Asummer of smoke and red-stained skies has brought the environment to the forefront of our daily lives, and human interaction with the natural world is dominating the pages of contemporary fiction and non-fiction. There’s a sense of things falling apart, of a centre not holding. But as systems and institutions come under question, there’s room to imagine new ways of being, and there’s no shortage of hope to be found. Here is a selection of books we are looking forward to reading next year.
The golden boy of Australian letters, Trent Dalton, releases his highly anticipated second novel All Our Shimmering Skies (June, Fourth Estate), which is set in Darwin in 1942 and follows an actress, a fallen Japanese fighter pilot, a sorcerer and a gravedigger’s daughter. Dalton’s 2018 debut, Boy Swallows Universe, inspired by his childhood in working-class Brisbane, broke Australian sales records and is being transformed for the silver screen.
Eyes and expectations will also be on Craig Silvey as he publishes his first novel, working title Honeybee (second half 2020, Allen & Unwin), since Jasper Jones became an instant Australian classic a decade ago. After her own hiatus from fiction, Kate Grenville returns to the historical landscape of The Secret River with A Room Made of Leaves (July, Text), a novel that follows Australian pastoralist and merchant Elizabeth Macarthur in a fledgling Sydney colony.
Former Booker Prize winner Tom Keneally reimagines the life of Plorn, the 10th child of Charles Dickens who was sent out to Australia, in The Dickens Boy (April, Vintage).
The year will also see two Miles Franklin Award-winners return to our shelves: Evie Wyld (The Bass Rock, February, Vintage) and Sofie Laguna (working title Big Sky, second half 2020, A&U). The German invasion of Russia during World War II forms the backdrop of Prime Minister’s Literary Award-winner Steven Conte’s second novel, The Tolstoy Estate (August, Fourth Estate).
The apocalypse has well and truly hit Australian fiction, with climate catastrophe, extinction, human/animal relationships and the collapse of civil order recurring themes. Look for James Bradley’s Ghost Species (April, Hamish Hamilton); Donna Mazza’s Fauna (February, A&U); Kate Mildenhall’s The Mother Fault (September, Simon and Schuster); Dennis Glover’s Factory 19 (July, Black Inc.); and Patrick Allington’s Rise and Shine (June, Scribe). A fossil narrates over 13,000 years in Chris Flynn’s ambitious exploration of human interaction with the natural world, fittingly titled Mammoth (May, UQP).
Sydney Morning Herald 2019 Best Young Novelists Robbie Arnott (The Rain Heron, June, Text) and Jamie Marina Lau (Gunk Baby, May, Brow Books) return with second novels after their highly successful debuts. Publishers were clamouring after Sophie Hardcastle’s Below Deck (March, A&U). Look out for rising talents: S.L. Lim (Revenge, June, Transit); Liam Pieper (Sweetness and Light, March, Hamish Hamilton); and Mirandi Riwoe (Stone Sky Gold Mountain, April, UQP).
While the future of UWA Publishing is in doubt, contracted books will go ahead, including Meaghan Delahunt’s genre-crossing feminist MeToo novel, The Night-Side of the Country (March). Other new releases include: Margaret Bearman (We Were Never Friends, March, Brio); Jon Doust (Return Ticket, March, Fremantle); Ceridwen Dovey (Life After Truth, Hamish Hamilton, November); Bem Le Hunte (Elephants with Headlights, March, Transit); and Kirsten Krauth (Almost a Mirror, March, Transit).
In short fiction, Mark O’Flynn brings his wit to Dental Tourism (February, Puncher & Wattmann); Laura Elvery’s collection is inspired by the 20 times women have won Nobel Prizes for science (Ordinary Matter, second half 2020, UQP); Elizabeth Tan’s Smart Ovens for Lonely People is recommended for fans of Black Mirror (June, Brio); and Emma Ashmere takes on the world around us in Dreams They Forgot (April, Wakefield Press).
In what is set to be the biggest release of the year, two-time Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel brings her Thomas Cromwell trilogy to an exultant close with The Mirror and the Light (March, Fourth Estate), eight years in the making.
And there will be huge interest in the latest Elena Ferrante to appear in English, The Lying Life of Adults (June, Europa Editions), which is set once again in Naples.
An Irish theatre legend and her daughter take centre stage in Anne Enright’s Actress (February, Jonathan Cape) while eccentricities are celebrated in Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road (April, Chatto & Windus). Inspired by all the active wear she saw during a trip to Australia, Lionel Shriver’s The Motion of the Body Through Space (Fourth Estate, May) promises a hilarious evisceration of the cult of fitness.
Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell produces his first novel in six years, Utopia Avenue (June, Hachette), about a British band in London’s psychedelic scene in the late 1960s. Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea (Bloomsbury, January) is an epic about refugees who escape Spain’s civil war and embark on a boat voyage arranged by the poet Pablo Neruda. More than a decade after her multimillion-selling debut, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke returns with Piranesi (second half 2020, Bloomsbury).
Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel starts with a nameless woman entering a nondescript hotel room (February, A&U); Booker Prize-winner Graham Swift’s Here We Are (February, Scribner) follows a Brighton theatre group in 1959; and The North Water author Ian McGuire transports us to 1860s Britain and America and the war for Irish independence in The Abstainer (May, S&S).
The limits of the novel are tested in Colum McCann’s masterpiece Apeirogon, A Novel (February, Bloomsbury). Also playing with form is Michael Christie’s ambitious Greenwood (February, Scribe), an intergenerational saga that covers hundreds of years and is structured like the rings of a tree.
Look out for: Jeanine Cummins (American Dirt, January, Hachette); Louise Erdrich (The Night Watchman, March, Hachette); Jodi Picoult (second half 2020, A&U); Philippe Sands (The Ratline, May, Hachette); and Emma Jane Unsworth (Adults, March, HarperCollins). For a short-story fix consider Richard Ford’s Sorry For Your Trouble (May, Bloomsbury) and Matthew Baker’s Why Visit America (second half 2020, Bloomsbury).
Gender, geography and sexuality emerge as dominant themes in a promising line-up of Australian debuts. Ronnie Scott’s The Adversary (April, Hamish Hamilton), a coming-of-age novel that follows a friendship between two gay men in Melbourne, has already attracted rave reviews. Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s (second half 2020, Picador) visits a Greek-Australian family over six decades, and Pip Williams reimagines the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary in The Dictionary of Lost Words (April, Affirm).
A couple give polyamory a crack in Paul Dalgarno’s Poly (August, Ventura) and Tobias McCorkell draws on his childhood growing up with his grandparents and troubled mother in Everything in its Right Place (July, Transit). Two novels offer intriguing examinations of human/non-human relationships: Erin Hortle’s The Octopus and I (April, A&U) and Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in that Country (April, Scribe).
Striking a fictional note for the time is memoirist and pianist Anna Goldsworthy with Melting Moments (March, Black Inc.), a story about love before and after World War II that is partly inspired by her grandmother’s life. Alice Pung also has her first adult novel, One Hundred Days (October, Black Inc.).
Other new voices include: Laura McPhee-Browne (Cherry Beach, February, Text); Catherine Noske (The Salt Madonna, first half 2020, Picador); Dani Powell (Return to Dust, UWA); Madeleine Ryan (A Room Called Earth, September, Scribe); Rebecca Starford (Hidden, July, A&U); Josephine Taylor (The Rook, November, Fremantle); and Jessie Tu (A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, July, A&U),
Look out for collections from Melissa Manning (Smokehouse, second half 2020, QUP); Wayne Marshall (Shirl, Affirm, February); Sean O’Beirne (A Couple of Things Before the End, February, Black Inc); Stephen Pham (Vietnamatta, October, Brow Books); and Barry Lee Thompson (Broken Rules and other Stories, August, Transit).
Internationally, keep your eye on: L. Annette Binder (The Vanishing Sky, Bloomsbury, June); Kiley Reid (Such A Fun Age, January, Bloomsbury); Kate Elizabeth Russell (My Dark Vanessa, April, Fourth Estate); Kawai Strong Washburn (Sharks in the Time of Saviours, March, Farrar Straus Giroux); An Yu (Braised Pork, February, Harvill Secker); and C Pam Zhang (How Much of These Hills is Gold, April, Hachette).
Thrills and chills
The three musketeers of Australian crime writing return: Jane Harper (second half 2020, Pan MacMillan), Chris Hammer (second half 2020, A&U) and Dervla McTiernan (The Good Turn, March, HarperCollins). Call Me Evie author J.P. Pomare captures the dark side of small town life In the Clearing (January, Hachette). From Fremantle Press, Dave Warner looks to Sherlock Holmes in Over My Dead Body (July); David Whish-Wilson has the third in his Frank Swann series with Shore Leave (November) and Alan Carter’s sergeant Nick Chester takes on a scandal-plagued religious sect (December).
Crime writers to watch include Gabriel Bergmoser, who has signed a two-book deal and movie rights, starting with his debut The Hunter set on a deserted Australian highway, and Kyle Perry’s Tasmanian-based The Bluffs (July, Michael Joseph), described as “Scrublands meets Picnic at Hanging Rock“.
Stephen King has four stories in his collection If it Bleeds (May, Hachette). Other for crime buffs include: Stuart Turton’s second novel set on the high seas Devil and the Dark Water (second half 2020, Raven); Stephanie Wrobel’s The Recovery of Rose Gold (March, Michael Joseph); Max Brooks’ Devolution (May, Century); Dugald Bruce-Lockhart’s The Lizard (April, Bloomsbury); Jessica Moor’s Keeper (April, Viking); and and Iain Ryan’s The Spiral (June, Echo).
In true crime, two books take on the case of vanished William Tyrrell: Caroline Overington (Missing William Tyrrell, March, HarperCollins) and Ally Chumley (Searching for Spiderman, March, Hardie Grant). Walkley Award winners Anthony Dowsley and Patrick Carlyon expand their journalism about lawyer turned police informant Nicola Gobbo in Lawyer X (June, HarperCollins), while embroiled cop Paul Dale has Cops, Drugs, Lawyer X and Me (March, Hachette).
An impressive line-up of Australian women writers offers genre-crossing works exploring emotion, trauma, bodies, sexuality and gender. Clementine Ford explores love through her own experiences in How We Love (second half 2020, A&U), while publisher Donna Ward reflects on being a spinster in She I Dare Not Name (March, A&U). Look out for Emily Clements’ The Lotus Eaters (February, Hardie Grant); Bastian Fox Phelan (September, Giramondo); Eloise Grills’ Big Beautiful Female Theory (August, Brow Books); and Ellena Savage’s Blueberries (March, Text). Storm and Grace novelist Kathryn Heyman details her remarkable story of being a deckhand on a trawler in the Timor Sea after experiencing poverty, violence and assault in Fury (July, A&U). Katerina Bryant looks at mental illness and how medical institutions treat women in Hysteria (May, NewSouth).
Indigenous fire practitioner Victor Steffensen looks at how Indigenous fire practices could help our country in Fire Country (March, Hardie Grant) while poet John Kinsella explores his relationship to the environment in Displaced (March, Transit)
Pollies in need of more air time include Malcolm Turnbull (A Bigger Picture, April, Hardie Grant), Scott Ludlam (Full Circle, August, Black Inc.), Christopher Pyne (July, Hachette) and Derryn Hinch (Unfinished Business, April, MUP).
Torres News editor Aaron Smith pulls no punches as he looks at the nation from its most northerly outpost, Thursday Island, in The Rock (November, Transit) and former ABC Middle-East Correspondent Sophie McNeill shares stories from war-ravaged corners of the earth in We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know (March, HarperCollins).
Two-time Miles Franklin Award-winner Alex Miller has a memoir about his dearest friend and mentor, Max Blatt (second half 2020, A&U).
Biographer Darleen Bungey, the sister of writer Geraldine Brooks, turns the lens on herself with a memoir of their father, crooner Laurie Brooks in Daddy Cool (May, A&U). Also look out for memoirs from actor Miranda Tapsell (Top End Girl, May, Hachette), and renowned Australian ballerina Mary Li, wife of Li Cunxin (Ballet, Li, Sophie and Me, September, Viking).
Internationally, memoirs come from whistleblower Chelsea Manning (July, Bodley Head), musician Alicia Keys (More Myself, March, Flatiron) and Greta Thunberg and her family (Our House is on Fire, March, Allen Lane).
Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker look set to cause ripples with new reporting on Donald Trump’s presidency, A Very Stable Genius (January, Bloomsbury).
The leader of the Hong Kong protests, Nobel Prize nominee Joshua Wong, tells his story in Unfree Speech (January, WH Allen) and long-term resident Antony Dapiran looks at the history of the protests and what they mean for the future in City on Fire (May, Scribe). Clive Hamilton follows his controversial Silent Invasion with a comprehensive exploration, written with academic Mareike Ohlberg, of communist China (Hidden Hand, May, Hardie Grant).
In matters of gender, race and representation look out for Ada Calhoun’s Why We Can’t Sleep (January, Text); Ariel Gore’s F*ck Happiness (May, Black Inc); Peggy Orenstein’s Boys and Sex (July, HarperCollins, July); Layla F. Saad’s Me and White Supremacy (February, Quercus); and Tanya Talaga’s All Our Relations (March, Scribe). Former PM Julia Gillard explores gender bias in Women and Leadership (July, Vintage), written with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Carly Findlay edits the anthology Growing up Disabled in Australia (Black Inc, June).
There’s no shortage of books on climate change. Bill Gates looks at new technologies in How to Avoid Climate Change Disaster (June, Allen Lane). Locally, expect to see Ketan Joshi (Road to Resolution, August, NewSouth); Paddy Manning (Body Count, May, S&S); Jonica Newby (Climate Grief, September, NewSouth); and Marian Wilkinson (Carbon Club, June, A&U). And now that we’ve messed it all up, Elise Bohan argues that we should embrace the transhuman in the thought-provoking Future Superhuman (October, NewSouth).
If you’re after something a little more hopeful, Julia Baird explores “the light within”, the internal happiness, that she calls Phosphorescence (April, Fourth Estate) and Utopia for Realists author Rutger Bregman looks at how altruism offers a new way to think in Human Kind (second half 2020, Oneworld).
In current affairs, Bernard Collaery, a lawyer charged after exposing an Australian bugging operation in East Timor, publishes (Oil Under Troubled Water, March, MUP), and regional tensions are explored in Rory Medcalf’s Contest for the Indo-Pacifc (March, La Trobe). Lindy Edwards looks at big business (Corporate Power in Australia, February, Monash); Royce Kurmelovs at our debt (Just Money, second half 2020, UQP); Supreme court justice Michael Pembroke (August, Hardie Grant) looks to the US in Play by the Rules; Peter Cronau reveals Australia’s role in the War on Terror (The Base, June, ABC); and political journalist Samantha Maiden takes us inside the Australian Labor Party’s failed election campaign (March, Viking).
Others to look out for include Melissa Davey’s book on Cardinal George Pell, A Fair Trial (second half 2020, Scribe);Stephanie Convery’s account of the death of Sydney boxer Davey Browne (After the Count, Viking, March); GP Karen Hitchcock’s The Medicine: A Doctor’s Notes (February, Black Inc); Teacher author Gabbie Stroud’s Dear Parents (February, A&U); Robert Dessaix on ageing (Time of Our Lives, second half 2020, Brio); and Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Growing up in the Age of Terror (July, NewSouth).
Expect biographies on New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern (Madeleine Chapman, April, Black Inc.); NRL stars Owen Craigie (OCD : The Owen Craigie Disorders, Rupert Guinness, September, Affirm) and Cameron Smith (second half 2020, A&U); and Australian Jewish leader Mark Leibler (The Powerbroker, Michael Gawenda, May, Monash).
Cassandra Pybus publishes her long-awaited work Truganini (March, A&U). Other historical biographies include: Evelyn Juers on Philippa Cullen (The Dancer, September, Giramondo); Gabrielle Carey on Australian-born novelist Elizabeth von Arnim (Only Happiness Here, second half 2020, UQP); Robert Wainwright on the great granddaughter of the Lindeman wines founder, Enid Lindeman (A&U, July); and David Duffy on the first Australian woman electrical engineer, Florence Violet McKenzie (Radio Girl, May, A&U).
Nick Brodie’s Force of Arms (May, Hardie Grant) looks at the history of the firearm in Australia; Patrick Mullins considers the publishing decision that forced the end of literary censorship in The Trials of Portnoy (June, Scribe); and Stuart Kells has the history of the Abbotsford Convent, The Convent (MUP, March). Mark Dunn (Convict Valley, June, A&U) and Peter Gross (Ten Rogues, February, A&U) tell of daring convict escapes, while Garry Linnell explores the fall of the Australian bushranger in Badlands (September, Michael Joseph). Military history includes James Phelps’ exploration of a female team of code breakers in World War One (Australian Code Breakers, March, HarperCollins) and Elizabeth Becker on female journalists during the Vietnam War (Journaliste, September, Black Inc.)
Conversations presenter Richard Fidler turns his eyes abroad with a history of Prague (The Golden Maze, July, HarperCollins).
Felicity Plunkett has a long-awaited new collection, A Kinder Sea (February, UQP). Also from UQP comes Ellen van Neerven’s second collection, Throat (May), and an anthology of First Nations poetry, Fire Front edited by Alison Whittaker (April, UQP). Ellen van Neerven also collects hip-hop poetry written by First Nations young people in Homeland Calling (May, Hardie Grant).
Giramondo has collections from Michael Farrell (Family Trees, March), Laurie Duggan (Homer Street, April) and J.S. Harry’s posthumous New and Selected Poems (May, Giramondo). Bron Bateman has a deeply feminist project in Of Memory and Furniture (February, Fremantle).
Look out for Thuy On’s debut collection, Turbulence (March, UWA), and Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts IV (August, AMP).
Puncher and Wattman’s list includes: Martin Langord’s Eardrum (February); Ella Jeffery’s debut Dead Bolt (April); Todd Turner’s The Thorn (June); Rebecca Edwards’ Plague Animals (July); and Louise Crisp’s Glide (November). Vrasidas Karalis brings us the experience of living on Glebe Point Road in The Glebe Point Road Blues (February, Brandl & Schlesinger)
From Wakefield comes Kate Llewellyn’s Harbour (February) and Ali Whitelock’s The Lactic Acid in the Calves of Your Despair (April).
Melanie Kembrey is Spectrum Deputy Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald.