'On A Clear Day' by Agnes Martin
If there’s one thing 2020 granted us, it was plenty of reading time. While I’m still playing catch up on some of the big releases from the year-that-was (my copy of Tara June Winch’s The Yield waits expectantly on my bedside table), there are plenty of new releases coming out in 2021 that I’m already excited for.
Here’s a run-down of some of the new fiction books I’ve eagerly got my eyes on in the first half of the year:
Hold Your Fire by Chloe Wilson
With a description that reads “dark and dangerous, brilliantly unsettling and chillingly funny, this extraordinary debut shows us what we usually deny – the uneasy truce we make with our ruthless desires and gothic fears, and how easily it can be broken” - this one’s already got me hooked. A playground incident steels the cold-war relationships of a modern family, a young couple move into the house of a recent murder, and a diver pushes herself to higher and higher leaps. The debut short story collection from prize-winning author Chloe Wilson, a dynamic new voice in Australian fiction, shot to the top of my TBR list when I heard that the tales contained are interspersed with flash fiction.
Released: March Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
As Swallows Fly by L. P. McMahon
When Malika, a young orphan in rural Pakistan, is savagely attacked, her face is left disfigured and her self-esteem destroyed. Haunted by the assault, she hides from the world, finding solace in her mathematical theories. A few years later, her intellectual brilliance is discovered and she leaves conflict-stricken Pakistan for a better education in Melbourne, where she finds herself placed with Kate—a successful plastic surgeon facing emotional insecurities of her own. As Swallows Fly is a poignant portrayal of survival, identity and empowerment in a culture dominated by the pursuit of perfection. McMahon’s debut novel asks what might be possible if we have the courage to be flawed.
Released: March Publisher: Ventura Press
Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
A debut short story collection I can’t wait to read comes from Te-Ping Chen. A brother competes for gaming glory while his twin sister exposes the dark side of the Communist government on her underground blog; a worker at a government call centre is alarmed one day to find herself speaking to a former lover; a delicious new fruit arrives at the neighbourhood market and the locals find it starts to affect their lives in ways they could never have imagined; and a young woman's dreams of making it big in Shanghai are stalled when she finds herself working as a florist. Deftly drawing back the curtain on the realities of modern China and telling the stories of those living in the biggest and most complicated country on earth, Chen sheds light on a country much talked about but little understood. Released: March Publisher: Scribner
A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan
Technically, I’ve already read this one, but I’m still eagerly awaiting getting my hands on a physical copy and rereading a book that sits very highly on my ‘best books’ of 2020 list. Madeleine Ryan’s debut novel, A Room Called Earth (2020), takes us on the journey of a single night as a young autistic woman navigates the experience of attending a party. Ryan herself is a passionate advocate for neurodiversity and changing the narrative around autism. Through a series of brief conversations and more in-depth exchanges, Ryan introduces us to the complex prism of the narrator’s inner world and explores the meaning of connection and relationships. Released: March Publisher: Scribe Publications
Gunk Baby by Jamie Marina Lau
In the suburbs of Par Mars sit neat rows of estates and two shopping centres – in one of which Leen is setting up an ear-cleaning and massage salon, taking her mother’s Chinese ritual to the West. Not everything is as it seems and, as managers are attacked, Leen finds herself forming new friends and getting caught in a community intent on disrupting the routines of capitalism. With a fierce intellect and masterful storytelling, Jamie Marina Lau brings to life a devastatingly close world to our own. Lau’s debut, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, is a book that stayed with me long after reading and I’m super excited to read her next offering.
Released: April Publisher: Hachette
Smokehouse by Melissa Manning
The debut short story collection from Melissa Manning turns a magnifying glass to the intertwined lives of small communities, and how the people we meet and the places we live ultimately shape who we become. Set in southern Tasmania, these interlinked stories capture the moments when life turns and one person becomes another. A man watches a boy in a playground and pictures him in the grey wooden shed he's turned into a home. A woman's adopted mother dies, reawakening childhood memories and grief. A couple's decision to move to an isolated location may just be their undoing. A young woman forms an unexpected connection at a summer school in Hungary. Manning explores her narratives with empathy and care, while also cracking open what it means to be human to one another.
Released: April Publisher: UQP
Echolalia by Briohny Doyle
Set in a fictional regional town struck by drought, Echolalia follows six different characters through change and transformation in a dangerously critical world. The book subtly swings between the before and the after of the drought. This inventive novel from the writer of This Island Will Sink (another fav of mine) is a hauntingly necessary tale of a world on the brink. Doyle touches on environmental anxieties, the refugee crisis, class-consciousness, and intergenerational rifts. Echolalia is a portrait of a woman, a family, and a country in crisis; a profoundly moving and memorable story.
Released: June Publisher: Random House Australia
One Hundred Days by Alice Pung
From the bestselling author of Unpolished Gem (2006) comes this haunting modern fairytale. In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Incensed, Karuna's mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, for 100 days, to make sure she doesn’t get into any more trouble. But 100 days isn’t so long, right? Tensions rise as Karuna’s due date looms closer. One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the fault lines between love and control.
Released: June Publisher: Black Inc
Later in the year, I’ve got two-time Miles Franklin Award-winner Michelle de Kretser’s new work, Scary Monsters, flagged at the top of my list. Scary Monsters tells two migrant stories and will be published as a flip-book to be read from either end. Airwaves by Jennifer Mills, released in August from Picador, is being pitched as “a queer ghost story set in Sydney and Beijing” - which is enough to intrigue and ensnare this reader.
Hannah Bent’s debut, When Things Are Alive, to be released by Ultimo Press towards the end of the year is another one that’s piqued my interest, as a story about two sisters, set in 2000, and spanning Hong Kong, London and China. And purely on title alone, She is Haunted and Other Stories, a debut collection of short stories from Paige Clark has also been bookmarked and highlighted in my calendar for its August release.
I haven’t even scratched the surface with this list, but it’s definitely set to be an exciting literary year of Australian fiction.