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10 Best Debut Novels To Read In 2021

Every year a new literary star is born. Last year one of them was Douglas Stuart whose debut novel Shuggie Bain won the Booker Prize. Lockdown and isolation surprisingly (or perhaps

not) prompted the print book market to rise by 8.2 percent in 2020 and this is excellent news for new authors wishing to reach millions of their potential readers.

So which debuts are worth looking for this year? The Guardian has already made its research and presented 10 best novelists and their novels of 2021:

OPEN WATER by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists - he a photographer, she a dancer - trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.


The novel is about a young woman's toxic relationship with a beautiful but cruel man, told through a propulsive interior monologue that interrogates female desire, insatiability, envy, love addiction, and how it is that a woman can still need the love of a man to make herself feel real.

MOTH by Melody Razak

The novel tells the heart-rending story of a Brahmin family living in 1940’s Delhi during India’s Independence and subsequent Partition. It explores the impact of disproportionate violence on the lives of the women who carry so much of the emotional labour during times of political unrest. It probes the structures of an already fractious society, examines who the ‘other’ is, and what it means to be free. It looks too at the domestic sphere, at different types of love and is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit.

GIRL A by Abigail Dean

She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped. When her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings - and with the childhood they shared.


Set in a shuttered pub - The Paper Lantern - in a village in the very middle of the country adjacent to the Chequers estate, the narrator embarks on a series of walks in the Chiltern Hills, which become the landscape for evocations of a past scarred with trauma and a present lacking compass. From local raves in secret valleys and the history of landmarks such as Halton House, to the fallout of the lockdown period, climate change and capitalism, THE PAPER LANTERN creates a tangible, lived-in, complicated rendering of a place.


Taking inspiration from two lines in Shakespeare’s play, in which the queen is a character only mentioned twice, Learwife gives voice to "one of the most famous female characters ever written out of literary history", said the publisher. Set in Medieval Britain, Lear’s queen has been in exile in an abbey for five years, since the birth of her youngest daughter, for an unknown offence. After discovering the devastating deaths of her husband and daughters, the queen encourages the women of the abbey into a competition for her approval, a competition which quickly devolves into savagery.

LITTLE SCRATCH by Rebecca Watson

The novel tells the story of an unnamed woman living in a world of office politics, clock-watching and emoji-texting as she relays what it takes to get through mundanity in the wake of a recent sexual assault.

ASSEMBLY by Natasha Brown

The narrator of Assembly is a Black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend's family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can't escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?

DEAD SOULS by Sam Riviere

A scandal has shaken the literary world. As the unnamed narrator of Dead Souls discovers at a cultural festival in central London, the offender is Solomon Wiese, a poet accused of plagiarism. Later that same evening, at a bar near Waterloo Bridge, our narrator encounters the poet in person, and listens to the story of Wiese's rise and fall, a story that takes the entire night -and the remainder of the novel - to tell.

HIGHWAY BLUE by Ailsa McFarlane

In the lonely, beat-up town of San Padua, Anne Marie can never get the sound of the ocean out of her head. And it’s here - dog-walking by day, working bars by night - where she tries to forget about her ex-husband, Cal: both their brief marriage and their long estrangement. But when Cal shows up on Anne Marie’s doorstep one day, he upends her world once again. A gun goes off in a violent accident, hurling the two of them on the road in escape.


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