The best fiction books of 2020

Our edit of the very best fiction books of 2020, from award-winning literature to overlooked gems, as well as a look ahead to the best new fiction of 2021 and some of the best novels of all time. 

02/12/2020
4 minutes to read

This year has been an incredible year for fiction, with one of the best novels of the year coming from Booker Prize-wining debut author Douglas Stuart, and new fiction titles from much-loved authors David Baldacci and Ann Cleeves, to name just a few. Here, we take a look at the best fiction books of 2020, from bestsellers to the award-nominated debuts you may have missed, and look ahead to the best new fiction to come in 2021. We also share our edit of the best fiction books of all time. 

Don’t miss our best non-fiction books of 2020.

Discover the best crime and thriller books of 2020.

If you’re a fan of SFF, don’t miss the best fantasy books of 2020 and the best science fiction books of 2020.

The best fiction books of 2020

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book cover for 9781529050868

This is another beautiful, simple tale about the time-travelling customers of the Cafe Funiculi Funicula from the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Customers include a man who travels to see the girl he couldn’t marry, a son who had to miss his mother’s funeral and a man who travels back to see his friend who died twenty-two years ago. 


Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart

Book cover for 9781529019278
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One of the best novels of the year was Douglas Stuart’s blistering, Booker Prize-winning debut. Set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow in the early 1980s, this is a heartbreaking story which lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty and the limits of love. Agnes Bain has always dreamed of greater things, but when her husband abandons her she finds herself trapped in a decimated mining town with her three children, and descends deeper and deeper into drink. Her son Shuggie tries to help Agnes long after her other children have fled, but he too must abandon her to save himself. Shuggie is different, fastidious and fussy, and he is picked on by the local children and condemned by adults as ‘no’ right’. But he believes that if he tries his hardest he can be like other boys and escape this hopeless place.

Discover Douglas Stuart's favourite LGBTQIA+ books.

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Mum & Dad

by Joanna Trollope

Book cover for 9781529003390
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Full of wit and warmth, Joanna Trollope’s Mum & Dad is one of the best fiction books of 2020. Twenty-five years ago, Monica and Gus left England to follow their dream of running a vineyard in Spain. Then Gus suffers a stroke and their perfect life is thrown into upheaval. Their three grown-up children in London need to step in to lend a hand, but Sebastian, Katie and Jake have complicated lives of their own . . .

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The Girl Who Reads on the Metro

by Christine Féret-Fleury

Book cover for 9781509868353

This enchanting story of a young woman finding her purpose in life is heartwarming fiction guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face. Juliette takes the métro every day to her boring office job, and her only escape is in books. One day, she meets the mysterious Soliman, who believes that books have the power to change the course of a life. He offers Juliette a job, to match books to the people who need them most. Leaving her old life behind, Juliette is about to discover the true power a book can hold . . .

If I Can’t Have You

by Charlotte Levin

Book cover for 9781529032390

Constance Little has met the one, and she’s sure he feels the same. They have to keep things quiet as he’s a doctor at the GP surgery where she works but there’s no doubt in Constance’s mind that this is happily ever after. So when Samuel starts to seem less sure, Constance knows she must do everything she can to hold onto love. This devastating novel will have you rooting for Constance even as you start to fear how far she will really go. 

The Sin Eater

by Megan Campisi

Book cover for 9781529019063
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When fourteen-year-old May is orphaned, she begins a tough fight for survival. Arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, she’s sentenced to the harshest punishment – she must become a sin eater, shunned from society and condemned to take on the sins of the dead. But May’s invisibility opens new doors, and when she is called to hear the sins of one of the Queen’s dying courtiers she stumbles on a dark conspiracy only she can get to the bottom of. 

Read more about the real history behind The Sin Eater.

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Nothing Ventured

by Jeffrey Archer

Book cover for 9781509851300
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The start of a thrilling new series by bestselling author Jeffrey Archer, Nothing Ventured begins the story of Wiliam Warwick – a family man and detective – who will do battle with a powerful criminal nemesis. After graduating from university, Wiliam joins the Metropolitan Police Force where he rises to the rank of detective, taking on his first high-stakes case in Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques squad. Investigating the theft of a priceless missing painting, he meets and falls hopelessly in love with research assistant Beth Rainsford, and comes up against suave art collector Miles Faulkner, who is willing to bend the law to breaking point to get what he wants.

In this video, Jeffrey Archer introduces his new series featuring William Warwick.

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One Summer in Crete

by Nadia Marks

Book cover for 9781509889747
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When Calli is sent to the Greek island of Ikaria to write a magazine article, she's thrilled to have the chance to escape – her relationship has suddenly ended, and with it her hopes of starting a family are gone. The inhabitants of the island are some of the healthiest and happiest in the world, and the island has a secret that Calli is determined to uncover. But when she visits Crete, where her family is originally from, she find there may be secrets closer to home . . .

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The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for 9781529002430
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Elizabeth Macneal’s bestselling debut novel immerses the reader in the intoxicating world of Victorian London, as the Great Exhibition approaches. All Iris wants in life is the freedom to pursue her passion for art. When Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost asks her to model for him she agrees, on the condition that he teaches her to paint. As a whole world of art and love opens up for Iris, a chance encounter with Silas, a collector of the strange and beautiful, changes everything. Because Silas can’t stop thinking about Iris, and his dangerous obsession is growing . . .

Discover ten weird and wonderful facts about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

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Little Bandaged Days

by Kyra Wilder

Book cover for 9781529017373
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Kyra Wilder’s debut novel is a beautifully written, painfully claustrophobic story of a woman’s descent into madness. A mother moves to Geneva with her husband and their two young children. Unable to speak the language, and with her husband working increasingly long hours, she becomes more and more isolated. As her whole world becomes about caring for her children, Erika is determined that everything will be perfect. But it isn’t . . . Erika has never been so alone, and when the children are sleeping there is just too much time to fill all by herself.

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Correspondents

by Tim Murphy

Book cover for 9781529020397
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Tim Murphy’s powerful novel spans the breadth of the twentieth century and the legacy of the post-9/11 wars. Rita Khoury is an Irish-Lebanese woman whose family came to America during the golden years of immigration. When her career as a journalist sees her posted to Iraq after the 2003 American invasion, she finds that her safety depends on her translator Nabil – a young man hiding a secret about his sexuality. When Nabil’s identity puts him in trouble and Rita’s position becomes more and more unstable, they are forced out of the country and into an uncertain future.

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The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for 9781529005103
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This stunningly evocative novel set on the remote Norwegian island of Vardø in the 1600s was inspired by the real Vardø storm and the subsequent witch hunt. When a catastrophic storm wipes out almost the entirety of the male population of the island, the women who are left, still grieving for their men, are forced to fend for themselves. Eighteen months later, the sinister new commissioner, Absolom Cornet, arrives with his young wife Ursa. Ursa sees independent women for the first time in her life, and she is drawn to Maren, the young woman who helps her navigate life in this harsh new world. But Absolom is convinced that the women’s behaviour is ungodly and he must bring them to heel by any means necessary.

Discover the true story of the witch trials that inspired Kiran's novel. 

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Amnesty

by Aravind Adiga

Book cover for 9781509879038

Full of Aravind Adiga’s signature wit and magic, this novel from the Man Booker Prize-winning author is both a universal story and a timeless moral struggle. When Danny – an illegal immigrant in Sydney who has been denied refugee status – hears about a murder that has been committed which he may have information about, he faces a moral choice. Should he come forward with his knowledge of the crime and risk deportation, or should he stay silent, protecting the life he has built but letting justice go undone?

The Other Bennet Sister

by Janice Hadlow

Book cover for 9781509842025
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In Jane Austen’s beloved classic, Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet is often overlooked in the company of her sisters, unloved for her plainness. In Janice Hadlow’s heart-warming new story, Mary takes centre stage and reveals herself to be a warm, loving girl with hopes and dreams of her own. Fans of Jane Austen will love this homage to the classic story, rooting for Mary as she struggles to find her purpose and place in the world.

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The Animals at Lockwood Manor

by Jane Healey

Book cover for 9781529014174
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With the Second World War looming in the summer of 1939, the Natural History Museum’s extensive taxidermy collection is evacuated to the estate of Lockwood Manor. Ambitious Hetty Cartwright is tasked with safe-guarding the collection, but soon finds she has taken on more than she bargained for. Forced to contend with the short-tempered Lord Lockwood and his hostile servants, Hetty’s only comfort is a blossoming friendship with the enchanting Lucy Lockwood. But when precious specimens start to go missing and a more sinister presence is felt in the house, Hetty starts to uncover long-buried secrets some would prefer to keep hidden . . .

Discover Jane Healey's favourite gothic fiction. 

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The Young Team

by Graeme Armstrong

Book cover for 9781529017328
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In the forgotten heartlands of Scotland, your mates, your young team, they're everything you've got. At fourteen Azzy Williams is a rising star. At seventeen he's out of control. And by twenty-one he'd like to leave it all behind. But finding a way out isn't easy.

The Young Team is an energetic novel, full of the loyalty, laughs and violence of life on the streets. This powerful story about the realities of life for young people in Britain today is inspired by the author's own experiences of teenage life.

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The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover for 9781509882809
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When Vincent, a beautiful bartender at the Hotel Caiette, meets the hotel's owner, New York financier Jonathan Alkaitis, she immediately agrees to start a new life with him. That same night, an unknown person graffitis the window of the hotel with the words 'Why don't you swallow broken glass.' The staff, and a guest, shipping executive Leon Prevant, are left shaken by the malicious message. Thirteen years later, Vincent disappears from a ship owned by the same company Leon worked for . . .

Emily St. John Mandel's extraordinary novel moves between time and place to explore greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, the interconnectedness of our lives and the ghosts of our pasts.

Read Octavia Bright on the capitalist dystopia of The Glass Hotel.

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Cleanness

by Garth Greenwell

Book cover for 9781509874637
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Expanding the world of his novel What Belongs to You, a debut that the New York Times Book Review hailed as 'an instant classic, in Cleanness Garth Greenwell writes with startling insight about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with ourselves.

In Bulgaria's capital, amid political protests, an American teacher reflects on the intimate encounters of his past as he prepares to leave the country he has come to call home.

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance

by Tomi Adeyemi

Book cover for 9781509899456
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 Tomi Adeyemi is back with this thrilling sequel to Children of Blood and Bone. After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji but also some nobles with magic ancestry. With civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must find a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart. Children of Virtue and Vengeance is one of the best fiction books of 2020 for young adult readers.

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The best new fiction books for 2021

Neighbours

by Danielle Steel

Book cover for 9781529021394

You can always rely on the world’s favourite storyteller for some of the best fiction of the year. When a personal tragedy cut Meredith White’s career short, she shut herself away from the world, safe in her San Francisco mansion. But when a devastating earthquake hits the city, Meredith opens her home, and her heart . . . 

Luster

by Raven Leilani

Book cover for 9781529035988

Raven Leilani is a funny and original new voice in fiction, and Luster is one of the best novels of 2021. Her razor-sharp yet surprisingly tender debut is an essential novel about what it means to be young now. Edie is messing up her life, and no one seems to care. Then she meets Eric, who is white, middle-aged and comes with a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. And as if life wasn’t hard enough, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s family.

The City of Tears

by Kate Mosse

Book cover for 9781509806874

The sequel to bestselling author Kate Mosse’s epic historical fiction novel The Burning Chambers, The City of Tears is set in France in 1572, when the Wars of Religion have been raging for ten violent years. A royal wedding may mean peace at last, but when Minou Joubert receives a wedding invitation she has no idea that in the days following the marriage her own family will be ripped apart. This is set to be one of the best fiction books of 2021.

People Like Her

by Ellery Lloyd

Book cover for 9781529039382

This smart debut thriller from husband-and-wife writing team Ellery Lloyd takes a compelling look at the dark side of social media and influencer culture. Emmy Jackson is better known to her online fans as Instagram sensation Mamabare, famous for telling it like it is when it comes to modern parenthood. But not everything you see online can be believed, and someone out there knows the truth about Emmy and intends to make her pay . . .


The best fiction books of all time 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for 9781529034523

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is one of the most-loved science-fiction books of all time. Beginning life as a Radio 4 show in 1978, it has since spawned adaptations across almost every format, making it a staple on every respectable list of the best fiction books. Following the galactic adventures of Arthur Dent after his house's untimely demolition to make way for a new hyperspace express route, this new edition of 'the Guide' features exclusive bonus archive material and a new introduction from Russell T. Davies.

Only Time Will Tell

by Jeffrey Archer

Book cover for 9781509847563

Only Time Will Tell is the first in the thrilling Clifton Chronicles fiction book series, beginning with the birth of Harry Clifton in the backstreets of Bristol in 1919. The man Harry believes to be his father was a war hero, but it will be twenty one years before Harry discovers how he died, and if he was indeed his father. Only Time Will Tell follows Harry from the horrors of the Great War to the Second World War, when Harry must decide between a place at Oxford or joining the fight against Hitler. 

Firefly Lane

by Kristin Hannah

Book cover for 9781447229537

Kristin Hannah writes some of the most heartbreaking and best fiction around, and Firefly Lane is no exception.  Kate Mularkey has accepted her place on the bottom rung of her school's social ladder. But then 'the coolest girl in the world,' Tully Hart, moves in across the street and wants to be Kate's best friend. The pair are inseparable for thirty years, until a terrible betrayal tears them apart. Firefly Lane has been adapted into a Netflix series starring Katherine Heigl as Tully Hart and Sarah Chalke as Kate Mularkey.

Gingerbread

by Helen Oyeyemi

Book cover for 9781447299424
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Perdita and Harriet Lee make gingerbread, which isn’t popular in London, but which is very popular in Druhástrana, Harriet’s home as a child – which Wikipedia thinks doesn’t exist. Years later, Perdita seeks out her mother’s long-lost friend Gretel, which prompts a retelling of Harriet’s story, and a few reunions. Inspired by the special place gingerbread has in fairy tales, this is a wonderful story of a surprising family legacy.

Read author Daisy Johnson on the wonder of Helen Oyeyemi.

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Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

by Andrea Lawlor

Book cover for 9781529007671
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A joyous romp through early '90s American subculture, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl follows Paul Polydoris, a shapeshifter who can change sex at will, as he navigates relationships and identity politics from Iowa City to Chicago leather bars, and from a women-only music festival to the bright lights of San Francisco. This riotous bildungsroman is full of heart and humour.

Read our interview with Andrea Lawlor

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A Thousand Ships

Book cover for 9781509836192

One of the Guardian's 'Best Books of 2019’, A Thousand Ships tells the story of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women, girls and goddesses whose voices have for so long been silent. The devastating consequences of the war fall on the women embroiled in the conflict and its aftermath in this powerful retelling of Greek myth. 

The Confession

by Jessie Burton

Book cover for 9781509886197
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The highly anticipated third novel from million-copy bestselling author Jessie Burton is a powerful and deeply moving story about secrets, motherhood and friendship. In 1980 Elise meets Constance, a successful writer, and quickly falls under her spell, moving to LA to be with her. Three decades later, Rose Simmons is looking for answers about her mother, who disappeared after she was born. When she learns that reclusive novelist Constance Holden was the last person to see her mother alive, she is drawn to her door in search of a confession . . .

Read Lucy Scholes on The Confession and portrayals of motherhood in literature.

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