Today marks one year since my debut novel The 392 was released and I’m feeling reflective.
It’s hard to believe that what originally started out as a short story for my MA – which I studied for while working as a secondary school English teacher – is now celebrating its first birthday.
Set entirely on a fictional London bus over 36 minutes, The 392 was initially written as a way of coming to terms with the rapid gentrification of my childhood home in east London. Subsequently, inspired by these changes, and my experiences in the classroom, I wanted to write a novel that would appeal to a wide range of readers, from the reluctant to the avid, as well as, giving a platform to voices I felt aren’t heard enough in contemporary literary fiction. It was for these reasons that ever-growing Hackney-based indie publisher OWN IT! were the perfect match when trying to find my novel a home.
Since the book’s hardback launch in April 2019, The 392 has also been released as a paperback (and again soon as an audiobook); I have had opportunities to appear at Stoke Newington Lit Fest, WOMAD, Primadonna, headline UEA Live; appeared on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio London a few times; have talked in schools and universities across the country, even TV rights have been optioned. A year on, I’m still so grateful to everyone who’s bought or borrowed a copy of The 392 in the last twelve months.
Now knee-deep into editing the first draft of my second book, which makes up roughly 80% of my PhD, I’ve also managed to squeeze in time to read a decent number of novels in the year since The 392 has been released. Admittedly, I still have a quite a few proofs to wade through, and my self-bought TBR pile is precariously Jenga-like on my bedside. But below are just ten of the books I have read and enjoyed in the last year or so.
Undoubtedly, my choices are shaped by my own stylistic intentions for my new novel; works that are lyrical, that experiment with the aesthetics of how words look on the page, works that play around with the poetry of prose at sentence level.
With this mind, and apologies at the ready for any great books I haven’t yet read and therefore not named, here are ten novels in no particular order I’ve loved in the last year:
On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous
The writing in this novel is sensory and stunning. Vuong’s sentencing is poignant and poetic and lyrical, oozing beauty from the very first page.
That Reminds Me
Lusciously lyrical. The succinct sections of this beautiful little book allow the reader to palpably experience the story of protagonist K in his darkest days with the sharpest of lines.
Highly inventive and majestically musical, Porter captures the symphonies of childhood in a poetic work that challenges the hybridity of the novel form in a book that sings to you throughout.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers
This super tight, brilliantly expressionistic novel is a life-affirming tale of love, despair and recovery. The writing is stunning, peppered with dynamic verbs and compound adjectives to dictate the pace from the off.
Poetry meets prose in this hyper-original exhilarating journey of a novel. The lines are comedic and musical and playfully problematic.
A deservingly seminal text. Queenie’s struggles with love and mental health are resoundingly relatable in the current climate and are skillfully addressed in this romp of a book. Unputdownable.
Yara Rodriquez Fowler
Vivid and melodic. Written with such vibrancy and pace, the originality of how the story unfolds on the page illuminates the theme of identity expertly.
This inventive novel, told entirely in the second person, quietly captures the memory of childhood with a delicate subtlety that makes every line lift off the page.
Convenience Store Woman
Strangely comic yet beautifully tender. The writing in this quirky little novel manages to capture the profound vulnerability of the central character’s struggle to conform to societal expectations with both humour and sensitivity.
What Red Was
Profoundly vivid writing, the difficult themes of this book are masterfully explored and fearlessly described.