From exciting debuts to celebrated authors and classics retold, Antonia Charlesworth and Kevin Gopal look at the year ahead in fiction
From exciting debuts to celebrated authors and classics retold, Antonia Charlesworth and Kevin Gopal look at the year ahead in fiction
The Man Without a shadow
Joyce Carol Oates
(Harper Collins, £12.99)
Bestselling American author Joyce Carol Oates has published over 40 novels in a career spanning over 50 years. Set in 1965 her latest follows neuroscientist Margot Sharpe as she meets handsome and personable amnesiac Elihu Hoopes. His long-term memory remains intact, as does his intelligence, but a vicious infection clouds anything that happened more than 70 seconds earlier. Over the next 30 years the experiments the pair undertake define Sharpe’s career while the illicit affair that underpins their relationship threatens to ruin it.
The Noise of Time
Barnes’s first novel since 2011’s Man Booker-winning The Sense Of An Ending is a fictionalised account of the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, the Soviet composer and pianist. Shostakovich was initially praised by Stalin but then denounced, giving Barnes the chance to explore moral courage and cowardice, the relationship between art and power, and self-deception.
A posthumous novel from Cold Comfort Farm author Stella Gibbons, Pure Juliet was written towards the end of the author’s life, in the 1970s, and lay undiscovered until 2014. For her satire and unconventionality Gibbons has drawn comparison to Jane Austen, and in Juliet Slater she has written a fitting protagonist for the association. Unpretty, rebellious, and intelligent beyond the comprehension of those around her, no one knows what to make of Juliet. Told with characteristic wit Pure Juliet travels from an eco-millionaire’s British country idyll to an Arabian Nights-style fantasy of the Middle East.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark
Hotly tipped Brooklyn-based author and New York Times journalist Anna North has been making waves in the US with this book, with the likes of Lena Dunham among its fans. It’s the story of idiosyncratic documentary filmmaker Sophie Stark, told at thriller-pace by six people who loved her most. With those closest to her the subjects of her films, Sophie is faced with the artistic dilemma of being true to her art or not betraying them. She invariably chooses the former, to devastating consequence.
The High Mountains of Portugal
From the author of international bestseller and subsequent box office hit The Life Of Pi comes another innovative novel. Consisting of three linked stories with one shared quest it begins in Lisbon in 1904 when Tomás learns of an artifact that would redefine history if found and begins his search. Then, mid-century, a Portuguese pathologist obsessed with Agatha Christie becomes part of this real-life mystery. End of the century and a Canadian senator with roots in Portugal returns there in grief with a chimpanzee as companion to conclude the century old quest.
Shylock is My Name
Jacobson follows Jeanette Winterson in a series re-telling Shakespeare’s plays. Manchester-born Jacobson sets The Merchant Of Venice in the modern bling-filled Cheshire Triangle, where an art collector and philanthropist meets Shylock in a cemetery. Their ensuing friendship is at the centre of Jacobson’s version of what he calls “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging”.
Meg Rosoff is best known for her transatlantic YA love story How I Live Now. Jonathan Unleashed – a quirky, contemporary romance – is her first work of adult fiction. Jonathan’s life is going to the dogs – his boss is unhinged, his relationship unravelling and his home unconventional. When he comes to look after his brother’s two dogs, who seem determined to fix his life for him, he edges towards finding the key to his happiness.
Some Rain Must Fall
Karl Ove Knausgaard
(Harvill Secker, £17.99)
The fifth instalment of the renowned Min Kamp (My Struggle) autobiographical novels (with another to come) by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard features a 20-year-old Karl Ove as he arrives in Bergen at the prestigious Writing Academy. Full of hopeful aspirations he is soon rebuffed by teachers and peers alike and drowns his sorrows in drink and rock music. Things take a turn for the better when he falls in love but his self-destructive tendencies threaten to destroy the life that could otherwise take shape.
(Hamish Hamilton, £12.99)
The mother-daughter bond is stretched to breaking point when Sofia and her parent, who has a mystery illness, turn up in an oppressively hot Spanish village seeking medical advice. The Man Booker-shortlisted author of Swimming Home has made a speciality out of investigating female identity. This is her sixth novel.
Three generations of men come together under one roof in Jem Lester’s novel and, unsurprisingly, not a lot of real talking goes on. But 10-year-old Jonah has severe autism and keeps completely shtum. For him, life is uncomplicated and he becomes the prism through which family complications come untangled. With shades of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time this former journalist’s debut is informed by his own experiences with his non-verbal autistic son.
The One in a Million Boy
Bestselling US author Monica Wood writes about an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old boy and a 104-year-old woman in her UK debut. Through their friendship the woman, who has lived a fiercely guarded life, realises she must complete a life’s ambition.
The Bricks That Built The Houses
The 29-year-old poet, rapper and soon to be debut novelist cites Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, William Blake and Wu-Tang Clan as influences. Three young Londoners with a suitcase of money plan to leave the city in an old car. Their trip takes them back in time as well, as Tempest portrays the lives of generations of Londoners with an unflinching but sympathetic eye.
All That Man Is
(Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
The Betty Trask Prize winner and Granta Best Young British Novelist David Szalay depicts nine men each at a different stage in his life, each away from home and each striving to understand what it means to be alive and a man, in the here and now.
The Strawberry Girl
(Chatto & Windus)
Yorkshire-born Norway-based Lisa Stromme’s debut promises to be a bewitching novel set in a small Norwegian coastal town and narrated by a young woman who witnesses the love affair that led Edvard Munch to paint The Scream. The titular girl is Johanne Lien, who goes from a simple life of fruit picking to acting as a go-between for Munch and the daughter of a wealthy naval family she works for.
(Harper Collins, £18.88)
A modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice is a challenge for even the most accomplished of writers. Sittenfeld, bestselling author of Prep, American Wife and Sisterland, takes it on. Setting it in modern day Cincinnati she describes it as equal parts homage to Jane Austen and literary experiment.
“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?” writes DeLillo in Zero K, about a billionaire who wants to use secret technology to preserve his wife’s body – she has a terminal illness – until medical advances can return her to life. DeLillo was recently given a medal by American’s National Book Foundation for a “diverse body of work that examines the mores of contemporary modern American culture and brilliantly embeds the rhythms of everyday speech within a beautifully composed, contoured narrative”.
The Pier Falls
An expedition to Mars goes terribly wrong. A seaside pier collapses. A thirty-stone man is confined to his living room. A man shoots a stranger in the chest on Christmas Eve. The Curious Incident… author returns with a first collection of short stories that suggests his imagination is darker than we had thought.
Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047
(Harper Collins, £10.99)
Orange Prize-winning author of We Need To Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver shifts her topical pen from gun epidemic to economic downturn in a novel too close to home to call dystopian. It centres on three generations of the formerly wealthy Mandible family during a fiscal crisis in the near future and their fight for survival.
The Gustav Sonata
(Chatto and Windus, £16.99)
The Gustav Sonata begins in the 1930s, when two Swiss boys play an imaginary game of life and death in a derelict sanatorium and follows their friendship into the Second World War, maturity and middle age. Gustav and gifted pianist Anton are temperamentally very different, which tests their friendship to the full. Tremain once turned publishing received wisdom on its head by telling her creative writing students to “write what you don’t know” and although she is known for historical fiction, she is not defined by it.
This Too Shall Pass
(Harvill Secker, £9.99)
This debut novel from Spanish author Milena Busquets sold in 33 countries and for half a million dollars in the US. Written following the death of her mother in 2012 it is a funny and candid semi-autobiographical novel about grief, sex, marriage and motherhood, set on the Spanish coast.
This Must Be The Place
(Tinder Press, £18.99)
O’Farrell is on familiar territory for her seventh novel, which focuses on Daniel Sullivan, a New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, with a reclusive ex-film star wife, children he never sees and a father he loathes. But if the themes of family life and loss sound familiar, the award-winning Northern Ireland-born author’s intense, detailed writing carries the day.
Madonna in a Fur Coat
(Penguin Modern Classics, £9.99)
From rural Turkey to Berlin in the 1920s travels a shy young man who meets and falls in love with a cabaret dancer. Originally published in 1943 this Turkish love story has had a new lease of life in its native country, selling a quarter of a million copies last year alone – this is its first translation into English. Ali is hailed as the father of modernist Turkish literature but in his life he was a dedicated socialist and a radical newspaper editor targeted by government censors in the forties. His passionate politics lie at the heart of this tale.
Much anticipated debut author Emma Cline’s book The Girls is set in the eventful summer of ’69 but homes in on 16-year-old Evie who becomes enchanted by an older girl and is subsequently drawn into a soon-to-be-infamous commune.
E Annie Proulx
(Harper Collins, £18.99)
The latest from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Brokeback Mountain is an epic novel, 10 years in the writing and spanning three centuries. Beginning in the 17th century it follows two illiterate woodsmen, who travel from northern France to new France for a better life, and the stories of their descendants.
The Many Selves of Katherine North
The debut novel from Emma Geen is said to be informed by her background in psychology and philosophy. It centres on Kit, a phenomenaut, which means her consciousness is projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals made for research. Sshe’s motivated by a desire to help humans better understand other species and is the longest serving phenomenaut but she’s only just beginning to unpick what may really be going on and how she might be in danger, after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster. Mixing sci-fi and the natural world it promises to be original and thought-provoking for readers of many genres.
My Name is Leon
Kit de Waal
Birmingham-born Kit de Waal’s Irish mother was a foster carer; her father was from the Caribbean. De Waal worked for 15 years in criminal and family law, and sits on adoption panels. Her debut novel, evoking early 1980s Britain, tells the story of Leon and his beloved brother who are split up at an early age because one is white and one is not.
The Vinegar Girl
(Hogarth Shakespeare, £9.99)
Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler said A Spool Of Blue Thread last year was her last novel – it was her 20th and marked 50 years of publishing. But here she follows Jeanette Winterson and Howard Jacobson with her modern interpretation of a Shakespeare classic. The Vinegar Girl is The Taming of the Shrew retold.
The second in Kingsnorth’s Buccmaster Trilogy, which began with the Booker Prize-longlisted and Gordon Burn Prize-winning novel The Wake. Kingsnorth is a former deputy editor of The Ecologist who provocatively announced a few years ago that he was withdrawing from environmental campaigning because civilisation was coming to an end, and The Wake was described as a post-apocalyptic novel set in 1066. Beast, set in the modern-day, plunges the reader into the world of Edward Buccmaster, a man alone on a Midlands moor in search of enlightenment. What he has left behind, we don’t yet know; what he faces is an existential battle with himself, the elements and the beast itself.
Smith’s brilliant last novel How To Be Both came in two different versions, allowing the reader to experience the story from all sides. Smith’s fans have every reason to hope her new book will continue her current run of success, even if it isn’t as formally inventive.
To the Bright Edge of the World
(Little Brown, £17.53)
From the bestselling author of The Snow Child comes a historical adventure set in the Alaskan wilderness. In winter 1885 Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his men head out to map and gather information on the newly acquired territory and its natives. With a pregnant wife at home he is eager to complete the journey but the unknown territory throws up challenges.
Startlingly original and versatile, the Berlin-based American author’s new book was drafted in a month and follows the simultaneous release of her first two novels. Asked in our interview last year what Nicotine is about, she replied: “A young woman falls for a handsome asexual squatter bike mechanic – or maybe he’s just impotent from chewing tobacco day and night? To talk him into quitting, she will need the help of someone who is much sexier but kind of a car crash – a three-way romance for our times. It’s also about other stuff.”
The final addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection for 2016 – Margaret Atwood’s retelling of The Tempest.
Alderman’s novel Disobedience won the 2006 Orange Award for new writers. The Power asks what happens to society when girls become more physically powerful than boys. In an interview she said: “It’s a story about our world… but almost all the women in the world suddenly develop the power to electrocute people at will. And then… everything is different.”
Highlights out on audiobook this year include an original new drama Romeo and Jude in early February and later that month Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland narrated by Scarlett Johansson. In June Audible Studios releases the official movie novelisation and prequel to Independence Day, Resurgence. And in July there’s The Muse by Jessie Burton, set in 1930s Spain and 1960s London. These, plus many of the books detailed above, will be available from audible.co.uk.