Rebecca May Johnson
One, £14.99, pp240
At the start of her first book, writer, academic and fearless boundary-basher Johnson confides a desire to “blow up the kitchen”. Small Fires does exactly that, rebuilding something epic from morsels of funny memoir, acute social criticism and food writing the likes of which you’ll never have read before. Taking its prompts from 10 years spent cooking in as many different kitchens, it reclaims that domestic space as one of intensely physical thought. An ingredients list would run to fortune cookies and poetry by Rilke, a serving of “bad news potatoes” (“for one, obviously”) and apron strings, both literal and inescapably metaphoric. Rich in pleasure and revelation, this is a deceptively svelte work whose invigorating pages feel spattered with hot oil and citrus splashes.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, pp288
Even without reading its acknowledgments, you’d sense that Barnett’s latest novel derives from intense lived experience. And yet the story belongs to its heroine, Christina Lennox, who is 43 when she’s forced to surrender the picture she’d always held on to of how her life should look. Successive rounds of IVF have led to miscarriages and the anguish of dashed hopes, and her husband Ed is now living in San Francisco. But what of their last embryo that’s stored at the fertility clinic? Barnett’s well-crafted backlist is big on emotional acuity and this novel is no different, forging from Christina’s grief an insistence that we think more creatively when it comes to happiness, and especially to the shapes that our families might take.
Jean Hanff Korelitz
Faber, £8.99, pp546 (paperback)
Fans of Korelitz’s deft literary mystery You Should Have Known will find plenty to relish in this character-driven tale of privilege, family dysfunction and belated personal growth. At its center are the Oppenheimer triplets: smart, arrogant Harrison, overshadowed oddball Lewyn, and secretive Sally. The products of a marriage tethered to a tragic car crash years earlier, they were conceived via IVF; a fourth embryo was frozen, and on their departure for college in the year 2000, their mother has it thawed and enlists a surrogate, resulting in the birth of Phoebe, who will narrate the novel’s closing section. Each new twist triggers bright, witty insights into the complexities of sibling bonds as well as art, infidelity and more.