Sex, body horror and starcrossed love: the queer books to read in 2022

2021 was a groundbreaking year for LGBTQ+ literature, and 2022 will follow – here are some of our highlights from the years ahead

2021 was a great year for queer lit, with Torrey Peters’ Detransition, dear, Alison Rumfitt’s Tell me I’m worthless Melissa Broder’s Milk fed, and Brontez Purnell’s 100 boyfriends, among other things, demonstrating exciting perspectives on both gender and sexuality. 2022 certainly has a tough job to follow, but it promises to deliver. Highly anticipated titles from internationally established authors and poets, as well as new debuts and UK reprints of cult classics, make this a particularly exciting year for queer reading.

The arts are strongly present; Liam Konemann’s The arena of the unwell and James Cahill’s Tiepolo Blue explore fine art and music in London’s queer scene, as Okechukwu Nzelu’s second novel Here again now watches drama and acting in Manchester’s Nigerian community. It’s going to be a huge year for lesbians at sea (which gives me a theory that most queer women go through an ocean-obsessed phase), with Julia Armfield’s devastating maritime gothic novel Our women under the sea and the historical ship story of Hannah Kent dedication. Nat Reeve’s nettle black is another historical fiction novel coming our way, exploring both sexuality and gender identities of the Victorian period.

Titles by Ocean Vuong and Douglas Stuart will undoubtedly dominate the bestseller lists after the overwhelming success of both men’s debut novels in recent years. American books in cult classic Nevada by Imogen Binnie and the critically acclaimed 808s and other worlds by Sean Avery Medlin will be available as reprints in the UK for the first time. A varied reading year awaits; here are some of our highlights.

Our women under the sea by Julia Armfield (Picador, March 3)

Following her almost unfathomably good collection of short stories slow salt (2019), Julia Armfield’s Our women under the sea is a lesbian gothic novel that will devastate you. Leah has returned from a deep sea voyage gone wrong, and her wife Miri must now navigate a new fraught relationship. Jumping between Leah’s diary entries and a reflection of Miri’s past and present, this is a story that explores the queer potential of both maritime and physical horror.

dedication by Hannah Kent (Picador, February 3)

Of dedication, Kent is solidified as a queen of historical fiction. As with her international bestselling debut Funeral rights and second novel the good people, the latest from the Australian writer explores human intimacy in raw landscapes of the past. dedication follows the life of Hanne, a teenager in Prussia who emigrated with her family to Australia in 1836. The long and arduous journey across the ocean brings her and Thea, another Prussian immigrant, closer together in ways that both startle and excite them, resulting in a quietly haunting love story that will instantly become a queer classic.

Here again now by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books, March 10)

Nzelu’s second novel Here again now is ultimately about the concept of success and fulfillment, and how to survive with the sense that things could go differently. Following the lead of aspiring actor Achike and his friend Ekene, who was recently fired from his job as a drama teacher, Nzelu carefully dissects the relationships between men in Nigerian-British communities. Achike and Ekene must consider their feelings for each other while also living with Achike’s alcoholic father, highlighting difficult themes that are handled with care.

Tiepolo Blue by James Cahill (Sceptre, June 9)

During the long hot summer of 1995, art history professor Don Lamb suddenly masters his gay identity after moving to London and being exposed to the city’s queer scene. Cahill uses his extensive knowledge and experience in the art world and academia to examine the experience of men who “belong to a closed world of fixed ideas – but who feel the possibility of another life.” Bringing together the Italian masters and the Young British Artists, this is a debut that looks at art, power, academia and the potential of the urban environment at the end of the 20th century.

Nevada by Imogen Binnie (Picador, June 9)

Originally published in 2013, Nevada will be first distributed by Picador in the UK in June. Binnie’s debut is already a cult classic for its raw portrayal of a trans woman, in all her joy, humor and difficulty. The perfect summer novel, this road trip story follows Maria in the aftermath of a breakup and her decision to leave New York. Her journey leads her to take on the figure of a queer role model for a person she meets at a Walmart in Nevada, despite her crippling self-awareness that she doesn’t realize everything.

The arena of the unwell by Liam Konemann (404 Ink, April 21)

Following on from his non-fiction book The Appendix: Transmasculine Joy in a Transphobic Culture (also published by 404 Ink), Konemann treats us to his debut novel The arena of the unwell. 22-year-old Noah becomes embroiled in the toxic relationship between two older men on London’s indie music scene. An exciting reflection on abuse, the NHS and queerness in the music industry, this is a debut that is sure to make waves.

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart (Pan Macmillan, April 12)

Stuart, the winner of the Booker Prize 2020 with his debut Shuggiebad, is back with his highly anticipated second novel Young Mungo. Like with Shuggie Bain, this novel is also set in Glasgow’s working-class communities, this time focusing sharply on the tensions over the religious divide. The Protestant Mungo and the Catholic James have to deal with both their different backgrounds and their relationship, which is not accepted by any of their families or peers. This is a tense and vivid picture of the dangers gay men face.

nettle black by Nat Reeve (Cipher Press, June)

Sarah Waters fans will love Nat Reeve’s nettle black, to be published by the queer-run Cipher Press in June. A neo-Victorian queer farce that follows a Welsh heiress on the run through letters and journal entries, this debut shines a light on trans and queer identities of the past. Bored and oppressed by her high-society lifestyle, Henry Nettleblack goes into hiding before being forced into an arranged marriage. She joins a group of misfits, acting as a group of neighborhood watch detectives, leading her on some dangerous escapades unlike her past life. A sequel has already been announced for 2023, promising what will inevitably become a much-loved series.

Time is a mother by Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, April 7)

Another highly anticipated release, Ocean Vuong’s latest collection of poetry picks up some of the themes from his earlier collection Night sky with exit wounds and hugely successful novel On Earth, we are simply beautiful. Written after his mother’s death, Vuong questions grief and survival as both a deeply personal journey and a shared American experience. although Time is a mother is about loss, but also grabs joy and strength, making this a profound and accomplished collection.

808s and Other Worlds: Memories, Remixes and Mythologies by Sean Avery Medlin (Cinder Press, Apr 14)

Already acclaimed after its release in the US last year, 808s and other worlds is a multifaceted reflection on black masculinity as it exists for both writer Sean Avery Medlin and national media determined to misrepresent it. Set against the backdrop of their native Phoenix, this collection uses various forms (from stories to songs to comedy) to explore the nature of community, place and identity in terms of race and gender. With hip-hop at its core, Medlin’s writing reflects on the real and the unreal to tell a story of Blackness in America.

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