Women writers deliver devastating debuts

09 August 2020 - 11:12 By jennifer platt
These are four of our favourite must-read debut books written by female authors.
These are four of our favourite must-read debut books written by female authors.
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Published in the Sunday Times (09/08/2020)

It's always exciting to get the latest book by your favourite author but it's daunting to pick up a book from someone unknown. These are some of our favourite must-read debut books written by female authors - and there's a bit of something for everyone from crime thriller to historical fiction.

DJINN PATROL ON THE PURPLE LINE, Deepa Anappara, Chatto and Windus, R290

Refreshingly different, with lovable characters and a deeply heartbreaking story of the millions of children who go missing in the basti in India, it was longlisted for this year's coveted Women's prize for good reason.

Despite the darkness, Anappara explores the true soul of India (the sights, smells and mysteries) that stays with the reader long after the book is finished. Nine year-old Jai is obsessed with police reality-TV shows and when a classmate goes missing, he decides to find the boy with the help of two friends. They go deep into the terrifying underground of India, where in reality more than 200 children go missing every day. A delightful and important read.

THE RECOVERY OF ROSE GOLD, Stephanie Wrobel, Michael Joseph, R290

A whopper of a Munchausen syndrome by proxy story. Rose Gold was always ill, in a wheelchair, always with different ailments. She believed she was sick for 18 years. Until it turns out that her mother, Patty, was behind it all. Patty goes to jail, mostly due to the testimony Rose Gold gives at the trial. But after five years Patty is free and, to everyone's shock and dismay, Rose Gold welcomes her back into her life and home. And Rose Gold has just had a baby!

So what actually happened? And what is going to happen next? Wrobel uses the true case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard as a starting point to this novel. That true story is terrifying - Gypsy Rose got her boyfriend to kill her mother. However, Wrobel expertly tackles her own fictional story of Rose Gold with such verve it delivers surprising moments and chilling twists. A truly freaky rollercoaster ride.

KEEPER, Jessica Moor, Viking, R290

If you're looking for a literary page-turner, this is it. Katie Straw goes clubbing with friends in London. The next day her body is found in a river at a place with a reputation of being a suicide hotspot. But Katie's colleagues at the women's refuge where she worked refuse to accept that she committed suicide.

It is up to DS Daniel Whitworth (overwhelmed by ennui and who'd rather retire than see another corpse) to find out what happened. Then he realises that Katie was not her real name and the reader is taken sideways into tales revealing male violence. It's a timeous, truth-telling crime thriller.

HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD, C Pam Zhang, Virago, R320

On the Booker Prize longlist, this is no easy read. It's an in-depth reimagining of the American West and the end of the gold rush told through two destitute children. Siblings Lucy, 12, and Sam, 11, are seemingly immigrants from the East. Their "ma" and "ba" have died and they set out to find the perfect burial site for their father in the traditional way their ma taught them. All is not what it seems in their unforgiving journey and there are plenty of layers to get through: hunger, physical danger, myths, stories to be heard and memories that haunt. Not only does it hark back to the ways immigrants were treated in the 1800s, but it speaks of the fight that is still ongoing. Who decides on who and what is American?