Literary lions may keep us guessing, but 2016 promises highlights and surprises in every genre
FOR readers and booksellers there is only one question about 2016: will it be the year of George RR Martin’s The Winds Of Winter? Given there were six years between the last volumes, 2017 might be a better bet; although the TV narrative outpacing the page narrative might tip the balance. You can be sure though that it wouldn’t have been in the catalogues anyway. The announcement of its publication will be hyped to the nines.
Another book not mentioned – yet – is the third volume of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Cromwell, The Mirror And The Light. Given that the previous two both won the Man Booker prize, I’m sure next year’s judges can do without the headache of expectation it’s appearance would present.
Other former Man Booker winners do have books coming out. Julian Barnes’ first novel since winning, The Noise Of Time, set in 1930s Soviet Russia, is due at the end of January. Aravind Adiga explores Indian identity with Selection Day, and Canongate must be hoping that Yann Martel’s The High Mountains Of Portugal is less of a turkey than his “the Holocaust explained by puppets” outing, Beatrice And Virgil.
Among new fiction from Scots I am especially looking forward to the redoubtable AL Kennedy’s Serious Sweet and Ali Smith’s Autumn. Irvine Welsh continues to worry away at his most famous creations with The Blade Artist, which, from the descriptions thus far, seems to transform Begbie from Trainspotting into a version of the criminal turned artist Jimmy Boyle.
Robin Robertson’s last poetry collection had a number of pieces about the Greek god Dionysius, who returns centre stage in his translation of Euripides’ The Bacchae. I’m also intrigued by a new collection from JO Morgan, Interference Pattern. The other poetry book at the top of my wish list will be Denise Riley’s Say Something Back. Ever since I first read Riley’s work, alongside that of Douglas Oliver and Iain Sinclair in Penguin Poets 10, her unique blend of the lyrical and the philosophical, the paradoxical and the tangible, has been an inspiration. I hope the new work rightfully establishes her in the very first rank of contemporary poets.
There is not one, but two new works from the extravagantly brilliant China Miéville; The Census-Taker and The Last Days Of New Paris. Interestingly – at least for those of us who take an interest in these things – the first is published by the “literary” imprint Picador rather than the “genre” imprint of Macmillan. There are a number of new works by younger writers whose careers I have followed with interest: Naomi Alderman’s The Power imagines a world where women can electrocute men at will; the consistently inventive Nicola Barker gives a kaleidoscopic view of a guru with The Cauliflower, and Hannu Rajaniemi, one of the best science fiction writers, turns his attention to the afterlife with Summerland. Two short story collections – Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours and Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs On Other Planets – will be worth seeking out.
Later in the year comes Jonathan Safran Foer’s The Destruction Of Israel. His last novel, a decade ago – Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close – irked many reviewers (I found parts of it hilarious and parts unbearably poignant); his polemic on veg- etarianism annoyed me more. It’s fair to say this counts as “eagerly anticipated”; more so by me than last year’s dreary and worthy Jonathan Franzen. Zadie Smith will not suffer withdrawal symptoms from what she referred to as “literary crack cocaine” – the interminably self-regarding Karl Ove Knausgaard’s fifth volume, Some Rain Must Fall, is out as well.
Smith herself has a new collection of essays, Feel Free. Amongst other non-fiction highlights for me are Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, a compelling study of urban alienation, and John Jeremiah Sullivan’s The Prime Minister Of Paradise, about a 19th century revolutionary community founded in South Carolina by a German atheist. Sullivan is one of the best contemporary stylists and the material here seems pitch-perfect for his manner. Kate Summerscale has another real-life Victorian crime with The Wicked Boy and Sarah Bakewell turns from Montaigne to Merleau-Ponty and Sartre with At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being And Apricot Cocktails.
Travel writer Robert Twigger moves from the Sahara and the Nile to Everest with White Mountain, and I can’t resist the science book with the best title in ages – Lisa Randall’s Dark Matter And The Dinosaurs. Another fascinating work, I’m sure, will be Bee Wilson’s First Bite: How We Learn To Eat, part memoir and part anthropological investigation, and already garnering praise from Yottam Ottolenghi, Heston Blumenthal and Nigella Lawson.
There has been a slight trend for serious books by comedians, and both Sara Pascoe’s Animal: How A Woman Is Made and Susan Calman’s exploration of depression, Cheer Up Love, stand a good chance of both critical and commercial success. For the politically minded, former director-general of the BBC Mark Thompson’s Enough Said: Politics, Media And The Crisis In Public Language will be a must read.
There are some proper literary biographies I can’t wait to read: Philip Eade’s Evelyn Waugh; Frances Wilson on the long-time Edinburgh resident and notorious opium eater, Thomas de Quincey, in Guilty Thing; Lyndall Roper on Martin Luther and William Egginton’s The Man Who Invented Fiction, a life of Miguel de Cervantes (the 400th anniversary of whose death falls in 2016. As, of course, does Shakespeare’s. Will anything new be said about the Bard at all?) There’s also a noticeable trend for books about criticism. DJ Taylor surveys the literary scene with The Prose Factory, but the one I’d single out is AO Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism, which shows how critical thinking suffuses and transforms everyday life.
For Scottish interest, although there’s both Jacqueline Riding’s Jacobites and Tom Blass’s The Naked Shore: Of The North Sea, I think the surprise contender may well be Tracey Lawson’s Gretna Girls – not about elopements but the workers in the military facility producing nitroglycerine, famously christened by Arthur Conan Doyle “the devil’s porridge”.
Over and above that, there will no doubt be a deluge of silly books about colouring in your way to mindfulness, and there’s a new Jeffrey Archer, which you might as well colour in.