Frostquake by Juliet Nicolson (Chatto & Windus, £18.99)
On Boxing Day 1962, the snow began to fall – and continued to for ten weeks. Juliet Nicolson’s Frostquake is a micro-history of that extraordinarily cold winter, which, she argues, changed Britain forever. Nicolson is a warm guide to that freezing time, weaving together memories of her childhood at Sissinghurst, the nascent Chelsea set scene on the Kings Road, global politics and the Profumo affair.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (4th Estate, £12.99)
Fake Accounts starts on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, when the unnamed narrator, a young Brooklynite, snoops around on her boyfriend’s phone and discovers he’s secretly a conspiracy theorist. Then, he dies; she moves to Berlin, and spends a lot of time on the internet. Oyler’s navel-gazing narrator, wry and millennially self-aware, is what makes the book, which is a cracking debut about identity in the digital age.
Messing About in Boats by Michael Hoffman (Oxford University Press, £25)
The eminent poet and translator Michael Hofmann takes boats as his theme in this lively book, adapted from his Clarendon Lectures. Structured around four boat-related poems by Rilke, Rimbaud, Montale and Solie, Messing About in Boats is thoughtful and familiar, an engaging and often exuberant work of literary criticism.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking, £12.99)
Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel is an intimate, London-set story of two artists falling in love, learning to show tenderness to one another in a society that’s anything but. The unnamed couple are both Black British, both former scholarship students at private schools, where neither felt like they belonged. Nelson writes with grace and poignancy; it’s a memorable first novel.
A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, £16.99)
Booker prize-winning author George Saunders also teaches a class at Syracuse University on the nineteenth-century Russian short story in translation. This light-hearted book is drawn from those classes, with essays on stories (printed here in their entirety) by the likes of Chekhov, Gogol and Tolstoy, in which Saunders picks apart, in his funny and unfussy manner, what makes a story work.
A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago (Bloomsbury, £16)
Lucy Jago’s debut is a magnificent reimagining of a scandal in the Jacobean court. Its two protagonists are Frances Howard, the beautiful wife of the Earl of Essex, and Anne Turner, a doctor’s wife who dresses her. Masques, machinations and murder ensue, as well as affairs, gorgeously described clothes and a dangerous friendship.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu (Sceptre, £16.99)
In this moving memoir, Whiting prize-winner Nadia Owusu explores her own fractured identity. Her Armenian-American mother abandoned the family when Owusu was two; her adored Ghanaian father died when she was thirteen. She grew up in multiple countries and languages: ‘I never know how to answer the question of my origin’. Sifting through the shocks and upheavals, Owusu comes to define what it means to belong.
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr (riverrun, £18.99)
This poetic and powerful debut is a queer love story set among slaves in America’s deep south. Samuel and Isiah are enslaved on the same plantation (called ‘Empty’). Close as children, they grow up into lovers – though the precarious sanctuary is threatened by another slave, Amos, whose preaching turns the rest of the plantation against them.