Books To Watch For In 2019: The Year’s Most Anticipated Releases

2018 was a great year for fiction. From powerfully provocative works such as Richard Powers’ The Overstory and Tommy Orange’s There There to the incredible feminist retelling of classic Greek myth in Madeline Miller’s Circe, the diversity was incredible. Fortunately, 2019 promises to be another wonderful year for literature (I mean, any year that features a new release from Margaret Atwood is already guaranteed to be a great one!). I’ve been trawling through the different release announcements and literary calendars sketching out my 2019 reading plans (with the hope that I can meet all of my goals, as truly the only resolutions that I’m likely to actually keep). To help you on your way with your own plans, I thought that it would be a good idea to create a list of 2019’s most anticipated releases. These are books that I’m particularly excited to read this year and are certainly ones worth keeping your eye out for over the coming months.* Be sure to leave a comment with any new releases that you’re particularly excited to read in 2019, especially if they are ones that I’ve missed!

*The books listed are a combination of UK and US releases, with separate publication dates listed where applicable.

January

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (US – Riverhead Books, 8 Jan; UK – Oneworld Publications, 22 Jan)

Samanta Schweblin is a relatively unknown authorial force currently sweeping the literary world. Granta voted her one of the best Spanish language writers under 35 and she is recipient of the Juan Rulfo Story Prize. Mouthful of Birds is Schweblin’s third story collection, conjuring a surreal vision of “women on the edge, men turned upside down, the natural world at odds with reality.” NPR has described her work as “consistently perfect,” while the New York Times has deemed her a “rare and important” literary figure. This is definitely a release that I will be picking up!

mouthful of birds

February

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (US – Riverhead Books, 5 Feb; UK – Hamish Hamilton, 28 Feb)

Marlon James is globally renowned for the 2014 publication of his Man Booker Prize Winner A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel that unpicks the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. With the release of his newest novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, James has departed from this type of historical fiction with an exciting turn to fantasy. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first book in the Dark Star Trilogy, a series of books that “draws on a  rich tradition of African mythology, fantasy and history to imagine an ancient world, a lost child, an extraordinary hunter, and a mystery with many answers…” With James’ narrative skill already well-established, this novel promises to be a bold and unique exploration of African themes and heritage.

black leopard red wolf

Nothing But The Night by John Williams (US – NYRB, 12 Feb)

I’m a very recent convert to John Williams. Stoner was, in fact, one of my first reads of 2019 (and last week’s featured review). I was excited to see that NYRB is capitalising on the excitement that now surrounds John William’s works with a republication of his debut novel, Nothing But The Night. Although already available in the UK (Williams’ work enjoys far more success in Europe than the US), February brings American readers the opportunity to gain further familiarity with one of their most gifted and surprisingly uncelebrated 20th century authors. Nothing But The Night describes the story of Arthur Maxley who, upon receiving a letter from his estranged father, finds himself falling down a rabbit-hole of past childhood trauma and complex familial relationships. If the controlled and powerful style of Stoner is anything to go by, Williams’ prose alone is sufficient reason to add Nothing But The Night to your 2019 to-read list.

nothing but the night

March

New Daughters of Africa (ed.) by Margaret Busby (UK – Amistad, 8 March; US – Amistad, 7 May)

I’m particularly excited for this publication. In 1992, Margaret Busby put together an anthology of literary contributions from female writers of colour. This concept has been updated for 2019 with new voices, in the form of New Daughters of Africa. Featuring the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, and Jesmyn Ward, this collection features offerings from some of our best loved authors. Importantly, however, New Daughters of Africa also celebrates contributions from writers whose work has made less impact on the Western literary scene. This is a vital opportunity for readers to hear from artists with perspectives that will help to shift our inward focus and further develop the understanding of diversity and shared experience upon which fiction relies. This expansive collection “demonstrates an uplifting sense of sisterhood, honours the strong links that endure from generation to generation, and addresses the common obstacles women writers of colour face as they negotiate issues of race, gender and class, and confront vital matters of independence, freedom and oppression.”

new daughters of africa

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (US – Gallery/Scout Press, 19 Mar; UK – Trapeze, 11 Apr)

Queenie is the much-hyped debut novel from Candice Carty-Williams. So hyped, in fact, that the book received a good deal of press for the six-figure deal that enabled Orion to secure its publication rights back in 2017. The novel’s protagonist is Queenie Jenkins, “a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and fitting neatly into neither.” Through a number of life events with which so many of us will identify, Queenie is forced to question who exactly it is that she wants to become. There is so much about this novel that deserves our excitement and anticipation. I’m hoping that it delivers the gut-punching authenticity of Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah – one of my favourite novels.

queenie

April

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (US – Grove Press, 9 Apr; UK – Jonathan Cape, 11 Apr)

Of all 2019’s releases, Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian is by far the one that I am most anticipating. Hammad’s debut novel “charts a young man’s coming-of-age journey from his small town in Palestine to France during World War I, then home again to a country in the fledgling stage of its century-long battle for independence.” I adore historical fiction, particularly when it transcends its own space to deliver notes of continued relevance to our own contemporary experience. The Parisian has already received a tremendous amount of acclaim for its portrayal of this tumultuous time in both European and Middle Eastern history.

the parisian

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (UK – Jonathan Cape, 18 Apr; US – Nan A. Talese, 23 Apr)

I’m actually not the biggest fan of Ian McEwan. For a reason that I still struggle to identify, his books just don’t seem to evoke the emotion that I would expect them to generate. That said, I’m intrigued by his upcoming release of Machines Like Me. The novel is set in an alternative London – “Britain has lost the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence.” This kind of alternative history is something that I really enjoy and I’m hopeful that Machines Like Me will re-interrogate some of the social and political dynamics that have become a settled part of how we understand Britain in the 1980s.

machines like me

Star by Yukio Mishima (US – New Directions, 30 Apr; UK – W.W. Norton, 30 Apr)

I’m only newly familiar with the work of Yukio Mishima, having just finished the English translation of The Frolic of the Beasts. I honestly wasn’t totally certain what to make of the novella, but this ambiguity appears to be much of the novel’s appeal to its fans. I’m certainly intrigued enough to be looking forward to the translation of Star. This short work explores the life of Rikio, a Japanese actor and celebrity whose life is falling apart. One thing that I can certainly say for Mishima is that he does not flinch from the portrayal of humanity’s darker dimensions, and Star sounds like the perfect forum through which the author can explore some of these preferred themes.

star

May

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (UK – Chatto & Windus, 9 May; US – Doubleday, 18 Jun)

Admittedly, retellings of classic Greek mythology are hardly a unique literary exploration at this point. Madeline Miller has assisted in bringing this type of fiction into vogue with The Song of Achilles and Circe, and a number of novelists have successfully capitalised on this new trend. While there might be a degree of exasperation with the continued growth of this ‘genre’, such retellings continue to generate a good amount of excitement. I was surprised to hear that Mark Haddon (author of prize-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) had decided to add his own contribution to this development. The Porpoise explores the legend of Antiochus through the life of plane-crash survivor Angelique and her safety-obsessed father, Philippe. The novel promises a dark take on an ancient tale.

the porpoise

June

Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh (UK – John Murray, 6 Jun; US – Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 10 Sept)

Gun Island is another epic global affair that follows dealer of rare books, Deen, as he engages in an epic journey from India to the US and Italy. As Deen encounters a variety of characters, he finds that this is a trip that will “upend everything he thought he knew about himself, about the Bengali legends of his childhood and about the world around him.” The novel promises an expansive take on displacement and exploration, whilst simultaneously offering a unique interrogation of traditional Bengali folklore.

gun island

August

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (US – Doubleday, 16 July; UK – Fleet, 16 July)

In his follow-up to the critically-acclaimed and prize-winning The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead explores another chapter in US race relations through the Civil Rights era. The Nickel Boys follows Elwood Curtis, a black teenager whose university ambitions are destroyed when he makes a mistake and is subsequently sentenced to a juvenile reform school in Florida. Although positioned as a place for moral reform, the school is an effective guide for physical and sexual abuse that perfectly encapsulates the devastation and cruelty of life under Jim Crow-era segregation.

the nickel boys

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (UK – Hamish Hamilton, 29 Aug; US – Bloomsbury, 3 Sept)

Although highly celebrated, Deborah Levy isn’t an author that I’ve come across in the past. Her upcoming publication, The Man Who Saw Everything, sounds so interesting, however, that I think 2019 will be the year to address this negligence. The novel spans Europe across the decades, through the eyes of Saul Adler. Adler is a young historian who is hit by a car whilst crossing Abbey Road in 1989. Apparently fine, he leaves to study in East Berlin, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. On his return to the UK in 2016, Adler is once again hit by a car on Abbey Road. This time rushed to hospital, Adler’s memories and experiences glide between time zones and locations as the reader is taken on “a spiralling trail” that “examines what we see and what we fail to see, until we encounter the spectres of history – both the world’s and our own.”

the man who saw everything

September

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (US – Nan A. Talese, 10 Sept; UK – Chatto & Windus, 10 Sept)

Undoubtedly the literary event of 2019, it’s difficult to not get excited about Margaret Atwood’s follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale. Although I’ve not watched the TV series (purely because I’m unprepared to see such graphic depictions of realities that I feel we’re worryingly close to mirroring), I absolutely adore Atwood’s work and was blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel left us with Offred’s departure into an uncertain future. Set 15 years later, The Testaments explores the future of Gilead from the perspective of three female narrators. Where it will take us, I’m not sure. But I’m absolutely certain that this will be an incredible sequel to a truly monumental work.

the testaments

October

Grand Union by Zadie Smith (US – Penguin Press, 8 Oct; UK – Hamish Hamilton, TBD)

I haven’t read Zadie Smith too widely but I really enjoyed On Beauty when I finally got around to reading it a couple of years ago. A writer of truly prodigious talent, it’s difficult to deny that Smith’s narrative perspective pinpoints some of the most significant tensions that exist around racial and cultural identity. Grand Union is a collection of short stories – some new and some previously published pieces – that explore a range of themes close to Smith’s heart. The collection considers diverse subjects, “from first loves to cultural despair, as well as the desire to be the subject of your own experience.” Having not previously encountered any of Smith’s short fiction, I’m excited to see what she can do with this space.

grand union

November

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (US – Doubleday, 5 Nov; UK – Harvill Secker, 5 Nov)

One of the first books that I reviewed on The Book Habit – many moons ago – was Erin Morgenstern’s magical debut novel, The Night Circus. Fans of Morgenstern’s work have been waiting a long time for a follow-up that will conjure the same amount of wonder as that inspired by The Night Circus. Fortunately, it seems that The Starless Sea will be exactly the novel we’ve wanted. It follows Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a university student in Vermont, who discovers a book that, alongside a number of fantastical tales, describes a story from his own childhood. Attempting to uncover the mystery of the book, Zachary ends up on a journey that forces encounters with an underground library, lost cities, and some enigmatic but fascinating characters. Ringing with the most enthralling elements of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, it seems that this will be the perfect cosy autumnal read for 2019.

the starless sea

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili (UK – Scribe, 14 Nov)

The Eighth Life is one of 2019’s releases that it going to prove a little difficult for me to get hold of, since I can’t track down any information on US publication. But it may be worth sending one of my family members on an excursion to get hold of it for me in the UK. The Eighth Life is an award-winning German novel by an author deemed “one of the most important voices in contemporary German literature.” It is an epic work that spans generations of a Georgian family embroiled in the events of the early twentieth century in Russia. Der Spiegel called The Eighth Life “the novel of the year” on its release. In an effort to spend 2019 reading more globally, this is definitely a novel on which I’ll be waiting with extra anticipation!

the eighth life

9 thoughts on “Books To Watch For In 2019: The Year’s Most Anticipated Releases

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