When someone asks me what kind of books I like to read, I have trouble choosing a specific author or genre. I enjoy a variety of fiction with some non-fiction thrown in as well. There is one type of book that always catches my attention though; I truly enjoy reading an author’s first novel. In that debut full-length work there’s room to combine all kinds of creative ideas, some of which may have been bouncing around in the author’s head taking shape for a while – maybe years! A lot of those favourite characters and events along with much of the author’s own knowledge and experience end up in the pages of that painstakingly written first book.
Currently I’m reading Bone and Bread, a debut novel from Canadian author Saleema Nawaz published by House of Anansi Press in 2013. So far it’s excellent. A few years before her novel, Nawaz published a collection of short stories entitled Mother Superior. I really enjoyed the entire collection of stories but one in particular, “Bloodlines”, stood out from the rest. Imagine my delight when I realized this novel is based around the same characters!
“When sisters Beena and Sadhana are orphaned as teenagers and sent to live with their Sikh uncle in Montreal’s Hasidic community, their lives take divergent courses as they deal with their grief in different ways.” (Novelist) “Beena catches the attention of one of the “bagel boys” and finds herself pregnant at sixteen, while Sadhana drives herself to perfectionism and anorexia. When we first meet the adult Beena, she is grappling with a fresh grief: Sadhana has died suddenly and strangely […]” (Anansi)
Now Beena takes the reader back to Montreal and back in her memories in an attempt to uncover the circumstances of Sadhana’s death. I would highly recommend giving this one a try. Or, in case you missed them, here are some more debut novels from the past year or two that you might like to check out.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
An elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
A dollhouse whose figures and furnishings foretell life events, mysterious notes, family secrets and the powerful guild and church of 1686 Amsterdam. All these elements combine for an engaging story of a young bride’s struggle to be the ‘architect of her own fortune’.
In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman
A debut tale set during the war and economic recession at the beginning of the 21st century follows a reconnection between two college friends including a London investment banker with crumbling prospects and a mathematics prodigy who has struggled with his culture and faith.
Where the Moon Isn’t by Nathan Filer
Struggling to understand what happened to his brother years earlier after they both snuck out of the house during the middle of the night, Matthew believes he has found a way to bring his brother back by going off his meds. Also good for young adults and has been published as The Shock of the Fall.
I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You by Courtney Maum
In this reverse love story set in Paris and London, a failed monogamist attempts to woo his wife back and to answer the question: Is it really possible to fall back in love with your spouse?
California by Edan Lepucki
California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and deep-seated resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.
The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees is a coming-of-age story in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents. Also good for young adults.
Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
Presenting themselves to the world as an effortlessly excellent family, successful criminal lawyer Karen, her Parliament candidate husband and her intelligent athlete son, Max, find their world crumbling in the wake of a friend’s betrayal and the secret about Max’s intersexual identity. Also good for young adults.
First novels can be great reads. For those of us who would like to try our hand at writing someday it’s not only interesting to see the variety of ideas in first published works, but the varying ages and circumstances of the authors themselves. First-time writers come in all types, just like their books. Have you read any great debut novels you’d like to share?