Today, a whopping 600 new books land in the bookshops. It’s partly due to the massive backlog of delayed titles caused by Covid, and partly because September is always the biggest month of the year for the book trade.
This year there are new novels from big-hitters including Martin Amis, Elena Ferrante and Nick Hornby, and memoirs from the likes of Jane Fonda, Vinnie Jones and Will Young.
That means a raft of lesser-known gems in fiction and non-fiction risks going unnoticed amid the marketing hoo-hah.
Here are the 20 best fiction and non-fiction titles you may otherwise miss.
The Harpy by Megan Hunter
A stranger rings you up to say his wife is having an affair with your husband. LTB, many would say (Mumsnet parlance for “leave the bastard”). But in Megan Hunter’s fairy tale-like story of female rage, protagonist Lucy and cheating Jake’s plan to put the betrayal behind them is unique: she can hurt him three times. It’s probably not what Esther Perel would recommend. The film rights for Hunter’s debut novel, The End We Start From, have been acquired by Benedict Cumberbatch’s company.
Picador, £14.99 | Buy it here
Unquiet by Linn Ullmann
This blend of literary fiction and memoir was a bestseller when it was first published in Ullmann’s native Norway. A daughter goes to visit her father near the end of his life, returning to the memories of their summers together on the small island of Faro. That Ullmann’s father was filmmaker Ingmar Bergmann accounts for part of the fascination surrounding the book’s publication, but it’s been described as a universal study of memory, ageing and loss.
Hamish Hamilton, £14.99 | Buy it here
Love Orange by Natasha Randall
Until now, debut novelist Natasha Randall had been working as a translator of Russian literary greats such as Dostoevsky and Gogol. Those sprawling storytellers might have influenced her first book, which is a very contemporary study of one American family. Exploring the opioid addiction crisis and the growth of technology in our everyday lives, it explores how mother Jenny rebels against her smart home by handwriting letters to John, an inmate at a local prison.
Riverrun, £18.99 | Buy it here
Charlotte by Helen Moffett
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that being married to Mr Collins would be the worst thing ever, but someone had to do it. Moffett’s debut novel tells the story of Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice, who at least got a very nice vicarage out of it. The South African writer adds to the post-Austen sequel canon with the story of Charlotte becoming a mother. It’s described as fresh and feminist, so at least she might have stopped Mr Collins’s monologuing.
Manilla Press, £14.99 | Buy it here
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
It may be possible to actually feel your brain getting bigger as you read the Chilean novelist’s third novel. Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg all feature as characters in a book that explores the link between genius and madness, with a bit of quantum mechanics thrown in. Philip Pullman has described it as “short, monstrous and brilliant”, while Mark Haddon says “it feels as if he has invented an entirely new genre”.
Pushkin Press, £14.99 | Buy it here
The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville
A gem for lovers of historical fiction, Somerville’s debut novel is based on the North Sea flood of 1953, when a storm struck England, Belgium and the Netherlands, causing more than 2,500 deaths, 30,000 animals to drown and the destruction of 10,000 buildings. Somerville puts a love triangle at the heart of the story to ramp up the drama further.
Head of Zeus, £18.99 | Buy it here
Dead Girls by Selva Almada
Published by Charco Press, who specialise in bringing Latin American literature to an English audience, Dead Girls is a novel that mixes in journalism in order to spotlight the high levels of femicide in Argentina. Told through the stories of three teenage girls murdered in the Eighties (the perpetrators were never found), Almada’s writing has already been compared to heavyweights such as Truman Capote and John Hersey.
Charco Press, £9.99 | Buy it here
Longhand by Andy Hamilton
Handwriting fans unite — this novel is a tribute to the power of the pen. Comedian Andy Hamilton, better known as the brains behind sitcom Outnumbered, has written a 300-page novel entirely by hand. The story unfolds through the handwritten note that Scotsman Malcolm leaves for his wife prior to his mysterious disappearance.
Unbound, £16.99 | Buy it here
Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan
Set in Eighties Manchester, Andrew O’Hagan’s latest is about a close-knit friendship between two young men, and their reunion 30 years later. Anyone after an autumnal literary event should pop down to Sam’s Café in Primrose Hill, O’Hagan’s newly opened foodie spot for bookworms, which he runs alongside Sam Frears.
Faber, £14.99 | Buy it here
For When I’m Gone by Rebecca Ley
When things get a bit much the only thing to do sometimes is to have a good weep. Ley’s debut novel is perfectly placed to get the tears flowing: it tells the story of young mum Sylvia, who has been given a terminal diagnosis and is writing a handbook to her husband to help him and her children cope when she’s gone. Pass the tissues…
Orion, £14.99 | Buy it here
English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Reban
Rebanks is a rare find indeed: a Lake District farmer whose family have worked the land for 600 years, with a passion to save the countryside and an elegant prose style to engage even the most urban reader. He’s refreshingly realistic about how farmed and wild landscapes can coexist and technology can be tamed. A story for us all.
Allen Lane, £20 | Buy it here
How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz
Now in his eighties, the legendary New York photographer, who chronicled the aftermath of 9/11 at the site of the Twin Towers, gives us this richly illustrated account of what makes him tick. What are you trying to say, how do you make a picture funny and how can you be courageous, he asks, and then he answers — in photographs, obviously.
Laurence King, £14.99 | Buy it here
Written in Bone: Hidden Stories in What We Leave Behind by Sue Black
This gripping true crime sort-of-memoir by a forensic anthropologist reveals how our bones tell our life stories. From the curious case of the woman whose beheaded body was discovered under the patio — her head was in the garden shed — to the story of paedophile murderer Richard Huckle, Black writes with rare precision and compassion.
Transworld, £18.99 | Buy it here
The Secret Life of The Savoy: The D’Oyly Carte Family by Olivia Williams
Guests at The Savoy were served fruit in the form of their own tiny cherry and peach trees, with a pair of little golden scissors, and for a birthday party, the courtyard of the hotel was flooded with water to evoke the Grand Canal in Venice. The extraordinary story of three generations of D’Oyly Cartes and their legacy is a romp.
Headline, £20 | Buy it here
A Tomb with a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards by Peter Ross
Who doesn’t find cemeteries fascinating? After a childhood spent hanging about in Old Town cemetery in Stirling, and now living near one in Glasgow, taphophile (a graveyard lover) Ross has written this lively elegy to Britain’s best burial grounds. He’s as interested in the grave diggers, mourners and casual passers-by as the tombs themselves.
Headline, £20 | Buy it here
Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh
Much has been written about the Haitian former slave who led the 1791 slave revolt in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, only to become the leader of the colony and eventually its governor. This timely biography digs deeper into archival material to reveal Louverture’s uniquely modern views.
Allen Lane, £25 | Buy it here
Work: A History of How We Spend Our Time by James Suzman
So you think you work hard in order to find fulfilment, purpose and meaning? It wasn’t always so, according to anthropologist Suzman, who specialises in studying the habits of the African Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherer tribe. A couple of hours a day does it for them. This is one of those “big ideas” books that will make you reconsider the life/work balance.
Bloomsbury, £25 | Buy it here
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake
Fungi are neither plants nor animals, and there are more than two million species. They eat all kinds of rubbish from oil spills to plastic. They can survive nuclear radiation and they can adapt their behaviour through what might be called intelligent networking. They are fundamental to the Earth’s structure, and frankly they are quite bizarre. Mycologist and ’shroom enthusiast Sheldrake makes a compelling case.
Bodley Head, £20 | Buy it here
The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham
Latham has been selling books for more than 30 years and is currently manager of Waterstones in Canterbury. Aside from being a history of books, this is a love letter, larded with charming anecdotes. There’s AS Byatt buying a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel and admitting she can’t be seen doing it in London and another customer having a heart attack in his shop and saying it would be “a great place to go”.
Particular Books, £16.99 | Buy it here
The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn
When Winn and her husband Moth were evicted from their home, they decided to walk the 630-mile-long South West Coast Path to realise a utopian dream that loss might set them free. Winn turned the story into The Salt Path, a memoir published in 2018 that inspired one reader to offer them the tenancy of his cider farm. Then Moth was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease and Winn’s mother had a stroke. This is the sequel.
Michael Joseph, £14.99 | Buy it here