Friday, November 1, 2019

The 10 best debut novels of the decade

Emily Temple is a senior editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, will be published by William Morrow in 2020.

Temple and the Literary Hub staff picked the ten best debut novels of the decade. One title on the list:
Nicole Dennis-Benn, Here Comes the Sun (2016)

There’s no shortage of brilliant, hilarious, incisive Jamaican novels—to say nothing of the Caribbean as a whole. Caribbean literature is sometimes reduced by American critics and book blurbs to Jamaica—and this reflects, too, the way that many Americans tell me they’ve never heard of my island, Dominica, and if they know anywhere at all, it is probably Jamaica. (Ironically, it’s not Puerto Rico, which actually is an American territory.) Still, our literature would be very different without Jamaican fiction and poetry, and the Jamaican novel, in particular, like the Trinidadian novel, is critical to understanding our region’s artistic, social, and political conditions. Writing a memorable, meaningful novel is one thing; writing a memorable, meaningful debut is another, and Nicole Dennis-Benn managed to do both with her debut, Here Comes the Sun. Her novel is wide-ranging, telling a tale that examines colorism, homophobia, social mobility, women’s bodies, and the debilitating overreach of tourism, all while delivering a gripping story in softly luminous prose. I was excited to read it when I heard that it was coming out, particularly as Dennis-Benn has written movingly about many of these themes before in her essays, and her novel has stuck with me since then as a beautiful addition to the Jamaican canon of literature. In some ways, it’s conventional, particularly when set against the stylistic and representational subversiveness of Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, published two years earlier, but Dennis-Benn’s novel is subversive in its own ways, joining a long history of talking about queerness in the Caribbean and its diaspora that includes Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr. Loverman, novels by Shani Mootoo, and more, and I especially appreciated that we have queer women here experiencing love and loss. And the setting of a Jamaica being overtaken by tourism is important; it echoes the warnings and plaints of Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, and the many writers who have reflected on the danger of the commercialization of the islands at the expense of their inhabitants. Here Comes the Sun is a debut that stuck with me, and will be with me, I suspect, for a long time. –Gabrielle Bellot, Staff Writer
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue