This year's hits may be hard to predict, but there's a wealth of contenders
The art of futurology, especially in books, is a perilous affair. Who would have thought that every second teenager would be swooning over moderately celibate vampires, when teen-fiction was supposedly all about gritty realism? Or that an almost unedited series of crime novels about the darker side of life in Sweden would be the topic of every second literary dinner party, when the wisdom was the translated fiction never did well, and crime novels were decidedly unliterary? Or, for that matter, that the un-dark, un-gritty stories about an amply-proportioned, kindly-hearted investigator in Botswana would be a major commercial concern at all? Looking over the books to be published this year – or, rather, looking at most of the books to be published in the early part of this year – I'm sure of one thing: the must-read, left-field success won't be mentioned in this article.
In terms of form, as those of a turfish persuasion would have it, there are more than a few notables. Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Booker Prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty, breaks his subsequent silence with The Stranger's Child in July, a proper epic sweep following two families across the 20th century – which sounds rather like James Robertson's Scottish inflection of this trope last year, And The Land Lay Still.
The month beforehand, Graham Swift, who won the Booker in 1996, launches his new novel, Wish You Were Here, with a more immediately contemporary hook – a brother's remains being returned from Iraq. Martin Amis, who has never won the Booker, but has been tipped more often than most, returns with Lionel Asbo, Lotto Lout. Given the (hopefully) satirical title and the "state-of-the-nation" buzz around it, he must be hoping it will give to him what The Old Devils did for his father Kingsley. Scottish hopes, at present, will be riding on two novels: Ali Smith's There But For The, which comes out in May, takes a premise familiar to fans of the Epstein Brothers and Bette Davis – a stranger arrives at dinner and refuses to leave. It may be a recognisable opening, but it would be unlike Smith not to be idiosyncratic in execution. Head-to-head with Amis in the latter half of the year is AL Kennedy's The Blue Book. I've not read it, but have heard Kennedy read a section about love, which is immensely poignant and does include the narrator's anxiety about possibly having to bash in her lover's head with a table-lamp, since love does lead to strange and irrevocable things, particularly in Kennedy's work.
From America, there's a great deal of hype around Nicole Krauss's new novel, Great House, which comes out in February alongside Annie Proulx's Bird Cloud and Aimee Bender's The Peculiar Sadness of Lemon Cake, with Siri Hustvedt's new book The Summer Without Men the following month. I'd expect all four have already been invited to this year's Book Festival in Edinburgh. There isn't much from the younger generation of male writers, but I was lucky enough to hear a piece of Adam Levin's The Instructions last year, and if the extract was anything to go by, then his is a name to watch closely.
Finally in fiction, a few wild cards to watch out for: Nat Segnit's Pub Walks in Underhill Country is a really quirky, affecting book, and I've yet to meet someone not entranced by the opening. Sam Leith's The Coincidence Engine is a first foray into fiction for a former literary editor, and as such, I fear for his reception at the hands of erstwhile reviewees. But the set-up for the book looks intellectually brisk and intriguing.
Non-fiction is a more predictable market, not least because publishing is not exactly a risk-keen industry. Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was such a phenomenal success that inevitably there are some "clones" - Douglas Starr's The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and The Birth of Forensic Science; Asti Hustvedt's Medical Muses: Culture of Hysteria in 19th century Paris and Kate Colquhon's Mr Briggs' Hat: The Sensational Account of the First Railway Murder – the books themselves may well be admirable, but you can imagine the marketing managers rubbing their hands with glee.
One excellent variant on this is Judith Flanders' The Invention of Murder: How The Victorians Revelled In Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime – a proper academic study of famous cases and their afterlives, and a book that should be on the shelves of every crime novel reader and crime novel writer. Victoriana – in other forms as well – vies with quantum physics in terms of the number of books. Many of them – such as Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality, Richard Panek's The 4% Universe and non-physicist Jim Holt's Why Does The World Exist – deal with the conjecture that there are alternative realities. So on one hand, austerity nostalgia and on the other science being more science-fictional than science-fiction: it seems as if when we read a book, we'd rather be anywhere than here and now.
No sign yet of Gordon Brown's political memoir – and how could he top the Prince of Darkness impersonating a meerkat? – but we will see books by Alastair Campbell (books plural – the diaries are coming thick and fast), and Bob Marshall-Andrews (entitled Off Message in one of those puns politicians love).
In Scotland there's former Green Party MSP Robin Harper's memoirs , which I sincerely hope are published on recycled paper. The one I'm most looking forward to is the as-yet-untitled memoirs of Tam Dalyell. As a significant thinker and reader, as well as parliamentarian, they should be a joy: and the answer to the West Lothian question is... don't ask for it.
There are two biographies that I can't wait to read. Ian Ker has written a life of GK Chesteron, and if anyone can illuminate the darkness of a Scottish spring, it must be that portly but never portentous genius. AN Wilson turns his attention to Dante: nobody has scratched a particular religious itch more eloquently than Wilson, and what he makes of a man who combined Heaven and his teenage pash will be fascinating.
A final wild card for non-fiction as well – William Boyd is finally dishing the dirt on his art hoax Nat Tate. It's sometimes too easy to satirise modern art, but Boyd managed it, with the help of David Bowie, about whom a biography is out this year too: alas, no autobiography yet.