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5 Debut books to look out for in 2023

BY Alice Gawthrop

2nd Mar 2023 Must Reads

5 Debut books to look out for in 2023

Looking for some reading inspiration? Here are five debut books that should be on your radar in 2023

The Cloisters by Katy Hays

Katy Hays’ debut book isn’t to be missed! Set in the atmospheric Met Cloisters, Hays draws on her own background in art history to create a richly detailed story of academic intrigue and raw ambition. 

The Cloisters follows Ann Stilwell as she arrives in New York to spend the summer doing an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, only to find herself drawn into the world of tarot and occult history in the slightly more Gothic Cloisters instead. 

"Hays weaves a gripping story of obsession, ambition and power"

The curator at the Cloisters, Patrick Roland, seems at first glance to be impressive and levelheaded. However, as he seeks an elusive 15th-century tarot deck that is believed to be long lost, if it ever existed at all, he spirals into obsession, and threatens to take Ann with him. 

Hays weaves a gripping story of obsession, ambition and power. Ultimately, she asks, How much of what happens to us is due to fate and how much is by our own design?

The Cloisters by Katy Hays

The Things We Do To Our Friends by Heather Darwent

Clare arrives for her first year at the University of Edinburgh with the intention of leaving her secrets behind and starting a shiny new life for herself, complete with shiny new friends. She soon achieves this, being taken in by a clique of privileged and beautiful girls that she refers to as the Shiver, after a “shiver of sharks”.

The Shiver, led by the charismatic Tabitha, invite Clare into their fold, but things soon take a turn as they embark on an ambiguous “project” that threatens to unravel Clare’s carefully constructed new life and expose her darkest secrets.

The book is presented as “dark academia”, but the academia doesn’t really extend beyond the university setting, as Clare and her new friends rarely seem to do any uni work. Regardless, it’s worth reading for the atmospheric setting alone. The city of Edinburgh becomes a character of its own, its dimly lit alleys and low-ceilinged pubs brought to life by Darwent’s moody prose.

Be warned—likeable characters are few and far between in this book. Darwent takes a deep dive into the world of toxic friendships and the things that we’re willing to do to fit in. Twists abound, and by the end of the book you won’t be sure who it is you’re meant to be rooting for…but you’ll probably be planning a city break to Edinburgh. 

The Things We Do To Our Friends by Heather Darwent

The Silence Project by Carole Hailey

The Silence Project is presented as the memoir of Emilia Morris, whose mother, Rachel, died by self-immolation after eight years of living in total silence and founding a group of likeminded silent women called the Community. 

Emilia embarks on a mission to unravel who her mother really was as she sifts through evidence from her past—anecdotes from Rachel’s universities acquaintances, HR records from her old jobs, and her own memories, hazy as they may have become with the passing of time. 

"Hailey’s debut novel is a slow burn that leads up to an incendiary conclusion"

The writing is convincing, peppered with quotes from apparent newspapers and footnotes with references. You may find yourself fighting an impulse to Google details of the story to double-check if you’ve accidentally picked up a non-fiction book!

Hailey’s debut novel is a slow burn that leads up to an incendiary conclusion. It holds a mirror up to our cultural compulsion to have a take on every tragedy that passes our screens, and the way that movements can spiral out of control. But it’s also a deep dive into the divide between a mother and a daughter, and the struggle to understand who your parents are outside their identity as your parents.

The Silence Project by Carole Hailer

Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose

A domestic thriller that turns the suburbs into a crime scene, Dirty Laundry is a fun, dark and twisty read.

At the centre of the novel are three women: Ciara, with a life that is perfectly curated for Instagram; Mishti, her easily manipulated best friend; and Lauren, a local outcast whose parenting and general life style interferes with the sense of order Ciara has created in her world. 

Disha Bose creates an atmosphere of perpetual surveillance; in the suburbs, you are always being watched by someone, and your parenting style is being photographed so that it can be torn apart by your scrutinising neighbours. The fine line between being friends and enemies is constantly being toed, and then Ciara is found dead in her home. 

We are drawn deeper into the neighbourhood and all its eponymous dirty laundry as everyone scrambles to shift the blame for Ciara’s murder to someone else. The characters jump to life from the very first pages, and you’ll love to hate them as their lives begin to unravel in this page-turning debut.

Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose

Bellies by Nicola Dinan

Nicola Dinan’s debut is a tender story about love, loneliness and finding your place in the world. Tom and Ming meet at a university drag night and click instantly. 

They start a relationship and embark on a life together, and then Ming announces that she wants to transition. Tom and Ming navigate this journey together and then apart, taking its ups and downs as they come. 

"Dinan’s debut is a tender story about love, loneliness and finding your place in the world"

Dinan’s prose is heartfelt and endlessly readable. She explores her characters with sympathy and patience, never casting villains, only complicated humans who are trying their best. It is an earnest and honest exploration of identity and connection that is sure to resonate.

Bellies by Nicola Dinan

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