Books to Look Out for in February 2021: Part Two

Cover image for No One is Talking Baout This by Patricia LockwoodThis second part of February’s new fiction preview kicks off with two novels which explore something on which I spend far too much of my time. I’ve already read Patricia Lockwood’s No One is Talking About This which explores the seductive, addictive world of social media through a woman who finds herself a celebrated internet commentator thanks to a gnomic, one-line post which goes viral. A text from her mother brings her up short, dragging her back into the real world away from the endless round of international travel and what she calls ‘the portal’. Lockwood’s is very much a novel for our times: sharp, savvy and, ultimately, sobering. Review to follow…

Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts also has a foot in social media territory, taking us back to Donald Trump’s inauguration and the unnamed narrator’s discovery that her partner is a popular, anonymous internet conspiracy theorist. After a series of twists, she takes herself off to Berlin where she practices her own brand of manipulation, both in cyberspace and the real world. ‘A wry, provocative and very funny debut novel about identity, authenticity and the self in the age of the internet’ say the publishers, piquing my interest.

Social media is firmly in the picture in Ali Benjamin’s satirical The Smash-Up by the sound of it. After years of working in the city, Ethan is having trouble settling into small town life. Then his business partner is caught in the spotlight with accusations about his behaviour, while at home his wife is preoccupied with #MeToo politics and his daughter refuses to sleep. ‘With magnetic energy and doses of comic wit, Benjamin creates a world of social media algorithms, extreme polarization, the collapsing of identity into tweet-sized spaces, and the spectre of violence that can be found even in the quietest places’ say the publishers. Not entirely sure about this one which might fall flat on its face. We’ll see.

I’m more confident about Kiare Ladner’s debut, Nightshift, in which Londoner Meggie becomes so fascinated by Sabine that she gives up her daytime life to work alongside her on the nightshift, opening up an entirely different world. Sleep deprivation, obsession and drinking take their toll as Meggie slips further into the disorienting world of night-working. ‘A novel of obsession and desire, Kiare Ladner’s Nightshift is a beautiful and moving debut which asks profound questions about who we are and if we can ever really truly escape ourselves’ say the publishers temptingly. I do like the sound of that.

I’ve seen Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut, Open Water, billed as the new Normal People which makes my heart sink in the way that these comparisons so often do. It’s about two young, bright, Black British people, both artists and both struggling to make their mark, who meet in a London pub and fall in love. ‘At once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it’ say the publishers. I’m keen to read this one despite that Rooney comparison.

Cover image for Paradise Block by Alice AshThese days, no month’s preview feels complete without a short story collection for me. February’s is Alice Ash’s Paradise Block set in the titular apartment block which is far from paradise by the sound of it. Mould-covered walls, constant alarms and difficult neighbours seem to be the order of the day. ‘With a haunting sense of place and a keen eye for the absurd, these thirteen surreal stories lure us into a topsy-turvy world where fleatraps are more important than babies and sales calls for luxury coffins provide a welcome distraction. Lonely residents live in close proximity while longing for connection’ say the publishers which sounds well worth investigating to me.

That’s it for February’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and if you missed the first part it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

29 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in February 2021: Part Two”

  1. I have the Lockwood from Netgalley so good to hear that you enjoyed it. I like her poetry. I read Fake Accounts just before Christmas and although it is very sharp on millennial online culture, it didn’t really work for me.

  2. Another interesting selection. I like the sound of Nightshift because I have always been oddly fascinated by people who choose to live in that kind of upside down way.

  3. I’ll be interested to hear what you rethink of Nightshift (should you decide to read it) as there’s a proof copy tucked away somewhere in the shop!

    The use of social media in fiction is an interesting one, as it could go either way. That said, I thought it worked well in Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age as an integral part of the narrative.

    1. I’ll be reviewing Nighshift next month, Jacqui. Lockwood handles the effects of social media very well. She had me wincing in recognition at times as did Emma Jane Unsworth in Adults this time last year.

  4. Nightshift, sounds too much like a domestic noir thriller. I’m not a fan of that genre but really looking forward to your review!!

  5. I’m looking forward to Nightshift – it sounds great! Not sure I can bear the social media books right at this moment, but they do sound interesting – maybe in a few months once things have calmed down. Assuming they do…

  6. I have Open Water on my list too even though – like you – I am hesitant to read anything which could turn out to be like Normal People.

    A February publication on my radar is Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney

  7. Awww, my heart sinks with that comparison too. Why do we have to always compare? It inevitably leads to disappointment. And some readers, those who didn’t get on with one of Rooney’s novels or stories, likely won’t even want to try another with a blurb like this.

  8. Social media seems to be a big theme this month. When you think about it, though, so much could be done with that theme – so much goes on – but I also think it would be hard to do well… It’s almost a whole other language.

    1. Such a huge influence on our lives whether we use it or not. Patricia Lockwood handles it well but she’s exploring the way it affects ourselves and our realtoinships, both with the world and those close to us, rather than the using the language.

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