November 18, 2019

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The next chapters

Fall's slate of fiction shaping up to be a bumper crop of buzz-worthy books

The dog days of summer are in the rearview mirror, and so too are the bevy of breezy beach reads that go along with them. And while it’s tough to say goodbye to July and August, what follows is every fiction fan’s favourite time of year — fall.

Dazzling debuts

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Here are some new novels from first-time Canadian fiction writers to watch for this fall...

• There Has to be a Knife, by Adnan Khan (Sept. 1)
• Daughters of Silence, by Rebecca Fisseha (Sept. 10)
• Even That Wildest Hope, by Seyward Goodhand (Sept. 16)
• Crow Winter, by Karen McBride (Sept. 17)
• Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams, by Ceilidh Michelle (Oct. 15)

Fiction lovers have already been gifted a bounty of brilliant books that are garnering plenty of praise and some early awards buzz: Téa Obreht’s Inland, David Szalay’s Turbulence, Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, Lori Lansens’ This Little Light and many more have already hit bookstore shelves and bestseller lists.

Beyond these titles, fall 2019 is shaping up to deliver a bumper crop of books certain to leave their mark in the literary world. many of which tackle today’s societal and political climate.

Here are 20 of the most buzz-worthy books to watch for on the fiction scene this fall; look for many of these novelists to make stops in Winnipeg as part of their book-launch tours in the weeks to come.

A Better Man

By Louise Penny (Minotaur, Aug. 27)

In Toronto suspense writer Louise Penny’s 15th Three Pines novel, Inspector Armand Gamache returns to the Sûreté du Québec’s homicide department as the waters throughout the province rise from spring flooding. He’s approached by a distraught father desperate for help to find his missing daughter; as Gamache looks into the disappearance, he becomes the scourge of social media, while the flood waters creep ever higher. Penny launches A Better Man on Monday, Oct. 21, at Knox United Church.


Five Wives

By Joan Thomas (HarperAvenue, Sept. 3)

In her fourth novel, much-lauded Winnipeg novelist Joan Thomas heads to South America in a fictionalized account based on real-life events. In the mid-1950s, a group of five evangelical Christian missionaries travelled into the rainforest in Ecuador to attempt to convert the Indigenous Waorani community who, until that time, had had virtually no contact with the outside world. Five Wives imagines the story of the women left behind when the missionaries were killed. Thomas launches the novel at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location on Wednesday, Sept. 11.


Akin

By Emma Donoghue (HarperCollins, Sept. 3)

The Irish-born, London, Ont.-based Donoghue (author of 2010’s smash Room) follows an unlikely pair as they uncover family secrets in France. Noah, a retired New York professor, is set to head to Nice when a social worker contacts him, looking for a temporary home for his 11-year-old great-nephew Michael. The two head to France and end up working together to unearth details about their family’s past. Donoghue will launch Akin in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location.


The Difference

By Marina Endicott (Knopf, Sept. 3)

Inspired by a true story, the British Columbia-based Endicott (Close to Hugh, Good to a Fault) takes readers aboard the Morning Light, a Nova Scotia merchant ship sailing the South Pacific in 1912, with half-sisters Thea and Kay. While in Micronesia, Thea forms a bond with a boy and takes him on as her child; the younger Kay, meanwhile, contemplates her feelings for the boy and conflicted notions of difference, justice and customs.


The Testaments

By Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart, Sept. 10)

In what is easily the literary event of the fall, Canadian icon Margaret Atwood returns with a sequel to her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which has seen a dramatic resurgence in sales in response to the Hulu series of the same name (and, many would argue, the political climate south of the border). Set 15 years later, the book brings a trio of testaments from women who lived in Gilead. Atwood launches The Testaments in Winnipeg on Monday, Sept. 30, at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.


 

Author Sean Michaels gives his acceptance speech after winning the 2014 Giller Prize . (Fran Gunn / Canadian Press files)

Author Sean Michaels gives his acceptance speech after winning the 2014 Giller Prize . (Fran Gunn / Canadian Press files)

 

The Wagers

By Sean Michaels (Knopf, Sept. 24)

The Scottish-born, Montreal-based Michaels’ debut novel, Us Conductors, thrust him onto the national literary stage when he won the 2014 Giller Prize. Was it luck? It just so happens that’s the subject of his sophomore novel. A grocer and aspiring comedian gambles on a new path, leading him into a fantastical, re-imagined Montreal full of sinister luck-stealing gangs, mathematicians and much, much more. Michaels launches The Wagers in Winnipeg on Monday, Oct. 28, at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location.


Quichotte

By Salman Rushdie (Knopf, Sept. 3)

An homage to Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Salman Rushdie’s spin on the classic tackles 21-century topics in ways only Rushdie can. His protagonist, Sam DuChamp, writes espionage thrillers. He creates Quichotte, who in turn creates his own fictional child, Sancho; father and son set off across America in search of Quichotte’s true love. Rushdie blurs the lines between author and subject, real and imagined, all while chronicling life in modern America.


A Delhi Obsession

By M.G. Vassanji (Doubleday, Sept. 10)

The two-time Giller winner (for The Book of Secrets and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall) tells the story of a former Kenyan living in Toronto, a widower who decides to visit Delhi. While there, he meets a newspaper columnist, a modern Hindu woman, and the two hit it off. After she shows him around the city, they embark on a passionate affair, not knowing they are being watched by a radical nationalist group.


Ducks, Newburyport

By Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis, Sept. 10)

Already nominated for the 2019 Booker Prize, Ellmann’s ambitious opus has garnered comparisons to Moby-Dick, the work of James Joyce and other heavyweights — albeit in a more domesticated (and American) setting. It’s a big stream-of-consciousness book that sees an Ohio housewife pondering motherhood, fear in the modern age and much more in an expansive, immersive narrative.


Night Boat to Tangier

By Kevin Barry (Knopf, Sept. 17)

Another Booker Prize-nominated novel, the latest from Barry (Beatlebone, City of Bohane) sees a pair of aging Irish drug-smuggling thugs waiting in a Spanish ferry terminal for the titular boat. As a Beckett-like vigil ensues, the pair reminisce about their past exploits, as well as the violence and romances along the way, in a dark comedy that’s garnered plenty of pre-release acclaim from many big-name writers.


Island

By Johanna Skibsrud (Hamish Hamilton, Sept. 24)

The Giller-winning Nova Scotia-born, Arizona-based Skibsrud (The Sentimentalists) takes the reader to a fictional island where the lives of two women are followed — one a diplomat, the other a rebel looking to help overthrow the occupying powers. Rachel, the diplomat, is holed up at the embassy and hears shots fired, while Lota, a factory worker, is drawn into the uprising as Skibsrud explores themes of imperialism, history and more.


Watching You Without Me

By Lynn Coady (House of Anansi, Sept. 24)

Another Giller winner returns with a new novel, this time from Toronto-based Lynn Coady (who won for 2013’s Hellgoing). Watching You Without Me follows a woman who returns to her Nova Scotia childhood home following her mother’s death to act as caregiver for her older sister, who has a developmental disability. As one of their mother’s support workers inserts himself in their lives, the sisters come to learn about the nature of his relationship with their mother. Coady launches her new novel in Winnipeg on Saturday, Oct. 12, at McNally Robinson Booksellers’ Grant Park location.


The Water Dancer

By Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World/Random House, Sept. 24)

The acclaimed U.S. National Book Award winner (Between the World and Me) offers up his novel-length fiction debut, which delves into the era of slavery and sees a young boy develop magical powers after his mother is sold off. Years later, he flees the only home he’s ever known, embarking on a journey that sees him criss-crossing America, desperate to rescue the family he left behind.


Greenwood

By Michael Christie (McClelland & Stewart, Sept. 24)

Set in the year 2038, this latest epic from Christie (If I Fall, If I Die) sees a scientist-turned-tour guide giving tours of a centuries-old forest in a world crippled by environmental collapse. From here the reader is taken back in time through generations of a family defined by drama and tragedy — and whose history is riddled with emotional and psychological turmoil that runs through this epic novel.


The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett (Harper, Sept. 24)

The author of Bel Canto and 2016’s hit Commonwealth this year delivers a novel spanning the latter half of the 20th century. It begins at the titular estate located on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Siblings Danny and Maeve are cast out from Dutch House by their stepmother and thrust back into poverty. Over the course of the next half-century, they face numerous obstacles together, their sibling bond put to the test when they eventually confront the family that left them behind.


The Topeka School

By Ben Lerner (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Oct. 1)

Lerner follows up his much-buzzed novel 10:04 with a story of a left-leaning family living in mid-’90s Kansas that delivers plenty of social commentary on the state of affairs of our southern neighbours. Adam’s mother is a famous feminist author; his father is a well-known psychologist who works with "lost boys." When Adam, a skilled debater at school, inadvertently brings one of his father’s "lost boys" into his social circle, things quickly go south.


 

Zadie Smith (Charles Sykes / Invision files)

Zadie Smith (Charles Sykes / Invision files)

 

Grand Union: Stories

By Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, Oct. 8)

Smith switches gears from her rich, evocative book-length fictions (White Teeth, On Beauty) and essays to deliver her first short-fiction collection, consisting of previously published stories as well as 10 new pieces. Spanning decades and continents, Smith’s inimitable style helps her mine the human condition in a way only she can.

 


The Man Who Saw Everything

By Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton, Oct. 8)

The two-time Booker Prize finalist (for Swimming Home and Hot Milk) has once again made the long list for her latest, a novel set in late-1980s Europe. A young historian set to visit East Berlin and write about the GDR is grazed by a car while posing at the famous Abbey Road intersection in London, setting off a chain of events in his life and sending the reader through a story of past and present, masculine and feminine and much more.


Agent Running in the Field

By John le Carré (Viking, Oct. 22)

The seemingly tireless British thriller writer and former intelligence officer, best known for novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Constant Gardener and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, delivers his 25th novel while keeping a finger on the pulse of current events. This time around, a British intelligence agent in current-day London befriends an introspective, disgruntled badminton player, who in turn leads the characters into a world of political and psychological turmoil.


Dead Astronauts

By Jeff VanderMeer (McClelland & Stewart, Dec. 3)

The creator of the Southern Reach trilogy (which spawned the 2018 film Annihilation) and Borne is back with a fantastical, dystopian tale set in the ruins of a future city. Advance press materials reference a "messianic blue fox who slips through warrens of time and space," "three ragtag rebels waging and endless war for the fate of the world," "a homeless woman haunted by a demon" and "a giant leviathan of a fish… who hides a secret." In other words, classic Jeff VanderMeer.


For a roundup of this fall’s most hyped non-fiction titles, see the Aug. 31 Weekend Review.

books@freepress.mb.ca

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

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