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 round up of the best novels of 2019.

01/09/2020
3 minutes to read

This year is shaping up to be an incredible year for fiction, with a brand new novel from Man Booker Prize-winning author Aravind Adiga and new fiction titles from much-loved authors David Baldacci and Ann Cleeves, to name just a few. Elizabeth Macneal’s bestselling debut The Doll Factory, which The Times called ‘genuinely Dickensian’, publishes in paperback, as does Jeffrey Archer's Nothing Ventured, the first in a new series following the life of Detective William Warwick. Here, we take a look at the most highly anticipated fiction books of 2020. ​ We also recap the best fiction of 2019, from bestsellers to the award-nominated debuts you may have missed. 

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.

Best new fiction books of 2020

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

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.

Nothing Ventured

by Jeffrey Archer

Book cover for 9781509851300

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.

One Summer in Crete

by Nadia Marks

Book cover for 9781509889747

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 . . .

The Doll Factory

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for 9781529002430

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

Little Bandaged Days

by Kyra Wilder

Book cover for 9781529017373

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.

Correspondents

by Tim Murphy

Book cover for 9781529020397

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.

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for 9781529005103

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.

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

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.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor

by Jane Healey

Book cover for 9781529014174

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 . . .

The Young Team

by Graeme Armstrong

Book cover for 9781529017328

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.

The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover for 9781509882809

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.

Cleanness

by Garth Greenwell

Book cover for 9781509874637

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.

Best fiction books 2019

The Order of the Day

by Eric Vuillard

Book cover for 9781509889976

Winner of the 2017 Prix Goncourt, France’s most well-known and prestigious award, The Order of the Day is the gripping story of the pivotal meetings which took place between the European powers in the run-up to the Second World War. This darkly comic yet incredibly moving account shows how the actions of a few men brought the world to the brink of war.

Gingerbread

by Helen Oyeyemi

Book cover for 9781447299424

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.

Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

by Andrea Lawlor

Book cover for 9781529007671

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

Salt Slow

by Julia Armfield

Book cover for 9781529012590

Julia Armfield was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2019 for her brilliantly inventive and haunting collection of short stories, Salt Slow. These stories explore the body and the bodily through the characters’ experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge. Salt Slow blurs the gothic with the everyday, and marks the arrival of an ambitious and singular new voice.

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. 

Diary of a Somebody

by Brian Bilston

Book cover for 9781529005561

Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2019, Diary of a Somebody is the hilarious debut novel from the unofficial Poet Laureate of Twitter, Brian Bilston. On 1 January Brian makes a New Year’s resolution – to write a poem every day for a year – convinced it will change his life. And Brian’s life certainly needs improving. But when his poetry club arch-nemesis Toby Salt goes missing, Brian finds himself the number one suspect. Can he solve the mystery of Toby’s disappearance before it’s too late?

Listen to Ben Miller read three poems from Diary of a Somebody

The Hiding Game

by Naomi Wood

Book cover for 9781509892808

The Hiding Game is Naomi Woods’s beautifully written, atmospheric third novel about the dangerously fine line between love and obsession. Set against the rising political tensions of 1920s Germany, the story follows Paul Beckermann as he arrives at the Bauhaus art school and is seduced by the bohemian atmosphere, charismatic teachers and his fellow students. As he spends more time with his new friends, he quickly falls in love with the mesmerising Charlotte, and tensions and rivalries begin to surface. As the existence of the Bauhaus is threatened and betrayals and jealousy splits the group apart, they hurtle toward an unthinkable tragedy . . .

Read Naomi Wood on the influence of Bauhaus design and teaching on the way we live now.

The Confession

by Jessie Burton

Book cover for 9781509886142

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.

One Good Deed

by David Baldacci

Book cover for 9781529027501

In 1949, Aloysius Archer is released from prison, where he’s been serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. He arrives in the dusty Southern town of Poca City, looking for a peaceful new start, but on his first night of freedom he meets local business tycoon Hank Pittleman. Pittleman offers Archer well-paid work as a debt collector, but soon Archer finds he’s taken on more than he bargained for. He becomes embroiled in a feud between the town’s most dangerous residents and, when one of them dies, Archer is the prime suspect.

Discover all David Baldacci’s books in order.