Set at the end of the 19th century, and based on real events, The New Life tells the story of two individuals, Henry Ellis and John Addington Symonds, who together wrote a book that brought out into the open the secret lives of ‘inverts’, men and women in homosexual relationships whose very existence challenged the laws and moral standards of the day. Ellis and Symonds mount a public defence of same-sex love which exposes and tests their own unconventional lives. Although both married to women, Ellis’ wife is in love with another woman and Symonds fantasises about, then pursues, affairs with other men.

Set against the backdrop of Oscar Wilde’s scandalous trial for gross indecency and the uproar of the suffragettes fight for women’s votes, The New Life is an atmospheric and erotic read which plunges readers into Victorian London. Crewe’s sensuous passages describing the intimacy of bodies, from the crush of a train carriage at rush hour to sexual encounters with strangers, together with his captivating account of those individuals who pursued social change at great personal cost, combine to create a portrait of London long-ago that feels as alive and dynamic as the modern-day city.

Exploring themes of personal freedom, the divide between our private and public selves and the cost of defying norms and conventions, The New Life challenges readers to consider what sacrifices we would make to be true to ourselves.

Want to know more? We’ve created a reading guide for this book – just click here.


Tom Crewe was born in Middlesbrough in 1989. He has a PhD in nineteenth century British history from the University of Cambridge. Since 2015, he has been an editor at the London Review of Books, to which he contributes essays on politics, art, history and fiction. He currently lives in London.

Photography © Aashfaria A. Anwar

‘Deeply satisfying on an intellectual, psychological and emotional level, but also full of page-turning pace and atmosphere, it is achingly evocative and deeply moving.’

2023 Debut Fiction judges

Sara Collins

Hattie Crisell

Tom Robinson

Other books shortlisted in this category: