Joyce Dignam introduces the work of three authors who made their publishing debuts in 2020.
While 2020 may have been a turbulent year for the book industry, plenty of new writers were still able to stake their claim. Debut authors have had to get creative with the marketing of their novels with book launches and interviews being cancelled around the world. However, these three writers have stood out from the crowd and have released impactful work, which will be remembered past the year 2020.
Released last February, Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain has received much critical acclaim since. Readers follow young Shuggie as he grows up in 1980’s Glasgow. Whilst Thatcherism reigns, he struggles with his own issues. Living in public housing with his alcoholic mother, Shuggie also struggles with his sexuality which brings its own difficulties. This is a deeply heartbreaking story of addiction and love told through the perspective of a working-class family and is based on the true story of Stuart’s own childhood. As the winner of the 2020 Man Booker Prize, this is a novel that will speak to young readers for years to come.
In March 2020, the novel My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell was published. This story follows Vanessa Wye and her older teacher, Jacob Strane, who engage in an affair when she is just fifteen. The novel is an exploration of power dynamics and cultures of abuse which remain relevant in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Told from Vanessa’s perspective, it alternates between the time of the abuse and the present day when she is thirty-two. The novel was met with controversy when writer Wendy Ortiz claimed it was “eerily similar” to her own memoir, sparking debate about who gets to tell what stories and whether victims should have to relay their own trauma in order to be deemed worthy of telling a story. However, it is clear that Russell conducted thorough research while writing. This is unlikely to be the last we hear from this debut writer who made waves in the world of contemporary fiction last year.
In April, Irish novelist Naoise Dolan released Exciting Times after a much anticipated seven-way auction with publishers. It follows Ava, Julian and Edith - three twenty-somethings who struggle to define themselves, their desires, and their romantic relationships. Set in Hong Kong, where Ava teaches English, the novel is witty and cut-throat with its political analysis and with its depiction of a contemporary love story. Dolan cleverly shows us the role of social media in romantic relations, a refreshing account of modern love. Critics’ comparisons to Sally Rooney are not unfair, the novel's stripped-back writing style and focus on inner-monologue rather than action are quite similar and just as evident in Dolan’s writing as they are in Rooney’s. Although not to everyone’s taste, this new package of contemporary Irish writing has been hitting bestseller lists by storm.
These debut writers have not only released works of fiction which have been loved by many but have also made a significant impact on the publishing world. If you haven’t read them already, make sure to add these 2020 debuts to your shelves.