Fresh voices: 50 writers you should read now

Which debut novel should you reach for this spring? Heres our guidebook to the most exciting voices in fiction, politics, SF, graphic fictions and more


Ruthlessly beady eye … Sally Rooney. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Sally Rooney
Irish novelist was just 26 when her debut
Conversations With Friends took the publishing world by cyclone last year. It’s a barbed, witty page-turner about being young and fragile in the new Ireland, set in a perilously privileged milieu of performance poetry and small magazines. Narrator Frances is out of her depth, negotiating love, sexuality, relationship and ambition while trying to maintain a brittle sense of ego. Rooney has a ruthlessly beady eye and an effortless comic style. Her second novel, a love story across the class divide called Normal People , will be published in September.

Guy Gunaratne
Gunaratne ran as a video journalist to provide information on post-conflict zones before writing his blazing polyphonic debut In Our Mad and Furious City , out next month. Set over 48 hours in a north London estate, where the killing of a “soldier-boy” by a” homegrown bredda” and the torching of a mosque spark a riot, it reveals London as existing conflicts zone for its five narrators. These include a would-be grime artist and a teenager resisting Islamic radicalisation, as well as older immigrants from Belfast and the West Indies.

David Chariandy
The Canadian writer’s masterly second novel, Brother , was published in the UK this month. It interrogates family, community and masculinity as it tells the story of Michael and Francis, the sons of a Trinidadian single mom, arriving of age in the 1980 s in a poor immigrant neighbourhood.” We were the children of the help, without futures .” In understated, classically beautiful prose it moves towards disaster with the terrible inevitability of a Greek tragedy.

Jessie Greengrass
Greengrass published her unusual and wide-ranging short story collecting An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Ensure It last year; this February she followed it with her first novel Sight , now longlisted for the Women’s prize for fiction. Her narrator is agonising over whether to commit to parenthood, looking back on the trauma of her own mother’s death and remembering childhood holidays with her analyst grandmother. There are echoes of WG Sebald and Rachel Cusk in this thoughtful, digressive style that swirls together the historical and the personal, but Greengrass’s questing intellect and elegant prose are all her own.

Eley Williams
Small press are making a big noise at the moment, and that’s down to such brilliant volumes as Attrib. and Other Stories , which took the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses this month. Williams had been publishing her playful narratives in magazines for years, and it’s no surprise to learn that her PhD was on dictionaries: her tales focus on words and meanings, riddling away at the gaps between thoughts and speech, voice and silence, devotees and strangers. They

Politics and notions

Holding up a mirror to contemporary Britain … Reni Eddo-Lodge.

Mark O’Connell
O’Connell’s captivating volume about transhumanism and” is solved of demise “,
To Be a Machine , which saw him navigate some of the stranger byways of Silicon Valley, was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize, the Royal Society science book prize and lately the Wellcome prize. Having taken on immortality, the Dublin-based writer is set to tackle the end of the world, in what promises to be a companionable and quick-witted exploration of apocalyptic anxieties.

William Davies
One of the most interesting commentators on political notions, Davies teaches political economy and sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is the author of two volumes, The Happi ness Industry and The Restrictions of Neoliberalism . He is as lively discussing Brexit and the culture of the Home Office as he is the current crisis in capitalism. His next study, due afterwards this year, will be Nervous State: How Feeling Took Over the World .

Suzy Hansen
The writer of the elegant and persuasive Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World , Hansen is based in Istanbul, where she moved from the US following 9/11. Hisham Matar hailed her debut as” remarkably revealing … a deeply honest and brave portrait of an individual sensibility reckoning with her country’s violent role in the world “.

Reni Eddo-Lodge
Eddo-Lodge’s debut volume Why I’m No Longer Talking to White Person About Race , published last year, has recently won the Jhalak prize- it was praised by the judges as a” clarion call for action”, which” not only holds up a mirror to contemporary Britain but also serves as a warn “. Marlon James called it “essential”.

James Bridle
Bridle is an increasingly talked-about artist and novelist who considers the relationship between technology, culture and consciousness. Among the subjects of his art are drones and self-driving autoes. His ambitious debut volume , New Dark Age , which argues that the digital era is radically shifting the boundaries of human experience, is out in July.


A fresh take over urban life … Kayo Chingonyi. Photo: Roberto Ricciuti/ Getty Images

Kayo Chingonyi
Kumukanda , Zambian-born Chingonyi’s much feted debut, presented a fresh take over contemporary urban life shoot through with an appreciation of traditional modes of living and storytelling. He reflects on identity and race, culture and masculinity with a thoughtfulness and lyrical grandeur that conveys anger as well as a tender melancholy.

Ocean Vuong
Night Sky With Exit Wounds picked up a rare double when it was awarded the TS Eliot prize and the Forward best first collection award. Vietnamese-American Vuong’s work nods to both New York-school poets such as Frank O’Hara- close observations of street life, frankness about sex- and the historical myth-making of Homer. The Eliot judges hailed” the definitive arrival of a significant voice “.

Richard Osmond
Osmond’s task as a wild-food forager builds it unsurprising that his debut collecting, Useful Verses , should be such a treasure trove of information. But what gives his lyric energy is not just that they exhibit a deft authority on plants and poisons, legal remedies and roadkill, but that they are equally attuned to human and digital surroundings. The outcome is a work that discloses much about the world, both ancient and modern.

Tara Bergin
This Irish poet’s 2015 collecting, This Is Yarrow , is a wryly unpredictable decide of poems that challenges our familiarity with the world around us. Last year’s equally intense and funny The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx investigates the life and eventual suicide of Karl Marx’s daughter, the first translator of Madame Bovary . A rare originality of voice and vision.

Hannah Sull The long lyric that make up Sullivan’s debut, Three Poems , are wise and witty, and spaciously unfold an account of a young woman’s love, frustration and resilience in New York City, with Heraclitean philosophical musings and autobiographical reflections on birth and bereavement.

Memoir and biography

Compelling topicality and novelty … Maggie Nelson. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Observer

Paul Ferris
Football memoirs rarely produce great literature but Ferris’s The Boy on the Shed is a glistering exception, which sets a short career with Newcastle United against the background of a Catholic childhood in a Protestant stronghold of Northern Ireland. He’s witty, emotional and painfully self-revealing. If, as Alan Shearer intimates in the foreword, a second book is on the way, he may turn out to be the new Frank McCourt.

Edmund Gordon
How do you tell the life story of a woman who was, by her own admission,” a born fabulist “? Debut biographer Gordon disentangles myth from truth in
The Making of Angela Carter , an elegant and well-judged life of the author.

Kapka Kassabova
The Bulgarian-born writer takes a journey through the mysterious region where her “countries “, Greece and Turkey meet. Border is a hybrid run that mixes memoir with travelogue as she putters across the land in an old Renault, recording the oral histories of the person or persons she fulfils and crunching them with what she knows of the deeper past in an attempt to exorcise her own ghosts.

Patricia Lockwood
Already beloved for her silly, often filthy verse, Lockwood burst into the nearly mainstream with her memoir Priestdaddy , centring on her father: a Catholic priest with five children and a penchant for handguns, prog boulder and cream liqueur. While her poetry is brilliantly bizarre , Priestdaddy disclosed a dazzling new voice that flourishes in a longer form.

Maggie Nelson
The compelling topicality and novelty of her subject matter earns Nelson her place. The Argonauts is an uncategorisable book, that animates queer hypothesi through the no-holds-barred narrative of her own love match with a trans human. Here are pregnancy, birth and family-making as you have never seen them before.

Graphic novels

The Arab of the Future Volume 2: A Childhood in the Countries of the middle east, 1984 -1 985 by Riad Sattouf. Photo: Two Roads

Kirsten Radtke
Imagine Wanting Merely This begins with the death of Radtke’s uncle Dan- from a hereditary heart condition that could kill her- and are going through her young life, taking in love, backpacking, loneliness and visits to wrecking after ruin. Her memoir is stuffed with fascinating anecdotes and great depicts that demonstrate everything from bus-borne spats to tight herds of sheep and abandoned cities. It ends in New York, where the 30 -year-old illustrator and editor now lives, and this intelligent and passionate run builds you wonder where she’ll go next.

Hamish Steele
Steele runs as an animator as well as a comic book artist, and humor and energy bubble through his work. His debut,
Pantheon , a savage take on Egyptian myth, was self-published after a Kickstarter campaign before being picked up by NoBrow. His new book, DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test , revolves around three amusement park workers and a genuinely haunted house.

Nick Drnaso
The Illinois native picked up an LA Times book prize for his excellent 2016 debut , Beverly , a series of sad and lyrical interconnected narratives. It defines dysfunctional young Americans against an eerie backdrop of freeways, motels and couches, lust and desperation pushing up against the clean lines and pastel colours of his artwork. Drnaso’s latest, Sabrina , follows a US airman’s investigation of a missing woman.

Emil Ferris
My Favourite Thing Is Monsters emerged to wild applause last year. A brick of a book with something to treasure on every page, it takes the form of the publication of Karen Reyes, a 10 -year-old obsessed with describe, monsters and the fate of a woman who dies in her apartment block. Karen fills the diary with vibrant animals and the details of her detective work. Ferris constructs her humans and monsters leap off the page, and Book 2 ( due in August) should be another cracker.

Riad Sattouf
Sattouf expended a decade writing for Charlie Hebdo, but only came to the attention of English-speaking readers in 2015, thanks to The Arab of the Future , which follows his childhood as he moves between France( where his mother was born ), Syria( where his father was born) and Libya. The caprices of Sattouf’s increasingly authoritarian father drive volumes one and two, which mix darkness, dry humour and sharp observation. Volume 3 is out in August.

Crime and thrillers

Books that are sharply observed and crackling with energy … Joe Ide.

Jane Harper
Winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger, Harper’s bestselling first novel, The Dry , is both a riveting detective story and a powerful portrait of a small Australian township in the drought-stricken middle of nowhere, riven by poverty and alcoholism. Her second book, Force of Nature , which features the same examiner and fears an elemental battle for survival in the unforgiving Australian wilderness, lives up to the promise of her stunning debut.

Joseph Knox
Sirens , Knox’s debut, is a pungent slice of urban noir featuring dishonor Manchester detective Aidan Waits. Having blotted his copybook by stealing medications from the evidence room, Waits is forced to go undercover and detects himself deep in a world of ruthless narcotic nobles and corrupt legislators. The start of what promises to be a classic series- as proved by the equally vivid and uncompromising follow-up, The Smiling Man .

Joe Ide
Set in Long Beach, California, Ide’s novel, IQ , is the start of a projected series featuring Isaiah Quintabe, a modern day African American incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. We learn his back narrative- derailed in high school when his brother was killed, and turning to crime before realising his true calling- as he detects out who is trying to murder a famous rapper. A second outing, Righteous , was published in February; both volumes are sharply observed and crackling with energy.

Sabri Louatah
A bestseller in the author’s native France, Barbarians: The Wedding is the first novel in the Saint-Etienne Quartet. It’s the eve of the presidential election, and it appears as if Idder Chaouch is about to become the first Algerian premier. To some, the “French Obama” holds the promise of a post-racial society based on autonomy, equality and brotherhood, but not everyone agrees. Exhilarating, sharp-edged, and complex, this is a obliging hybrid of family saga and socio-political thriller.

CJ Tudor
In The Chalk Man , 12 -year-old narrator Eddie Adams enjoys communicating with his friends using a secret code of chalk figures- until a series of anonymous depicts leads to the discovery of a dismembered daughter in the woods. Fast-forward 30 years and Eddie receives a visit from an old friend- and a describe of a noosed stick-man arrives in the post. This assured debut is very much in the Stephen King vein- creepy with plenty of menace.

Children and young adult

Grisly, child-empowering edge … Little Red by Bethan Woollvin.

Bethan Woollvin
Little Red , a feminist retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a grisly, child-empowering edge, won Woollvin the Macmillan Illustration prize in 2014. Her second picture book, a prince-free Rapunzel , features the same concoction of stark black and white and a single colour. Her words share this lack of obfuscatory prettiness, a deadpan, terse narrative voice complementing her sharp illustrative style. Look out for her forthcoming Hansel and Gretel .

Joseph Coelho
Overheard in a Tower Block , Coelho’s newest poetry collecting, was longlisted for the 2018 Carnegie Medal. Arguing parents become electrical forces-out or duelling knights; the bin-chute mouth of a block is fed the stuff of its residents’ lives. Rich with metaphor and secret meaning, his verse is deeply welcoming, and his sensibility is both mythic and urban; his freed Prometheus, unearthed from” eons of eagle drops”, hears” the god-whisper of a city, the electric thrum of builds, the digital hiss of a new world .”

David Solomons
The Scottish screenwriter represents the best in contemporary comic writing for children- excellently zany, full of irresistible trivia, but never scrimping on the emotional undertow that ensures longevity and heart. His first volume for children,
My Brother Is a Superhero , is subtitled” I could have been one too, except I needed a wee “; the story of comic geek Luke and his older brother Zack, unfairly devoted superpowers by a visiting alien, it won the Waterstones prize for children’s fiction in 2016, and its two sequels have since been flying off the shelves.

Lucy Strange
The Secret of Nightingale Wood , Strange’s debut novel for age 8-12, is defined just after the first world war, and features Henry, a determined heroine mourning her brother’s death, protecting her younger sister Piglet, and contending with sinister doctors who conspire to commit her mother to an asylum. Strange elegantly mixes a sense of period with compelling emotion and exhilaration. Her new novel, Our Castle by the Sea , is due in November.

Tomi Adeyemi
The Nigerian American author’s debut, Children of Blood and Bone , has generated considerable excitement, with movie rights already sold. The first in a trilogy, this ambitious book is told from three views; central is that of Zelie Adebola, who takes on the monarchy in a bid to restore magical to the world of Orisha.

Literature in translation

Brilliant evocations … Maylis de Karangel.

Maylis de Kerangal
Winning last year’s Wellcome prize for
Mend the Living , her brilliant evocation of a day in the life of a heart as it is rushed from one body to another, should create the French author’s profile, but as yet merely two of her fictions have constructed it into English. In both she makes character subservient to scenario, whether dealing with coronary transplant personnel or workers on a six-lane suspension bridge in a fictional US town.

Samanta Schweblin
Argentinian Schweblin’s brilliant and terrifying debut, Fever Dream , unfolds like a hallucination. A sick female is confronted with a revenant child in a dialogue that blends the superstitions of a rural society with fears about agricultural abuse by big business, in a novel that was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker International prize.

Olga Tokarczuk
This time last year, the Polish novelist was the biggest superstar you’d never heard of, but Flights set her on the map. This astonishing fiction of fragments makes a passionate plea for connectedness through narratives that somersault through time and space. Her back catalogue is now being published, with the Blakean Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead due this year, followed by her historical epic, The Books of Jacob , one of the biggest literary bestsellers in Polish history.

Andres Barba
After surviving the car accident that killed her parents, a wounded and traumatised seven-year-old girl is sent to an orphanage with her only surviving “friend”, a doll apparently brought to life by her distress. In Such Small Hands , Barba plays with the conventions of the ghost story to create a powerful fable of the malice and the erotic power play of children too young to set their fears into words.

Ahmed Saadawi
Absurdist morality fable meets horror fiction in Frankenstein in Baghdad , as a victim of sectarian violence is brought back to life in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Saadawi unspools an apparently endless causal chain of folly, corruption and tribalism.

Science and nature

Witty and elegant … Cordelia Fine. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Eugenia Cheng
The mathematician remembers the day her mom first told her about graph- she felt as if her brain was contorting, and it’s a impression she still gets when doing research. It’s one her readers can share. Beyond Infinity begins with an energetic exposition of endlessness, before investigating the mathematical territory the concept opens up with the help of iPods, snorkelling and Winnie-the-Pooh. The Art of Logic is due in September.

David George Haskell
On a cold January hike in 2004, Haskell, a biologist, procured himself confronted with a selection. He could carry on writing scientific papers, following his enthusiasm for poetry and meditation on the side, or he could bring these interests together. The outcome was The Forest Unseen , a lyrical account of the year he spent returning to that very spot. His 2017 volume The Anthems of Trees explores the interconnectedness of nature through portraits of 12 individual trees.

Lindsey Fitzharris
Fitzharris’s hugely entertaining debut The Butchering Art told the story of Victorian medication through the life of Quaker surgeon Joseph Lister. A qu

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