Legends of the fall: the 50 biggest books of autumn 2021

From new novels by Sally Rooney and Colson Whitehead to Michel Barnier’s take on Brexit, Bernardine Evaristo’s manifesto and diaries from David Sedaris – all the releases to look out for

FICTION

September

Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks
Set in Vienna between the first and second world wars, this companion novel to 2005’s Human Traces uncovers individual stories of love and yearning at a time of historical upheaval.

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin
With his books about DC Laidlaw, the scourge of 70s gangland Glasgow, McIlvanney was a huge influence on Scottish crime fiction. When he died in 2015, he left a handwritten manuscript setting out Laidlaw’s first case – and Scotland’s leading contemporary crime novelist has finished it.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
A successful young writer is repulsed by the literary world and the workings of fame in Rooney’s much-anticipated third novel. Alice and Eileen are best friends approaching 30, negotiating love, sex, status and purpose as the realities of the adult world bite.

Kärntner strasse, Vienna, in 1935.
Historical upheaval … Sebastian Faulks’s novel is set in Vienna between the wars. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty Images

Harlem Shuffle by ​Colson Whitehead
After tackling the horrors of slavery and racist reform schools in The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, the Pulitzer winner has fun with a heist novel set in a lovingly recreated 60s Harlem, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.

Palmares by Gayl Jones
The first novel in more than two decades by the US author first published by Toni Morrison is a myth-tinged saga set in 17th-century Brazil, where a young girl hears rumours of “Palmares” – a haven for fugitive slaves.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
The Pointless presenter’s crime debut broke publishing records, and this sequel sees his group of elderly friends look into a murder-heist connected to Elizabeth’s secret service career. Osman tempers the whimsy with hard-won warmth and real darkness.

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy
A scientist’s secret archive, the birth of big data, military research and SF movies … a typically ambitious millefueille of modernity, symbolism and myth from the Booker-shortlisted author of C and Satin Island.

‘A heartfelt cry for climate awareness.’ Richard Powers.
‘A heartfelt cry for climate awareness.’ Richard Powers. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images

Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Following his eco-epic The Overstory, Powers focuses on the story of a father and his troubled son, in mourning for his dead mother and our dying world. It’s a heartfelt cry for climate awareness, with fantastical digressions to other planets and a rueful celebration of our own.

The Magician by Colm Tóibín
His 2004 novel The Master explored the mind of Henry James; now Tóibín turns to Thomas Mann, tracing the German Nobel laureate’s life and work against the rise of nazism and turbulence of two world wars.

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
Booker-shortlisted for A Tale for the Time Being in 2013, Ozeki brings a similar metafictional playfulness to this story of a 13-year-old who has lost his father but gains the ability to hear what objects are saying.

Matrix by Lauren Groff
A departure for the author of contemporary marriage story Fates and Furies: this is a tale of 12th-century nuns, inspired by the poet Marie de France, who as an awkward teenager unwillingly becomes prioress in a rundown English abbey. It’s a gorgeously written celebration of female desire and creativity, with a formidable heroine.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
The follow-up to All the Light We Cannot See ingeniously connects the 15th-century fall of Constantinople, 21st-century environmental breakdown and a future spaceship, where humanity’s history and knowledge is accessed virtually. This is a dazzling epic of love, war and the joy of books – one for David Mitchell fans.

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka
The Nobel laureate’s first novel in nearly 50 years is a blackly comic indictment of political corruption and exploitation set in a version of Nigeria.

The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgård, translated by Martin Aitken
Knausgård follows his epic autobiographical series My Struggle with a hefty new novel: a story of ordinary life and unknown forces, told through a group of Norwegians who are brought together by the appearance of a new and foreboding star.

‘A moorland walk goes horribly wrong’ in The Fell by Sarah Moss.
‘A moorland walk goes horribly wrong’ in The Fell by Sarah Moss. Photograph: David Madison/Getty Images

October

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
The first volume in a planned trilogy about American life focuses on a midwestern family in the early 1970s, as the parents’ unhappy marriage and the kids’ adolescent transformations are set against the troubled national zeitgeist.

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall
A stunning novel from the author best known for her short stories, which considers what it means to be a female artist. At the end of her life, a sculptor of monumental works remembers how at the moment of national lockdown she opened herself to a new relationship.

Life Without Children by Roddy Doyle
A son is barred from his mother’s funeral, a nurse loses a beloved patient … Written over the past year, these are 10 short stories about the isolation and connections of life during pandemic from the Irish author.

State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
Following husband Bill’s collaboration with James Patterson, Hillary promises to bring similar insider knowledge to her thriller debut. Written with a Canadian crime novelist friend, it explores her “worst nightmare” as secretary of state – a series of terrorist attacks undermining the global order.

Riccardino by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli
The 28th instalment in the much-loved Sicilian detective series, first drafted in 2005 and delivered to Camilleri’s publishers to be held under lock and key until the author’s death, is the final outing for Inspector Montalbano.

Silverview by John le Carré
Le Carré left a complete manuscript when he died in 2020, now published as his 26th novel. The story of a man running a bookshop by the English seaside, a mysterious visitor, and an espionage leak, it dramatises the clash between public duty and private life at a time of moral crisis for Britain.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
The Pulitzer winner returns to the heroine of My Name Is Lucy Barton, as the widowed Lucy gets back in touch with her first husband, William. She muses on their long, complicated partnership in this wise and witty portrait of childrearing, ageing and the eternal surprise of other people.

Michaela Coel.
The importance of saying no … Michaela Coel. Photograph: David Fisher/Rex/Shutterstock for BAFTA

November

Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by Adrian Nathan West
The Nobel laureate weaves fiction and real events, as he explores the conspiracies and propaganda that drove the 1954 CIA-backed military coup in Guatemala.

The Fell by Sarah Moss
In Ghost Wall and Summerwater, Moss excelled at mapping personal desires and responsibilities against the national mood. In this lockdown novel, it’s November 2020, and though Kate is in the middle of a two-week quarantine, she can’t stand the confinement, slipping out for a moorland walk that goes horribly wrong.

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft
The long awaited appearance in English of the Nobel laureate’s masterwork. Set against the transformations of thought in enlightenment Europe, it is the epic story of the charismatic Jacob Frank, who arrives in a Polish village as a young Jew, and goes on to reinvent himself across countries and religions.

The Every by Dave Eggers
Following his 2013 tech satire The Circle, Eggers imagines a terrifying future: the world under one digital monopoly, controlling e-commerce, social media and search – and the woman hoping to bring the company down from within. Justine Jordan

NONFICTION

September

Greek Myths: A New Retelling by Charlotte Higgins
A gritty and exhilarating new retelling of the ancient stories in which the female characters take centre stage.

Misfits: A Personal Manifesto by Michaela Coel
The award-winning screenwriter and actor writes about the value of misfits, the power of theatre and storytelling and the importance of saying no.

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson
With insight and intellectual rigour, Nelson wrestles the concept of “freedom” away from its contemporary political misuses and explores what it means in the context of art, sex, drugs and climate.

Gavin Barwell, right, with Theresa May in 2017.
‘What really went on in the corridors of power’ … Gavin Barwell, right, with Theresa May in 2017. Photograph: Steve Parsons/AFP/Getty Images

Chief of Staff: Notes from Downing Street by Gavin Barwell
The former aide to Theresa May promises to reveal “what really went on in the corridors of power”, from Brexit to Trump and the ways that government operates “in a time of crisis”.


The End of Bias: How We Change Our Minds by Jessica Nordell
A groundbreaking analysis of bias and how to fix it, by a journalist who one day sent pitches from a male name and found that they started to land.

Harlots, Whores & Hackabouts: A History of Sex for Sale by Kate Lister
A brand new account of the oldest profession, by the creator of research project Whores of Yore.

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by Steven Pinker
The cognitive scientist rejects the popular view that the human brain is a “basket of delusions” and spells out the urgent need and potential for more rational behaviour and debate.

October

A 1,600 day Brexit diary … Michel Barnier, EC chief negotiator.
A 1,600 day Brexit diary … Michel Barnier, EC chief negotiator. Photograph: Getty Images

Secret Brexit Diary: A Glorious Illusion by Michel Barnier
The diary Barnier kept during the 1,600 days of Brexit negotiations promises to lift the lid on that fraught period. A clue may be in its subtitle.

Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo
Described as a “no-holds-barred” story about being true to yourself, this memoir charts Evaristo’s journey from broke young poet to Booker prize-winning novelist.

A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003–2020: Volume Two by David Sedaris
The second book in a collection of diaries whose first, Theft by Finding, was described by this paper as “beautiful in its piquancy and minimalism”.

Life, love and music … Bruce Springsteen, left, and Barack Obama record their podcast.
Life, love and music … Bruce Springsteen, left, and Barack Obama record their podcast. Photograph: Rob DeMartin/AP

Renegades: Born in the USA: Dreams by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen
Obama and Springsteen discuss life, love and music, with full-colour photos and archive material.

Keisha the Sket by Jade LB
The noughties online sensation about a young south London girl is back for the first time in official print, with additional essays from Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi, Aniefiok Ekpoudom and Enny.

1,000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir by Ai Weiwei
Chinese history told through the lives of artist Ai Weiwei and his poet father, Ai Qing.

The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing by Dr Denis Mukwege
story of courage and integrity, both of its doctor author and the female survivors of sexual violence whose strength he celebrates. A powerful call to arms.

Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time by Teju Cole
In a collection of essays the celebrated author of Open City explores the ways we retain our humanity and different ways of thinking about the colour black.

Three pink roses
‘If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it’: Rebecca Solnit. Photograph: Gary Mayes/Getty Images

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
An intellectually eclectic collection of essays “in dialogue” with Orwell takes in Stalin’s lemons, Colombia’s rose industry and the pleasing thought: “If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it.”

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow
Written over a decade, a work that promises to overturn our view of human history and make us rethink the way we live.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
A lifetime of experience and wisdom combines with much-needed optimism in this guide to the climate crisis and what we can do about it.

November

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
A heartfelt and witty collection of essays on everything from marriage and knitting to the inevitability of death, by the Women’s prize-winning novelist.

Patient 1 by Charlotte Raven and Dr Edward Wild
A powerful account of living with Huntington’s disease.

A new collection full of hope and healing … Amanda Gorman.
A new collection full of hope and healing … Amanda Gorman. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds by Huma Abedin
Hillary Clinton’s aide and adviser writes a personal and revealing account of her relationship with Clinton, her marriage to Anthony Weiner and her own action-packed life and history.

Diaries and Notebooks by Patricia Highsmith
Distilled from the 8,000 pages discovered in her linen closet, this is the definitive edition of the diaries of “one of our greatest modernist writers” (Gore Vidal). Katy Guest

POETRY

September

All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus
A eagerly awaited collection from the Folio prize-winner explores language, deafness, conflicting identities and the weight of history.

October

Winter Recipes from the Collective by Louise Glück
Glück’s first collection since winning the Nobel prize last year is an intimate and haunting work full of “recipes for winter, when life is hard. In spring / anyone can make a fine meal”.

December

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
A new collection full of hope and healing from the young American poet who electrified the world when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration. JJ

Contributors

Justine Jordan and Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

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