwood fascinates us with this book with its atypical leads. Little Wavy, a drug dealer’s daughter, has learnt not trust anyone – not even her own parents – and spends most of her time raising her younger brother and star gazing. After a motorcycle accident, she forms an unusual friendship with Kellen, one her father’s thugs. By the time she is a teenager, her friendship with Kellen is the only tender thing in her life filled with drug addicts and debauchery. The book challenges all our notions of love.
9. Mockingbird (Mockingbird #1) by Chelsea Cain
Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Barbara Morse, gets her very own series in Mockingbird. Rewriting history to shed light on a background character and give her a voice of her own, Cain’s version of Bobbi is snarky, smart and feminist. A raucous romp with appearances from several popular characters from the universe, this superhero issue is super fun.
10. Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Sabithri, daughter of a poor sweet-maker in rural Bengal, gets a chance to lead a better life in Kolkata and pursue her dreams of a college education. However, the decisions she makes later comes back to haunt her daughter Bela. The narrative continues with Bela’s daughter Tara. The novel sweeps across the complexities of transcontinental and multi-generational bonds, and the Indian diaspora, with a setting spanning from rural Bengal to Texas.
11. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize and Goldsmiths Prize, Hot Milk is the story of 25-year-old Sofia Papastergiadis and her mother Rose as they travel through a Spanish village looking for a cure for Rose’s bizarre, psychosomatic ailments that include the inability to walk. Their relationship is complicated, of course. Sofia is a student of anthropology, working at a London cafe, and dealing with all of her mother’s demands: “My love for my mother is like an ax,” she says, “it cuts very deep.” As Sarah Lyall comments in The New York Times, “It’s a pleasure to be inside Sofia’s insightful, questioning mind.”
12. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The Lesser Bohemians is Irish author Eimear McBride’s follow-up to her first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which dove into the family history of an unnamed female protagonist, her abusive mother and absent father. The new novel tells you the story of an 18-year-old drama student in London and her turbulent relationship with an older, well-known actor as they jostle with inner demons and mad love. McBride’s coming-of-age story is marked by her wildly unconventional use of language. Her fractured, ungrammatical and incredibly poetic depiction of dark passion is electric.
13. Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante
Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey was first published in Italian a little more than a decade ago. Its English translation offers a view into Ferrante’s fascinating characters – of Delia, in Troubling Loves – through Ferrante’s correspondence with Mario Martone as he makes his movie on the book; and of what an immersive process writing is for her.
14. The Girls by Emma Cline
In this “brilliant debut”, as described by our reader @sharonirani, we follow Evie Boyd as she recollects her teenage years during the late 1960s when she stumbled into the company of a cult that introduced her to the liberating and corrupting power of drugs, sex and violence. The narrative weaves back and forth between the retrospective wisdom of a middle-aged protagonist and the naivety of a young girl fascinated by the careless abandon of charismatic strangers. We watch with horror as we meander towards what we know has happened but has not yet touched the younger Evie. With descriptive and nuanced prose that brings to life California of the 1960s, this book blends fact and fiction to make a compelling read.
15. Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? by Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Munaza Rashid, Natasha Rather, Samreena Mushtaq
In February 1991, a group of soldiers from the Indian Army arrived into two Kashmiri villages, Kunan and Poshpora, in the district of Kupwara. They used their pursuit of militants to justify the torture and rape of the residents of the village. As many as 31 women were raped but their stories disappeared into an ever-worsening history of state violence in Kashmir. This is why February 23 is Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day. Decades later, heated debates about rape after December 16, 2012 caused something extraordinary to happen. A group of young Kashmiri women decided to re-examine the incidents of that night and its long, dark shadows. In 2013, they filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition to reopen the case. In this book, five of those women – Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid, Natasha Rather – have written about their respective personal connections to Kunan-Poshpora, their efforts to document, litigate, and mobilise the case, and through it all to convey a vivid picture of what it means to be a Kashmiri, what it means to be a Kashmiri woman, and most of all, what rape has come to mean to a Kashmiri woman. A book that will teach you to ask the right questions about Kashmir. Read more about the book here and here.
16. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
Grace Bonney’s In the Company of Women is not just another brisk self-help book, but a collection of honest, intimate and awe-inspiring conversations with female powerhouses. Along with colourful photographs of the women in aesthetic settings, the book is sprinkled with illuminating bits of advice on how they deal with success, power and adversity. The most remarkable part is the astounding diversity of stories, ranging from chefs, models and museum curators to lingerie designers, comedians and illustrators, all of different ages, ethnicities, sexual preferences and backgrounds. There is something about these stories, be it an Oakland chef who reads bad Yelp reviews of her favourite restaurants to deal with self-doubt, or a television host whose favourite thing about work is the possibilities in a blank page.
17. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Han Kang’s ominous story won the Man Booker International Prize, 2016. For Yeong-hye, becoming a vegetarian is a way of escaping the nightmares that have begun to haunt her, but it also serves as an act of rebellion against the claustrophobic norms of South Korea. As her family tries to coerce her into rescinding from this decision, her life spirals downward finally ending in a delusional fantasy. Narrated through the perspectives of the people around her, this book is a chilling indictment of a repressive society.
18. The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1) by Heidi Heilig
It has time-travelling pirate ships and is set in Hawaii. Nix, the heroine, travels to 19th Century China, medieval Persia and mythic versions of Africa. The source of all this is her father’s magic map collection, but he is on a quest to find the one map, 1868 Honolulu, which might lead to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Throw in an extremely attractive Persian thief called Kashmir, a love triangle, and a lot of life-threatening drama, and you have a riveting sci-fi fantasy that’ll keep you hooked till the very end.
19. What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Helen Oyeyemi has six highly acclaimed novels and two plays to her credit. This, her first collection of short stories, has also been a critics’ darling. All the nine highly self-aware stories revolve around the idea of possession and ownership and have been praised for their playfulness, inventiveness and deep wells of humour. A dazzling book, especially for lovers of the short story.
20. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Jaqueline Woodson is mostly known for her acclaimed middle grade and young adult novels, but her adult book, Another Brooklyn, is a charming coming-of-age story of black girlhood. Ambling through the neighbourhoods of Brooklyn with the hopeful veneer of youth that is later recalled with fond nostalgia, the story is told through the protagonist August’s reminiscences about her girlhood in 1970s Brooklyn, on returning to the city for her father’s funeral. Woodson has a fascinating take on the notions of memories and tragedies in this narrative, with August saying, “I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It’s the memory.”
21. Problems by Jade Sharma
In an interview to Publishers’ Weekly (PW), debut author Jade Sharma said about her heroine, “At first I thought, I should make her white, so I don’t have to deal with the race issue, because white people are blank slates.” But she made her character Maya, a heroin-addicted, screwed up, depressed bookstore employee, Indian-American, because “Indian girls can be crazy bitches too,” she told PW. None of this sounds promising but it is! Maya is imaginative, profane, sexy and addictive. You want to hang out with her as she snorts heroine, thinks about her husband, lover, mother, future child or whatever. She’s just that much fun.
22. The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest
The Bricks That Built the Houses is spoken-word performer, poet and playwright Kate Tempest’s debut novel. The book is about the life of Becky, a woman juggling jobs as a waitress, dancer and masseuse. She goes on the run with her boyfriend and his sister, bidding adios to boring boyfriends, miffed drug dealers, and the staidness of south London, and the book gives you slices of her life before and after she leaves. It’s fast-paced, gripping and has a motley crew of deeply conflicted characters.
23. The Face at the Window by Kiran Manral
A cottage in the Himalayas and a dark secret set the tone for this horror story. A Face in the Window is about Mrs. McNally, a retired schoolteacher who lives alone in a remote hill station. Haunted by her past, she struggles between revealing the truth to her daughter and granddaughter and leaving things as they are. A dangerous presence lurking in the house adds to the eeriness. A novel about every kind of fear from the supernatural to that of loneliness, this comes highly recommended by several of our readers, with @rashmikmenon gushing that it is “an absolutely soul-satisfying read”.
24. Immortal by Krishna Udayasankar
An immortal history professor might be every student’s worst nightmare. But the protagonist of Krishna Udayasankar’s eponymous novel has more to him than 4,000 years of experience and being besties with both Genghis Khan and Subhash Chandra Bose. He is actually Asvattama, son of Drona, from the Mahabharata, cursed to walk the earth for centuries because he cannot die. In the book, he encounters a young researcher and goes on a quest for a mythical object with alchemical powers that could give him some clues about eternal life. Udayasankar’s spin-off on mythology is, as always, surreal, adrenaline-fuelled and solid fun.
25. Beetle Boy (The Battle of the Beetles #1) by MG Leonard
The first part of a trilogy about a brilliant middle-grader and some incredible beetles. Darkus Cuttle tries to track down his missing father who mysteriously vanished from the Natural History Museum where he was the director. With a stellar cast of kooky characters like Uncle Max, the bumbling archaeologist, and nemesis Lucretia Cutter, a fashion designer with a penchant for living insect jewellery who probably brunches with Cruella De Vil, coupled with obscure facts about creepy crawlies, this book combines dedicated entomology with a fast-paced adventure.
26. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Hag-Seed is one of the novels in the Vintage Books’ Hogarth Shakespeare project. Jeanette Winterson picked The Winter’s Tale to reinterpret, Anne Tyler has The Taming of the Shrew and Tracy Chevalier chose Othello. Wonderfully for us, Atwood picked The Tempest, a polyglot, multicultural, fantastical rollercoaster to begin with. In Atwood’s riotous version, the spurned artistic director of a Canadian theatre festival plots his revenge in exile – as the acting tutor in a prison. Working with his prisoner-students, he mounts his magnum opus interpretation of The Tempest. See where this is going?
27. The Battle for Home: The Vision of a Young Architect in Syria by Marwa al-Sabouni
Sabouni, an architect and mother of two grew up in Homs, which saw some of the most vicious fighting during the civil war in Syria. Also she did not leave Syria, or for that matter Homs. Sabouni her book fiercely outlines the importance architecture will place in post-war Syria even as she narrates the ordeal of having to live and work in her convulsed country. The book is a timely and fascinating eyewitness account of the tragedy inflicted on a people with a shared tolerant past, suffering under corruption and global forces beyond their control.
28. The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
The Female of the Species gets its title from Kipling’s eponymous poem that declares “the female of the species is more deadly than the male”. Alex Craft took the law into her own hands when her sister Anna’s rapist and murderer got away without a conviction. Now, the teenager turned vigilante unleashes her wrath on others who have committed atrocities, meting out justice as she sees fit. She struggles to maintain a façade of normalcy as she grapples with the darkness within her. This precarious situation threatens to come crashing down when she makes new friends who genuinely care about her. This book will make you feel deeply uncomfortable as you begin to relate to Alex who is anything but a hero, but maybe it is worth it.
29. The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) by NK Jemisin
The series begins with the end of the world. A mysterious narrator draws you into a planet plagued by near-extinction events, whose people live on the relics of civilisations long gone and scraps of wisdom from the ancient Stone Lore. The current empire survives by exploiting the powers of Orogenes, who are manipulators of the earth and environment. This universe is completely new while being excruciatingly familiar. Jemisin’s return to the Stillness with her sequel to the Hugo Award-winning The Fifth Season will challenge every assumption about fantasy you have ever made with its poignant insight into discrimination, historiography, politics and life.
30. Things to Leave Behind by Namita Gokhale
A richly detailed, historical epic set in colonial-era Nainital, Things to Leave Behind is a story of Kumaon, the Raj, with memorable, strong-willed characters. The heroine, Tilottama Dutt, is spunky, writes to Aurobindo Ghosh and Gopalkrishna Gokhale, and meets a cigar-smoking Swami Vivekananda in Almora. Gokhale’s ambitious novel, set between 1840 and 1912, is essentially a love letter to a thrilling bygone era, and through Tilottama, she questions the boundaries one has to live by, illuminating the fundamental confusion caused by the debates on caste, race, and nation.
31. The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar by Nandini Sundar
In her meticulously researched book, Sundar writes about Maoist conflict in Bastar. Written to make up for the lack of academic work on the current phase of the Maoist movement, the book covers the strife, civil war and displacement of adivasis of Bastar in southern Chhattisgarh. She argues that the Indian state’s main purpose against waging conflict with the Maoists is for land acquisition and mineral resources. The author uses anecdotes of several individuals and families caught in the conflict to reflect the misery of the situation. The book is a must-read for those interested in the nature and the genesis of the conflict and are willing to think beyond the ‘development’ gained by dispossessing tribal communities of their ancient land, culture and their primary source of income.
32. The Girl Who Ate Books by Nilanjana Roy
This collection of engaging essays is a must-read for bibliophiles, especially those interested in the rise of Indian writing in English. Divided into seven parts like a seven-course meal, The Girl Who Ate Books is a recollection of Roy’s journey as a literary journalist, along with an insightful documentation of Indian writing and publishing in English, referring to writers across generations, from Sake Dean Mahomet to Arundhati Roy. The general favourite is the first part containing warm recollections of Roy’s introduction to the world of books, especially resonating with book lovers who grew up in Delhi or Kolkata.
33. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
Do you need to be alone to create art? Should we all be a little less afraid of being alone? Do we undervalue the crushing and transcendental power of isolation? These are the kind of questions this book answers. The book charts Laing’s complex and simple griefs as she lives in a series of vacant New York apartments (in a post-love failure situation) but it is more than a memoir. It is also an investigation into the connections between creativity and loneliness by looking at artists like Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol, and by looking at the online world. Books make you feel less alone in the world; this one lets us sink into the loneliness.
34. Three Sisters, Three Queens (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #8) by Philippa Gregory
The latest instalment of Gregory’s Tudor Court series fleshes out the sparse history of Queen Margaret of Scotland and the narrative of the eponymous queens is told strictly from her perspective. The three sisters grown up to become the queens of France, Scotland and England. This fictional account is filled with passion, intrigue and tragedy and none of the women are seen in particularly flattering light. But these three stood out in Tudor history at a time when European princesses were merely political pawns.
35. Hedon by Priyanka Mookerjee
Hedon might seem like just another young adult romance, but the story of socially privileged Tara Mullick and Jay Dhillon is elevated from its bubbly contemporaries due to the unique, vivacious prose, and the witty wisdom the narrator peppers the story with. Its poetic quality is addictive, and you end up rooting for the teenage protagonist as she comes of age in the course of a storyline spanning multiple cities and multiple misadventures.
36. Unladylike: A Memoir by Radhika Vaz
Comedian Radhika Vaz’s memoir is extremely relatable, hilarious and doesn’t pull any punches. From calling Angelina Jolie’s vagina the ‘most womanly p**sy ever with an archway” to asking what the big deal about losing one’s virginity is, the memoir is an outrageous, honest record of four decades of the writer’s life. It has childhood tales of bonding with her Iraqi classmate, stories of self-esteem issues accompanying a flat chest, vaginal farts, the thigh gaps of Victoria Secret models, and her milk-drinking Jat husband. Other than being a candid account of an Indian girl, Unladylike also poses some penetrating questions on society and relationships.
37. Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up by Rana Ayyub
In 2010, Rana Ayyub, a young investigative journalist working with Tehelka magazine, spent several months in Gujarat pretending to be Maithili Tyagi, a filmmaker. Undercover, Ayyub secretly recorded several government and police officers talking about their role in the post-Godhra carnage of 2002 and fake encounters. As investigative journalist Manoj Mitta observed, Ayyub’s “sting featuring key members of the erstwhile Modi regime in Gujarat punches holes in the carefully constructed official narrative”. Ayyub published the book herself when mainstream publishers wouldn’t touch it. The book has been variously described as “profoundly disillusioning”, “brave” and an “important document”. Read it because, as Hindustan Times’ critic Manjula Narayan points out, “Gujarat is still with us”.
38. Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
In 2014, Randa Jarrar set off an early cultural appropriation debate with her Salon essay, ‘Why I can’t stand white belly dancers’. Him, Me, Muhammad Ali is a collection of short stories by the award-winning author who travels around the globe from Egypt to the U.S. to Palestine. You can read it as important literary fiction by an Arab woman. Or you could take a Goodreads reviewer’s suggestion, “if you must read one story as a teaser, read the final one about a half-Transjordanian ibex as she navigates the world and searches for love on a proxy site for Tinder”. The thing is Jarrar is smart, a lot of fun and wonderfully ragey.
39. The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma by Ratika Kapur
From the moment young Mrs. Renuka Sharma meets a younger man on the metro train, everything changes. But it is never the young man who relentlessly holds your interest in this slim novel. It’s Mrs. Sharma’s view of the world, her marriage, work, parenting and the city of Delhi. As The New York Times’ enthusiastic review says, “One of her favorite expressions is, ‘I don’t like to boast, but …’ and then, boasts she does — about her son’s good looks, about her inner strength, about her sexiness.” Trust us, you would want to get to know Renu. Read an excerpt from the book here.
40. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
It’s 1991. Hannah is a good girl. Lacey is the bad girl. Both straining against the restrictions of small town living, both levitating from the magic of grunge, Seattle and Kurt Cobain. It’s a suicide that brings them together but what possibilities lie ahead when they get together in a fierce, near-mythical friendship? A dark novel that continuously shifts on you and your memories of girlhood. And any memories of the 1990s you may have.
41. Adulthood is a Myth (A Sarah’s Scribbles Collection) by Sarah Andersen
Sarah’s Scribbles’ relatable and scarily accurate webcomics have been compiled into a glorious physical edition that makes up for the sheer horror you feel when there is no internet. An irreverent depiction of every struggle that comes with becoming a real, live “grown-up”, this book will comfort you about being the awkward, insecure, misanthropic human that you are sometimes.
42. The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
In Perry’s second novel, 1908 London is mad about the sciences especially palaeontology. New widow, Cora Seagrave, is patently relieved by the death of her civil servant husband. She hears of the Essex Serpent, a winged leviathan from a folktale, which has come to life to ravage the Blackwater estuary and its adversary, a rector, with whom she soon begin a tangled relationship. Perry artfully explores the symbolic potential of the monster. For Cora, who till now has been limited by her marriage, the serpent is a symbol of her freedom and her desire to research into the monster. For the rector, the monster is a pain.
43. The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan
Sharanya Manivannan’s collection of short stories is about sensual, bold and “luscious” women, narrating their tales of love and consequence in exquisite, liquid prose. The characters range from a Sri Lankan mermaid to a trekker with the Irula tribe in the Nilgiris. There are goddesses and old myths interwoven with women in rooftop bars and beaches, resulting in an enchanting, and intensely personal work of “feminist spirituality”. It was also shortlisted for the 2016 Tata Literature Live! First Book Award (Fiction).
44. Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Dark Things takes the traditional folklore legends of Yakshis, Gandharvas and Apsaras, and catapults them into a fantasy thriller set in the 21st Century, with the bewitching protagonist Ardra, a bustier-wearing, cocktail-sipping Yakshi who seduces and kills men for their secrets. When she accidentally lets a victim, Dwai, survive, the dark underworld of Atla and the celestial abode of Akasha are plunged in warfare, making for a heady page-turner. Other than the detailed interweaving of Indian mythology themes, Dark Things is also a romance, without resorting to the usual YA tropes and set in a world almost devoid of patriarchy. If that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, we don’t know what will.
45. The Trespasser (Dublin Murder Squad #6) by Tana French
Young Irish crime novelist published five terrific novels in the Dublin Murder Squad series before she wrote The Trespasser. But this new book seems to have finally hit critical mass with the critical masses. Essays in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Guardian and elsewhere (all from this year) all praise French for her portrait of an Ireland stuck between the past and present. You can love the series for its delicious crime fiction or the dark, gloomy detectives. You can also love it for its extra cleverness — the shifting narrators and perspectives, the fact that all mysteries are not necessarily solved when each book ends and so on. The books in the series are all eerie and clever. This one begins as murder mysteries customarily begin: the body of a woman who has died because of a blow to the head. But from that point, all bets are off.
46. The Legend of Laxmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna
A small new collection of short stories from the hit columnist. Characters range from Bablu Kewat, the intrepid inventor of the low-cost sanitary pad to sexagenarian sisters Noni and Binni, to the fearless young Elisa Thomas. For fans of the old-school Indian short story or those of the consistently witty Mrs Funnybones column, this will be an enjoyable if sedately paced read. Read more about the book here.
47. Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo
Forward Prize winner Vanil Capildeo’s Measures of Expatriation is a collection of prose poems and free verse dealing with expatriation, displacement and identity using powerful allusions, and a fierce, unfettered usage of words as devoid of identities. It will definitely question your notions of poetry and its forms, with the unusual manner in which it invokes and builds evocative and powerful images.
48. The Liberation of Sita by Volga
Volga revisits the Ramayana to spin the story of Sita’s life after she is abandoned by her husband. Wandering through the forest where she single-handedly raises her two sons, she stumbles into minor characters from the original epic – Surpanakha, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila. From them she learns the strength of her own independence, the necessity of trust, her own identity beyond that of a wife or mother, and the need for introspection. By identifying gaps in the mythology and giving each of the women a space to voice their opinions, the author makes it possible for them to free themselves. In the concluding chapter, Rama comes to realise that he is shackled by royal responsibility and begins to think of the 14-year exile as his only taste of liberation.
49. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Effia and Esi are half-sisters living in 18th Century Ghana, until they are separated by wildly different fates; Effia as the wife of a British slaver in the palatial Cape Coast Castle, while Esi is sold into slavery and shipped off to America. Gyasi’s ambitious debut novel is an incredibly rich family saga of their descendants, creating a highly visceral and powerful portrayal of captivity, slavery and the “tangled chains of moral responsibility that hang on our history”. It won a nomination for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction, and rave reviews from both critics and her readers.
50. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Smith’s latest novel is about the friendship between two girls of mixed race. The unnamed narrator’s father is white English and mother is African-Caribbean, and her friend Tracey’s mother is white English and father (always absent but Tracey insists he’s touring with Michael Jackson) is African-Caribbean. Both girls meet in a tap dance class. Tracey is something of a prodigy, but the narrator finds that she must stop dancing because she has flat feet. Here is Aminatta Forna in The Guardian: “The novel’s strength lies in its unflinching portrait of friendship, driven as much by jealousy and competition as by love and loyalty.”