The books everyone should read in 2016

Hannah Stephenson previews the genres, authors and new titles to look out for in 2016.
Juliet BarkerJuliet Barker
Juliet Barker

It looks like 2016 is going to be another bumper year for books, from both debut and bestselling authors, bloggers and established writers creating their own versions of vintage classics. The experts help us sort the wheat from the chaff...

The big thriller

Cathy Rentzenbrink, author and contributing editor of trade publication The Bookseller predicts that thrillers will remain as popular as ever.

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“This year’s big thriller is going to be The Widow, a debut novel by Fiona Barton (Transworld, Jan), about a woman called Jean whose husband has just died. As the story unfolds, it emerges that her husband might have been a murderer. It’s a cracker.”

She continues: “Our lust for thrillers is never-ending, the page-turners which have a simple premise, like The Girl On The Train. The big Scandinavian authors are still doing well, but I don’t think there’s the appetite for them that there once was.”

Next year will see the 100th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s creation of Hercule Poirot and, after the success of her first Poirot novel The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah will be writing another book in the series, Closed Casket (HarperCollins), due out in September.

Marking time

Anniversaries always spawn a surge of books and 2016 is no exception. Hooks include the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth.

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Caroline Sanderson, associate editor of The Bookseller, predicts: “Among the ones to watch will be The Globe Guide To Shakespeare by Andrew Dickson (Profile, Feb) and The Brontës: A Life In Letters by Juliet Barker (Little, Brown, April), a selection of letters and autobiographical fragments from the three novelist sisters and their father.

Her pick for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme is First Day Of The Somme by Andrew MacDonald (HarperCollins, April), which she says is the first book to really blame the carnage on British intelligence and leadership.

Great expectations

New titles likely to create a stir will be coming from Jessie Burton, whose debut novel The Miniaturist was a runaway success and whose forthcoming book The Muse (Picador), the story of a young Caribbean immigrant, a bohemian artist and the mysterious painting that connects them across the decades, will be out in July.

Other big names with new novels out in 2016 include Maggie O’Farrell, Chris Cleave, Joanne Harris and the late Terry Pratchett, who with Stephen Baxter completed The Long Cosmos, the last in the Long Earth series.

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Out in January is acclaimed author Helen Dunmore’s latest novel, Exposure (Cornerstone), set in London in the Cold War Sixties and focusing on a civil servant wrongly imprisoned for spying.

Strongly anticipated debuts include Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain by 25-year-old playwright Barney Norris (Transworld, April), about five people involved in some way in a serious car crash, and how their lives are affected.

For those who crave literary fiction, Julian Barnes has written his first novel since The Sense Of An Ending won the 
Man Booker Prize. It’s called The Noise Of Time (Jonathan Cape, May), and is an imagining of Shostakovich’s life, art, power and politics. Anna Hope’s debut novel about the First World War, Wake, received great reviews. Her second book,The Ballroom, is a love story about a couple of inmates in an asylum in Yorkshire in 1911 and should do well, says Rentzenbrink.

“It’s an astonishing insight into how we treated people in distress or with mental health issues, just a century ago.”

Modern classics

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The repackaging and retelling of classic tales are also still on the rise, Rentzenbrink observes. “Howard Jacobson has written Shylock Is My Name: The Merchant Of Venice Retold (Hogarth, Feb). It’s part of a scheme where established authors pick a play and write a novel inspired by that play.

“The Borough Press is also conducting an Austen project, where authors are doing a similar thing. Joanna Trollope wrote a contemporary version of Sense And Sensibility, Alexander McCall Smith wrote a version of Emma, now Curtis Sittenfeld is writing Eligible, which is Pride And Prejudice set in modern-day Cincinnati.”

Stating the facts

Current affairs will be big in the non-fiction sector in 2016, says Sanderson. “There are, inevitably, quite a few books on the refugee crisis, including The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley (Guardian Faber, Jun) and Cast Away by Charlotte McDonald-Gibson (Portobello, Jun),” she notes. “Another one, City Of Thorns by Ben Rawlence (Portobello, Jun), centres on the world’s biggest refugee camp in northern Kenya.”

Memoirs include Lyn Rigby: A Mother’s Story, the story of the soldier butchered on a London street by two attackers; and Living In The Aftermath by Sue Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine killers.

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There are uplifting real-life tales from William Shatner, who gives a personal tribute to Leonard Nimoy, his co-star in Star Trek and friend for 50 years in Leonard: A Life (Sidgwick, Feb), and from Alexei Sayle, whose second volume of memoirs, Thatcher Stole My Trousers (Bloomsbury), gives an entertaining history of British stand-up.