BOOKS

Books to look forward to in 2016

I tried to whittle it down to ten, I really did...

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By Sam Baker on

So many books. So many, that a glimpse of the pile of proofs on my spare room floor was enough to make publishers weep and authors with a book out this year start climbing to the top of the nearest high building. So many books. So many GOOD books. I started trying to narrow it down to ten. Failed. Gave up. So how do you choose? This is what I came up with.

1. PICK A debut author everyone’s already talking about

Look no further than Not Working. Picador scooped this agenda-setting novel by Lisa Owens in one of those six-publisher-six-figure face-offs you’re always reading about. Which is a good sign because, in this case, the publisher has form with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. Combining the honesty of Bridget Jones with the bang-on social observation of early Sex And The City, this nails it. (Picador, April)

OTHER DEBUTS WORTH READING... The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, Anna North (W&N, Jan) came out as an ebook last May and I’ve been banging on about it ever since; Tuesday Nights in 1980, Molly Prentiss (Hamish Hamilton, May); What Belongs To You, Garth Greenwell (Picador, April); The House At The Edge of Night, Catherine Banner (Hutchinson, May); and Girls On Fire, Robin Wasserman (Little Brown, May).

 

2. I don’t have time to take risks, it must be an author I already know I like…

OK, in that case you're in need of the new Maggie O’Farrell. To my mind O’Farrell is one of those authors whose popularity with readers has never been matched by those who are paid to criticise. Fingers crossed This Must Be The Place (Tinder Press, May), a perceptive novel about the reality of the modern family will rectify that.

Another novel that’s as smartly observed as fans would hope is The American Wife author Curtis Sittenfeld’s contribution to the, somewhat patchy, Austen Project. No such worries with Eligible (The Borough Press, April), Sittenfeld's take on Pride & Prejudice is a joy from start to finish.

MORE NO-RISK READS FROM AUTHORS YOU ALREADY LOVE... The Expatriates by Janice YK Lee, author of The Piano Teacher (Little Brown, Jan); The Stopped Heart, Julie Myerson (Cape, Feb); Freya, Anthony Quinn (Cape, March); At The Edge of the Orchard, Tracey Chevalier (The Borough Press, March); The Muse, Jessie Burton (Picador, June); and Anne Tyler takes on The Taming of the Shrew in Vinegar Girl in June (Hogarth).

 

3. or A genre I'M addicted to, you know, the one with Girl in the title…

No area has exploded in quite the same way as the questionably named ‘domestic suspense’ - although I prefer Megan Abbott’s definition in the Guardian as “the girl that could be any of us.” Which I believe more aptly explains its appeal. (Marian Keyes' “Grip-lit" is a pretty good description, too.) There are plenty of entries in the category this spring, including, in no particular order: The Widow by Fiona Barton (Doubleday, Jan), Lover, Anna Raverat (Picador, March) Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner (The Borough Press, Feb), The Woman Who Ran, by me (Harperfiction, Jan, and that’s the beginning and end of the ad break), Keep You Close, Lucy Whitehouse (Bloomsbury, March) and one I guarantee you’ll hear more about, Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh’s dark, deranged tale (Cape, March).

 

4. But I prefer non-fiction

Well, you’re in luck because thanks, in part, to the success of 2014’s H is for Hawk there's a whole slew of memoirs to choose from. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate, Jan) combines evocative descriptions of the Orkney sheep farm of her childhood with a seeringly truthful depiction of alcoholism. The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Lang (Canongate, March) contrasts loneliness with alone-ness by way of art and artists, in much the same way as her sleeper hit, The Trip to Echo Spring, did with writers and alcohol. War reporter Janine Di Giovanni’s writing about life on the frontline is unequalled in bringing the personal stories of human conflict to vivid and often brutal life. In The Morning They Came For Us (Bloomsbury, Feb) she turns her attention to Syria. 

Love Like Salt by Helen Stevenson (Virago, March) is a touching memoir about motherhood and illness. While two very different, very smart, women address the ageing process. In Stop The Clocks, Thoughts on What I Leave Behind (Virago, Feb), Joan Bakewell looks back at her life, while in Out of Time (Fourth Estate, June) journalist Miranda Sawyer, reexamines all our assumptions from the midst of a not-very-dramatic mid-life crisis. The Pursuit of Happiness, And Why It's Making Us Anxious, by Ruth Whippman (Hutchinson, March) is an entertaining account of a British woman in New York trying to embrace the American (and arguably British) obsession with happy ever after. And last but not least, Caitlin Moran turns her sharp brain and even sharper wit to politics in Moranifesto (Ebury, March).

 

5. I only read literary books and award-winners 

Well, you’ll probably have to hold most of your breath til later in the year, since the second half of the year is when most of the big hitters are let out of the traps. This autumn sees new work from Baileys Prize winners Eimear McBride and Ali Smith, as well as Naomi Alderman’s long awaited The Power. Prior to that, though, there’s The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel’s first novel since The Life of Pi (Canongate, Feb), Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time (Cape, January) and Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton, March), by Man Booker shortlistee Deborah Levy. 

BUT, for me, there can only be one winner - and it’s Elizabeth Strout, whose Olive Kitteridge (yes, of the HBO mini series) was a Pulitzer Prize winning novel long before it was a box set. Her latest, My Name is Lucy Barton (Viking, Feb) looks sure to annihilate her reputation as the most successful author no-one on this side of the atlantic has ever heard of.

 

6. I prefer a classic

You’re in luck, it’s the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth. If this is the first you’ve heard of it, I promise it won’t be the last. Cue Bronte biographies, homages and collections by the dozen, including one, still to be scheduled, biography of Anne Bronte by Samantha (How To Be A Heroine) Ellis. If you haven’t already started on a reread of Jane Eyre, can I make a pitch for the slightly lesser known but far more radical Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

7. OH Go on, throw me a wild card

OK, I will. 

Do you like funny, quirky, smart American novels? Try The Portable Veblen, Elizabeth Mckenzie (Fourth Estate, Jan)

Do you like slim but significant European novels? Try This Too Shall Pass, Milena Busquets (Harvill, May)

Do you like SF for people who don’t like SF? Try Speak, Louisa Hall (Orbit, Feb)

Do you like gruesome Japanese noir? Try Six Four, Hideo Yokoyama (Quercus, March)

Do you like very short slightly surreal stories? Try American Housewife - brilliantly caustic vignettes from Helen Ellis (Scribner, Jan)

@sambaker

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