The best literary fiction books of 2022

With highly acclaimed debuts from fresh new voices to celebrations of hilarious literary classics, 2021 was a remarkable year for literature and 2022 looks set to follow in its footsteps. We look forward to the most exciting new literary fiction of 2022, round up the best literary books of 2021 and recommend some of the best literary fiction of all time. 

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A collection of literary books published by Pan Macmillan

The literary landscape is set for a revolution in 2022. Established greats like Hanya Yanagihara and Lily King are returning with acclaimed new fiction; eagerly-anticipated To Paradise and Five Tuesdays in Winter are both releasing in the first half of 2022. But alongside award-winners are fresh faces and new blood, with debuts from a variety of original and exciting writers. Maddie Mortimer's much-adored Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is the debut that no one can stop talking about, and nothing else has captured the exactness of our collective social moment more acutely than Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Read on for our curated list of the most exciting literary fiction coming in 2022, the best literary books of 2021, and our all-time literary must-reads.

For even more inspiration, don't miss our edit of the best fiction books. 

The best new literary fiction books of 2022

Five Tuesdays in Winter

by Lily King

Book cover for Five Tuesdays in Winter

With Writers & Lovers, Lily King became one of our most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. And now, with Five Tuesdays in Winter, she gathers ten of her best short stories. These intimate literary stories tell of a bookseller who is filled with unspoken love for his employee, an abandoned teenage boy nurtured by a pair of housesitting students and a girl whose loss of innocence brings confident power. Romantic, hopeful, raw and occasionally surreal, these stories riff beautifully on the topic of love and romance.

A Time Outside This Time

by Amitava Kumar

Book cover for A Time Outside This Time

A writer called Satya visits a high-profile artists' retreat, and soon finds that the pressures of modern life are hard to shed: the US president pours out vitriol, a virus threatens the world, and the relentless news cycle only makes things worse. 

Satya realises these pressures can inspire him to write, and he begins to channel presidential tweets, memories from an Indian childhood, and his own experiences as an immigrant into his new novel. A fascinating exploration of memory in a post-truth world, Amitava Kumar's A Time Outside This Time is a beautiful and necessary novel.

To Paradise

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for To Paradise

This amazing new novel from the author of A Little Life begins in the nineteenth century, and spans stories of love, family, loss and promised utopia over the following three centuries. In 1893, New York is part of the Free States, and a gentle young member of a privileged family falls for a charismatic and impoverished music teacher. In 1993 Manhattan is being swept by the AIDS epidemic, and a young Hawaiian man with a wealthy older partner must hide his difficult family background. And in 2093 in a world where plague and totalitarian rule is rife, a young woman tries to solve the mystery of her husband's disappearances. 

This powerful and symphonic vision of America's past and present is a marvellous demonstration of Hanya Yanagihara's literary genius, as she weaves three stories together with recurring notes and deepening themes.


by Raven Leilani

Book cover for Luster

Raven Leilani is a funny and original new voice in literary fiction. 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. 

‘In this cutting, hot-blooded book, the entanglements that unfold are as complicated as they are heartbreaking.’
New Statesman on Raven Leilani's, Luster

Maps of our Spectacular Bodies

by Maddie Mortimer

Book cover for Maps of our Spectacular Bodies

Something is moving in Lia's body, learning her life with gleeful malevolence and spreading through the rungs of her larynx, the bones of her trachea. 

When a shock diagnosis forever changes Lia's world, boundaries in her life begin to break down as buried secrets emerge. A voice prowling inside of her takes hold of her story, merging the landscape within her body with the one outside. 

A coming-of-age at the end of a life, Maddie Mortimer's compelling debut novel is both heart-breaking and darkly funny, combining wild lyricism with celebrations of the desire, forgiveness and darkness in our bodies. 

The Office of Historical Corrections

by Danielle Evans

Book cover for The Office of Historical Corrections

Described by Roxane Gay as the 'finest short story writer working today,' Danielle Evans packs a powerful punch with each of the stories included in this remarkable collection. Across six short stories, as well as an eye-opening titular novella, she magnifies pivotal moments in her character's lives or relationships that allow for a wider blistering exploration of race, culture and history. 

The War of the Poor

by Eric Vuillard

Book cover for The War of the Poor

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2021, this impactful blend of history and literary fiction tells the story of a brutal episode from the past, when, in the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformation took on the privileged and the powerful. Eric Vuillard’s portrait of one man, Thomas Müntzer, casts light on a time in which Europe was in flux. 

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for A Little Life

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and celebrated as ‘The Great Gay Novel’ by author Garth Greenwell, Hanya Yanagihara’s immensely powerful story of brotherly love and the limits of human endurance has had a visceral impact on many a reader. Willem, Jude, Malcolm and JB meet at college in Massachusetts and form a firm friendship, moving to New York upon graduation. Over the years their friendships deepen and darken as they celebrate successes and face failures, but their greatest challenge is Jude himself – an increasingly broken man scarred by an unspeakable childhood. For those looking for literature that will stay with you long after the last page, this is undoubtedly the book to read.

The best literary fiction of 2021

The Fell

by Sarah Moss

Book cover for The Fell

On a November evening in 2020, Kate is in quarantine. Even so, she just has to get out, and leaves her house for a quiet walk around the moor. However, when Kate falls and badly injures herself, a solitary walk turns into a rescue mission. 

Full of suspense and questioning, this original novel probes the ways in which the world, and our humanity, have changed since March 2020.

The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

Rintaro Natsuki loved finding refuge in tiny secondhand Natsuki Books as an insular child. His grandfather's bookstore with its teetering volumes was a home from home. When his grandfather dies, Rintaro is in despair, thinking he must close the beloved shop. Then a talking tabby cat appears, and asks Rintaro for help. The two go on a book lovers mission to rescue abandoned books. But there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt on his own.


by Kae Tempest

Book cover for Paradise

Philoctetes has become a wounded outcast, no more than a wartime hero stranded on a desolate island. At last he senses a chance for escape when a young soldier arrives with stories of Philoctetes' past glory. But after hope gives way to suspicion, an old enemy returns to confront Philoctetes with the temptation of revenge.  

Acknowledged widely as a bold new force in contemporary British poetry, music and drama, Kae Tempest continues to develop the dazzling range of their work with a version of Sophocles' Philoctetes in a new translation. Demonstrating once again Tempest's ability to give contemporary relevance to old tales and draw in a brand new audience. 


by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for Heaven

Mieko Kawakami won international acclaim following the publication of her debut, Breasts and Eggs, despite it having been described by Tokyo's then governor as 'unpleasant and intolerable'.

This year, literary sensation Mieko Kawakami brings us Heaven, a sharp and illuminating novel about a fourteen-year-old boy subjected to relentless bullying for having a lazy eye. 

Instead of resisting, he chooses to suffer in silence. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate, Kojima, who experiences similar treatment at the hands of her bullies. Providing each other with immeasurable consolation at a time in their lives when they need it most, the two young friends grow closer than ever. But what, ultimately, is the nature of a friendship when your shared bond is terror?

Find out more about the uncontainable talent of Mieko Kawakami, here.

What Strange Paradise

by Omar El Akkad

Book cover for What Strange Paradise

From the widely acclaimed author of American War, Omar El Akkad, a beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic and profoundly moving novel that brings the global refugee crisis down to the level of a child’s eyes. More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. And only one had made the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who has the good fortune to fall into the hands not of the officials, but of Vänna: a teenage girl, native to the island, who lives inside her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain.

Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart

Book cover for Shuggie Bain

Published in paperback this year, Douglas Stuart’s blistering, Booker Prize-winning debut is a heartbreaking story which lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty and the limits of love. 

Set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow in the early 1980s, 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 her 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.

‘We were bowled over by this first novel, which creates an amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love. ’
The judges of the Booker Prize on Douglas Stuart's unmissable debut, Shuggie Bain

Yours Cheerfully

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for Yours Cheerfully

Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It. Every bit as funny, touching and cheering as AJ Pearce's debut, Dear Mrs BirdYours Cheerfully is a celebration of friendship, a testament to the strength of women and the importance of lifting each other up.

The Painter's Friend

by Howard Cunnell

Book cover for The Painter's Friend

The painter Terry Godden was on the brink of his first success. After a violent crisis, he finds himself outcast. In his fifties, and with little money, he retreats to a small island. Arriving in the winter, the island at first seems a desolate and forgotten place. As the seasons turn, Terry begins to see the island’s beauty, and discovers that he is only one of many people who have sought refuge here. The Painter’s Friend shows the human cost of gentrification for those dispossessed. Written with visual lyricism and driven clarity, Howard Cunnell’s incendiary story about class and resistance builds to an unforgettable climax. 

The Lamplighters

by Emma Stonex

Book cover for The Lamplighters

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on, when they are given the chance to tell their side of the story . . .

Inspired by true events, this enthralling and suspenseful mystery is a beautifully written exploration of love and grief, perception and reality. 

Circus of Wonders

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for Circus of Wonders

Circus of Wonders is the eagerly-awaited second novel from Elizabeth Macneal, author of the Sunday Times bestselling debut The Doll Factory. In 1866, in a coastal village in southern England, Nell lives outside of her community, marked as different for the birthmarks that speckle her skin. But her life is turned upside down when her father decides to sell her to Jasper Jupiter's travelling Circus of Wonders. Yet, the greatest betrayal of Nell's life may soon become the best thing that has ever happened to her as she finds friendship and belonging with the other performers. But as Nell's fame grows, will she be able to keep control of her own story?

‘Elizabeth Macneal’s marvellous debut, The Doll Factory, was a bestselling success. This second book, beautifully written and filled with character and life, cements her reputation as a new talent.’
The Times on Elizabeth Macneal


by Jackie Polzin

Book cover for Brood

'Completely original, full of surprise, humor, grief, and wisdom.'

Brood tells the story of a woman who tries to keep her small brood of four chickens alive, despite a cavalcade of seemingly endless challenges. Perfect for fans of Jenny Offill and Elizabeth Strout, this darkly witty and deeply moving novel provides a truly original perspective on motherhood and grief, full of sorrow, joy and ultimately, unrelenting hope. 

Of Women and Salt

by Gabriela Garcia

Book cover for Of Women and Salt

A New York Times bestseller, Of Women and Salt tells the story of five generations of fierce Latina women, linked by blood and circumstance. From nineteenth-century cigar factories to present-day detention centres, this novel is a haunting meditation on the choices of mothers and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their truth despite those who wish to silence them. 

The Melting

by Lize Spit

Book cover for The Melting

Part thriller, part coming-of-age novel, The Melting is an extraordinary and unsettling story of adolescent cruelty and the scars it can leave. Eva was one of three children born in a small Flemish town in 1988. Growing up alongside the boys, Eva found refuge from a troubled family in their friendship. But, with their adolescence comes a growing awareness of sexuality and over the course of one summer, the children begin a game that will have serious and violent consequences that Eva will only feel ready to confront thirteen years on.

Catch the Rabbit

by Lana Bastašic

Book cover for Catch the Rabbit

Sara and Lejla were childhood best friends, but haven't spoken in years. But when Lejla gets in touch with Sara, demanding she come home to Bosnia, Sara finds she can't say no. Lejla is on a mission to find her missing brother, Armin, who disappeared towards the end of the Bosnian war.  Embarking on a road trip the two estranged friends are forced to reconsider the past they share and the circumstances that separated them and caused them to lead such different lives.

Kololo Hill

by Neema Shah

Book cover for Kololo Hill

Neema Shah’s impressive debut literary novel is set amidst the turmoil of the expulsion of Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. When a devastating decree is announced which says all Ugandan Asians must leave the country in ninety days, Asha and Pran and Pran’s mother Jaya, must leave everything they’ve ever known for a new life in Britain. But as they try to rebuild their lives, a terrible secret hangs over them.

Mother for Dinner

by Shalom Auslander

Book cover for Mother for Dinner

This outrageously tasty comedy about identity and inheritance sees Seventh Seltzer attempt to grant his mother’s dying wish. When his mother whispers in Seventh’s ear the words ‘Eat me,’ he is far from shocked. The Seltzers are Cannibal-Americans, a once proud and thriving ethnic group. But getting his eleven brothers together for such a feast will prove tricky, and the only person who knows how to perform the ancient ritual is their far from reliable Uncle Ishmael. 

The Most Precious of Cargoes

by Jean-Claude Grumberg

Book cover for The Most Precious of Cargoes

Told with a fairytale-like lyricism, this is a fable of family and redemption set against the horrors of the Holocaust. A poor woodcutter and his wife lived in a forest. Despite their poverty and the war raging around them, the wife prays that they will be blessed with a child. 

A Jewish man rides on a train with his wife and twin babies. When his wife no longer has enough milk to feed them both, in desperation he throws his daughter into the forest, hoping that she’ll be saved. When the woodcutter’s wife finds the baby she takes her home, though she knows the danger this act of kindness may bring. This is literary fiction at its most moving. 


by Kiare Ladner

Book cover for Nightshift

This dark, sexy and frightening literary novel explores ambivalent female friendship against the otherworldly backdrop of London’s liminal world of nightshift workers. When twenty-three-year-old Meggie meets the enigmatic Sabine she realizes that Sabine is everything she herself would like to be. Meggie quickly gives up her daytime existence for the chance of working the same nightshifts as Sabine, and her obsession soon gains a frightening momentum.

The Art of Losing

by Alice Zeniter

Book cover for The Art of Losing

Alice Zeniter’s literary novel spans three generations across seventy years. Naïma has always known that her family came from Algeria, but they are silent about their past and the only knowledge she has of that foreign country is what she’s learned from her grandparents’ tiny flat in a crumbling French sink estate. But now Naïma is visiting the country for herself and is determined to answer the questions she has about her family’s history. 

The Strays of Paris

by Jane Smiley

Book cover for The Strays of Paris

This charming and beguiling novel from Jane Smiley celebrates friendship, love and freedom. When Paras, a spirited racehorse, escapes from her stable, she finds herself wandering the streets of Paris where she befriends a German shorthaired pointer named Frida, two irrepressible ducks and an opinionated crow. But one day she meets a human boy named Étienne, an unlikely friendship blooms and everything changes . . . 

Jack & Bet

by Sarah Butler

Book cover for Jack & Bet

Jack and Bet have been married, mostly happily, for seventy years and they want to enjoy the time they have left together in their little flat. But their son thinks they should move out into a very different kind of home with round-the-clock care. When Bet meets a young Romanian woman called Marinela she thinks she might have found a solution to all their problems. But bringing Marinela into their lives will mean revealing a secret Bet has kept hidden, even from her husband, for decades . . . This is a moving literary novel about an unlikely friendship and the struggle to find a place to call home.


by Tim Murphy

Book cover for Correspondents

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.


by Garth Greenwell

Book cover for Cleanness

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.

Don't miss Garth Greenwell and his editor in conversation.


by Aravind Adiga

Book cover for Amnesty

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?

Little Bandaged Days

by Kyra Wilder

Book cover for Little Bandaged Days

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.

In this article, Kyra discusses the process of writing Little Bandaged Days

Writers & Lovers

by Lily King

Book cover for Writers & Lovers

Casey has just lost her mother and is still recovering from the end of a devastating love affair. Living in a rented shed and working on the novel she’s been trying to write for the last six years, at thirty-one she feels too old to be so directionless. Then she meets two very different men, who represent very different futures. This funny and moving novel explores the terrifying and exhilarating leap between the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another.

Read Naomi Frisby on Writers and Lovers and changing perceptions of adulthood.

The Hiding Game

by Naomi Wood

Book cover for The Hiding Game

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 best literary fiction of all time

Breasts and Eggs

by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for Breasts and Eggs

This literary debut, which Haruki Murakami called ‘breathtaking’, is a must-read for fans of contemporary literary fiction. Mieko Kawakami paints a radical picture of contemporary working-class womanhood in Japan as she recounts the heartbreaking stories of three women who must survive in a society where the odds are stacked against them.

‘I can never forget the sense of pure astonishment I felt when I first read Mieko Kawakami’s novella Breasts and Eggs . . . breathtaking . . . Mieko Kawakami is always ceaselessly growing and evolving.’
Haruki Murakami on Mieko Kawakami's, Breasts and Eggs

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Mercies

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.

Read Kiran Millwood Hargrave on the true story behind The Mercies.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book cover for Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales from the Cafe

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. 

In this episode of Book Break Emma shares her recommendations for the best new literary fiction. 

5 Brilliant New Literary Fiction Books | #BookBreak