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1st January 2012 - Jonathan Ruppin


Our Web Editor picks out the fiction highlights coming in the first half of 2012.

 

Happy new year! After a fantastic 2011 for fiction (click here to see my favourites), the first half of 2012 is also looking very promising.

There are, admittedly, relatively few big names with new books out: Hilary Mantel stands out most, with her eagerly awaited sequel to the Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, due in May, although I'm most excited about June's new novel from Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day.

But this lack of obvious sellers offers a terrific opportunity for lesser known and, in particular, first-time writers to make their mark. And it's a good time to be a debut writer too. Quite a number of readers' favourites are either producing books less frequently or writing books that simply don't match the standard of their earlier works - I'll leave you to decide which those might be! - so there is a definite gap in the market for new writers to win over readers looking for something fresh.

 

Publishers are in the habit of shifting books around their schedules, so some of these titles may arrive earlier or later than suggested below. Clicking through to individual listings will provide the most up-to-date timings available. There are likely to be late additions too.

 

January

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Fourth Estate): a debut already deservedly lauded in America, in which a college baseball player's natural instincts are honed by the team captain to the point where he seems flawless, but there are costs for both. An interest in the sport is unnecessary.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie OtsukaThe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (Fig Tree): the fates, nearly a century ago, of Japanese women sold as brides to countrymen who have already migrated to America. Divided into eight categories of experience, it's beguiling, incantatory and utterly superb.

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (MacLehose Press): in a book whose elegaic poetry is reminscent of fellow Canadian Anne Michaels' underrated second novel The Winter Vault, Urquhart impresses with this profound web of tragic family history.

An Honourable Man by Gillian Slovo (Virago): a late-19th setting for this story of psychological effects of war on those on the front lines and those left behind; a likely prize candidate.

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño (Picador): his first novel, showing a writer in development but still with an impressive grasp of storytelling dynamics; Stefan Zweig is the influence that comes to mind.

The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams (Michael Joseph): a first novel from the acclaimed Victorian-era historian, a stylish story of corruption in which a particularly grisly serial killer stalks the streets of London.

All is Song by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape): her impressive debut, The Wilderness, was written from the point of view of an Alzheimer's sufferer and now the perspective is reversed as a son begins to share his late father's concerns about his brother.

Married Love by Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape): if the title story, which has already been published in the New Yorker is anything to go by (read it here), this new collection should offer some engagingly alternative perspectives on a perennial topic of debate.

Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White (Bloomsbury): a welcome new novel from an author who remains curiously unheralded in the UK, set in the pulsating literary milieu of 60s New York and centring on a friendship between two men, one gay, one straight.

Jubilee by Shelley HarrisJubilee by Shelley Harris (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): revealing social commentary as the participants in an iconic photo of multicultural Britain, taken at the Queen's Silver Jubilee, reconvene 30 years later. Read our exclusive interview with Shelley here.

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones (Corsair): the course of true love runs anything but smoothly when a young undertaker finds himself inadvertently engaged to the wrong woman in a characterful Welsh village in the 1920s. Full of wit and charm, this should entertain fans of Stella Gibbons' classic Cold Comfort Farm.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): tension between Muslims and Jews in 80s Wisconsin, providing what is perhaps an unintentionally harsh portrait of Islam.

The Child Who by Simon Lelic (Mantle): a provincial solicitor defending a young boy who has killed a friend struggles to cope at the eye of the media storm. Lelic's third confirms his assured lucidity in analysing contemporary society.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury): a debut collection of powerfully atmospheric short stories resonant with the mysteries of Cornish folklore.

Summer by Tom Darling (Abacus): two orphaned siblings find all certainty dissolving when they are sent to live with their grandfather on a remote farm.

 

February

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (Bloomsbury): a satisfying combination of Boyd's naturally literary instincts with his recent bid for mainstream thriller success. War disrupts a Viennese love affair, leading to a heady mix of scandal, espionage and the obligatory cameo from Dr Freud.

After the Lockout by Darran McCann (Fourth Estate): a returning soldier radicalised by Ireland's Easter Uprising finds himself competing for the soul of the village with the local bishop. Fans of Sebastian Barry and John McGahern will appreciate its sensitivity and elegant writing.

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (Faber): the stories of a recently released prisoner who befriends a survivor of Auschwitz and the mid-life crisis of a celebrated civil rights lawyer combine in this epic novel about kindness and redemption.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson (Doubleday): the dizzying shifts in time and writing style seem appropriate for this striking story of unlikely romance in North Korea, amidst the absurdity and suffering of life under Kim Jong-Il, as an orphan finds himself replacing a military leader, in all aspects of his life.

The Whores' Asylum by Katy DerbyThe Whores' Asylum by Katy Darby (Fig Tree): a terrific slice of Victorian Gothic, full of roguery and romance, as students vow to help the fallen women of Oxford's seediest locales

Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd (Corsair): a Victorian murder mystery set in a London that makes Dickens' version of the city seem genteel by comparison.

Bundu by Chris Barnard (Alma): a Mozambique setting from one of the finest contemporary writers in Afrikaans. Refugees fleeing drought stretch the capacity of a missionary outpost until an unlikely plan involving an abandoned plane is hatched.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (Simon & Schuster): comparisons with Donna Tartt's The Secret History are all too frequently made by publishers, but it's not altogether invalid in the case of this Cambridge-set debut as it weaves a terrific tale set on the border between madness and genius.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review): a bewitchingly ethereal tale set in 1920s Alaska, as a fresh start for a married couple offers unexpected challenges.

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank by Nathan Englander (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): provocative, distinctive and occasionally infuriating short stories from one of America's brightest young writers.

This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury): a first collection of short stories from an author who tends to polarise opinion; they are located in the Fens, which I've I've so often found to be a potent literary setting.

 

March

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones (Chatto & Windus): after two superb novels set in the 1950s, this takes us to 1912 and 24 tumultuous hours in the lives of a decidedly idiosyncratic family. Jones' development as a writer continues to impress.

A Division of the Light by Christopher BurnsA Division of the Light by Christopher Burns (Quercus): a photographer finds himself uncharacteristically obsessed by a woman who he wants to pose for him. It's utterly enthralling, so much so that, in a notable first, Kazuo Ishiguro has allowed his recommendation to feature on the jacket.

Capital by John Lanchester (Faber): inspired what he learned in researching his nicely digestible guide to the absurd origins of the financial crisis, Whoops!: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, Lanchester presents a well sustained state-of-nation novel in which the top and bottom of the food chain clash.

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto & Windus): a debut that pulls of the tricky technique of a child narrator with great style. Judith is terrorised by a bully at school and her fearsomely religious father at home until she stumbles across an ability to perform miracles. Being just ten years old, she struggles with the responsibility her new powers bring.

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd (Simon & Schuster): a fledgling police investigator follows a trail of murder and greed in a festering and fulsome tale that zips along very satisfyingly. It's based on the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811, but also dips into the Elizabethan era.

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall (Headline Review): this is a brisk, bright debut, in which a scrapbook brings back childhood memories of summers spent in Hungary, enlightening experiences that were brought to a painful conclusion for one young woman.

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell BanksLost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (Clerkenwell Press): a sociologist develops an unlikely attachment to a simple-minded young man convicted of sex with an underage girl, but the professor's shady past provokes a sudden shift in the moral prerogatives of their friendship. If you like Raymond Carver or Richard Ford, Banks is a writer you should try.

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury): in 1948, a Romanian hospital receives a deaf mute patient, whose story remains a mystery until a nurse brings him paper and pencils, allowing him to describe his former life as a cook for a privileged family whose young daughter was able to move beyond the privations of the post-war Communist regime. Harding's third novel displays her now characteristic power and poise.

The Cove by Ron Rash (Canongate): brother and sister live a quiet, subsistent life in a cove the locals consider cursed, until the arrival of a stranger. A Venn diagram of Annie Proulx, Charles Frazier and Daniel Woodrell would intersect at Ron Rash.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander (Picador): mordant galgenhumor as a Jewish man moves to an anonymous town in the state of New York, hoping for a quiet life and respite from his mother's Holocaust reminiscences, only to find Anne Frank living in his attic.

 

April

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (Faber): the private grief of a mistress drives her to explore her link to a 19th-century clockwork puzzle commissioned to comfort a dying boy. A haunting story of the human instinct for empathy.

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus): the apparent return of Aaron's wife from the dead is initially a comfort, until the petty bickering that sullied their marriage resurfaces.

Stonemouth by Iain Banks (Little, Brown): of late, his mainstream fiction hasn't kept pace with the development of that of his SF persona, so fans of earlier blackly humorous works such as The Crow Road will delight in this breathless rites-of-passage story of the impossibility of leaving behind an upbringing in the world of organised crime.

The Light between Oceans by M L StedmanThe Light between Oceans by M L Stedman (Doubleday): when a boat is washed ashore, containing crying baby next to the body of a man, a lighthouse keeper and his wife find themselves making a decision that is to have life-changing circumstances.

Scenes from My Early Life by Philip Hensher (Fourth Estate): the fictional memoir of Philip Hensher's real-life partner, set during Bangladesh's bitter battle for independence. The versatility of his ventriloquism continues to be remarkable.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh (Jonathan Cape): the prequel to Trainspotting and how heroin entered the lives of Renton, Begbie and co.

The Incident by Kenneth Macleod (Weidenfeld & Nicolson): an exploration of the moments that mark our lives indelibly through the stories of a guilt-ridden lifeguard, the survivor of a torpedoed ship and a refugee from the Stasi.

 

May

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate): the sequel to her Man Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall. Nuff, I should imagine, said.

Home by Toni Morrison (Chatto & Windus): a Korean war veteran, appalled at the relentless racism he finds back home, is further distressed by the need to bring his sister back to the town in which they grew up.

Ignorance by Michele RobertsIgnorance by Michèle Roberts (Bloomsbury): in her first fiction for six years, Roberts explores the compromises and sacrifices made by two young women in Catholic village in France during the war.

In One Person by John Irving (Doubleday): a tragicomic story of confused sexual identity and intolerance of difference. There are supposedly deeply personal aspects to this.

Sátántango by László Krasznahorkai (Tuskar Rock): compared by W G Sebald to Nicolai Gogol's Dead Souls, this is - I think - a first English translation of the Hungarian masterpiece about the apparent arrival of the Devil in a desolate village famously adapted for the cinema by Béla Tarr.

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (Sceptre): on a distant island, a little boy has gone missing, the first of a series of troubling and mystifying occurences. One of the most distinctive and accomplished debuts of the year, with more than a hint of Angela Carter, particularly in its well-honed language.

The Red House by Mark Haddon (Jonathan Cape): following remarriage, Richard attempts to rebuild his relationship with his estranged sister by inviting her family to share a rented holiday cottage, provoking ghosts from the past and exposing home truths.

Reality, Reality by Jackie Kay (Picador): short stories from this Foyles favourite about sharing the best and worst of life with loved ones.

 

June

Canada by Richard Ford (Bloomsbury): when his parents, in desperation, rob a bank, Del flees Montana for the anonymity of a small town across the border, but finds complications of his own. For some reason, Richard Ford remains a mite obscure this side of the Atlantic, but he ranks alongside John Updike, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa (Faber): the English translation of the novel published a month after his Nobel Prize award, fictionalising the life of Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement, offering vivid lessons on the nature of dissent.

Gold by Chris Cleave (Sceptre): two professional athletes conceive a child with leukaemia. American booksellers seem to have had earlier advance copies than those of us in the UK and what I've read online suggests that it offers the same sort of emotional rollercoaster as The Other Hand.

Every Day, Every Hour by Natasa Dragnic (Chatto & Windus): star-crossed love as Croatian childhood sweethearts, separated when one family moves to Paris, are reunited only to be divided by fate once again.

The Deadman's Pedal by Alan Warner (Jonathan Cape): I've not been able to find out anything about this one yet, but his novels are always eloquent, intelligent and full of intriguing characters.

 

So, there you go, 56 novels and short story collections to relish. You'd be best making a start now, as hard on their heels will be the traditional bumper harvest of great fiction we've come to expect every autumn. You thoughts on these, and any you think I've missed, are, as always, welcome on our Facebook page.

 

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