Normal People fans should read these books

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Books by Caleb Azumah Nelson, Emily Itami and Brandon Taylor to see you through until Beautiful World Where Are You? is finally released.      

The book that defined a generation, Sally Rooney’s Normal People became an instant classic on its release in August 2018 as her deceptively straightforward writing delved into a complex narrative on love, resentment, envy, loneliness and selflessness in the tale of Marianne and Connell.

From its now-iconic cover by designer Jon Gray to our national lockdown obsession with Connell’s chain via its ability to open up conversations about money and class, depression and BDSM, Rooney’s book somehow hit different nerves within us all. With her third novel, Beautiful World Where Are You?, due out on 7 September, the hype is building with book bloggers frantically trying to get hold of advanced copies from Rooney’s publisher, Faber. Which is why we’ve helpfully compiled three books to see you through until then.

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If you’re a fan of piercing takes on modern relationships and love affairs that’ll leave you gently weeping into the pages of a book, then we’ve selected some of the most beautiful, moving, funny and perceptive books that have come out this year from writers such as Caleb Azumah Nelson, Emily Itami and Brandon Taylor.

Buy them all and treat yourself with tenderness while reading some standout books tackling love, heartache, recovery and release. 

  • Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

    Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

    If Marianne and Connell’s fractured relationship lives in your head rent free then Caleb Azumah Nelson’s tender Open Water will completely undo you. Capturing that unexpected catch of breath when you meet someone who’ll change you fundamentally (even if they’re meant to be seeing a friend of yours), this beautiful, uplifting and – at times – heartbreaking story of a young Black couple from south London explores the ebb and flow of love set against the heaviness of what it’s like to be a Black person in contemporary Britain and the pain of the past that endures.

    Nelson’s writing will also gobble you up: whether he’s describing sitting in Shake Shack next to Leicester Square on a Friday night talking about the genius Isaiah Rashad, the joy of dancing to jazz in the safest of spaces or how grief can crush you as you sweep the kitchen floor, this novel is irresistible, and à la the unnamed narrator’s beloved Zadie Smith books, should be kept on a pile of books you love to re-read.

    Shop Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Penguin) at Bookshop, £12.99

    Buy now

  • Fault Lines by Emily Itami

    Fault Lines by Emily Itami

    Described as “Brief Encounter set in contemporary Tokyo”, this delicate and beautiful love story will fill your heart. The star of the show is Mizuki – a smart and acerbic housewife who’s slowly losing her mind despite what she acknowledges is a perfect life filled with beautiful children, a beautiful husband and a beautiful apartment. Yet, one Tuesday night – after straddling the edge of her balcony for a split-second as her husband checks his phone – she comments: “I threw all my weight back towards safety. No crackly-voiced Leo Di Caprio with a hand extended around here; the only person doing any heroic saving, even if it was only my own sorry ass, was me.” Chafing against a society that expects so much of women and mothers, one night she meets Kiyoshi and their attraction begins to grow and flourish. Short, emotional and very funny, Emily Itami’s debut is an unmissable treat for romantics everywhere. 

    Shop Fault Lines by Emily Itami (Phoenix) at Bookshop, £12.99

    Buy now

  • Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

    Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

    Filthy Animals is the first collection of stories from Brandon Taylor, the author of the acclaimed and 2020 Booker-shortlisted Real Life and one that unites moments of desire, violence, vulnerability and trauma. Some of the short stories link together the tale of Charles and Sophie, two dance students who are in an open relationship, and their relationship with Lionel, a gay Black man who has just left hospital, while others are standalone snapshots of lives. All are woven together by the uncertainty that surrounds human relationships and the hurt that people both give and take. An absolute essential read in 2021. 

    Shop Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor (Daunt Books) at Bookshop, £9.99

    BUY NOW

Images: courtesy of publishers

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