Books for 2011
Books Editor John Spain takes a look at the titles to watch out for this year -- and finds a wealth of works despite challenging times
Publishing may be going through challenging times as spending contracts, but looking through the lists of books coming this year there are signs of hope. The literary lists are shorter and publishers are being more selective in other genres as well, but there is still a wealth of promising titles on the way.
Edna O'Brien's new collection of stories Saints and Sinners (Faber, February) certainly packs a surprise. It's beautifully written and it deals mainly with love affairs and loveless affairs, which is what one expects. But there's also a three-in-a-bed situation, with the man involved braying like a jackass at the climactic moment, which may be surprising to some given that the author was 80 last month.
Joseph O'Connor has taken over the David Marcus role at Faber to edit a new collection of Irish short stories, The News From Dublin (Faber, March). This follows the two collections Marcus edited for Faber over the last six years. The latest one has new stories from a fascinating variety of writers, including William Trevor and Roddy Doyle, Rebecca Miller and Richard Ford, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Colm Toibin.
Anne Enright's new novel, The Forgotten Waltz (Cape, May), is her first since the Booker prize-winning The Gathering in 2007. It's about love and desire and remembering, about an affair that consumed a young Dublin woman. The acute observation that underlies Enright's brilliant short stories about relationships is now used to the full in this novel set in contemporary Dublin.
Ed O'Loughlin was Booker long-listed for Not Untrue & Not Unkind in 2009, his novel about a war correspondent in Africa, and his new one Toploader (Quercus, April) is a satire on the absurdity of war and the way we depersonalise death to make it acceptable.
John Boyne has not been able to repeat the phenomenal success of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with his two adult novels since then, but his new one, The Absolutist (Doubleday, May), might change that. It's a First World War story about the friendship between two young soldiers, one of whom changes his mind on the battlefield, declares himself a conscientious objector and is shot as a traitor.
Eagerly anticipated is Solace (Picador, August), the first novel from arts writer Belinda McKeon, which is set in the midlands in the past few years and explores the strained relationship between a farmer and his adult son, a Dublin academic who has turned his back on his roots until tragic events force them to share a home again.
Roddy Doyle has a new collection of stories, Bullfighting (Cape, April), which tackles contemporary Ireland and Irishmen with his customary insight and humour. If you want a flavour in advance, the title story is on The New Yorker website.
Also coming is the first novel in years from the man Roddy Doyle regards as Ireland's greatest living writer, Dermot Healy. It's called Long Time, No See (Faber, April) and it's a short coming-of-age novel set in small-town Ireland.
On the international front, the literary fiction on the way this year is impressive. Aravind Adiga won the Booker in 2008 for The White Tiger, his novel on the underbelly of the Indian economic miracle, which was very good (but not as good as Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, which should have won that year). His new one, Last Man in Tower (Atlantic, June) is set in a condemned apartment block in Mumbai.
Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here (Picador, June) deals with the impact of the Iraq war on one British family. Ali Smith's There But For The (Hamish Hamilton, June) seems to be about a man who locks himself in a bedroom and won't come out. And Mother's Milk author Edward St Aubyn's At Last (Picador, June) will conclude his brilliant Patrick Melrose series.
The sequel to Amitav Ghosh's Man Booker shortlisted Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke (Bloomsbury, June) opens in Mauritius decades after that story ended and follows characters old and new as they journey by boat to China against the backdrop of the Opium Wars. This is the second part of the Ibis trilogy that Ghosh is writing.
Catherine O'Flynn, who wrote the Costa award-winning What Was Lost, is back with a new one in the same dryly humorous tone. The News Where You Are (Viking, July) is described as a very English story about family, friendship and crap TV, and centres on the life of a local TV newsreader in Birmingham.
Also coming is The Map and the Territory (Heinemann, September) from the reliably seedy Michel Houellebecq , which is described as a satirical thriller set in the art world. Justin Cartwright's Other People's Money (Bloomsbury, March) is certainly timely since it's set in a bank.
The American cult novelist David Foster Wallace's last book before his early death, The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel (Hamish Hamilton, February) is set in a tax office, of all places.
Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (Picador, July) is his first novel since his Booker-winning The Line of Beauty in 2004, which was set in Thatcher's Britain in the mid-1980s. The new one has a wider time-frame, covering two families in Britain throughout the 20th Century.
Fans of Pat Barker's First World War novels are in for a treat this year as she continues her new WWI trilogy with the second part Toby's Room (Penguin, August), which centres on a group of friends who meet in art school.
Finally, there is the last novel by Beryl Bainbridge, who died this year. The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (Little Brown, June), is a bittersweet murder story built around the mysterious young woman who was seen by witnesses in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel on the night Robert Kennedy was assassinated and who was never found.
No new Marian Keyes or Cecelia Ahern this year, since both are taking well earned breaks. But there's no shortage of popular fiction, or big names. Patricia Scanlan is back with Love and Marriage (Transworld Irl, March), the final part of the trilogy that began with Forgive and Forget, which she wrote during the boom. This one reflects the mess we're in now, with one of the characters losing a pile of money on an investment he funded with borrowing he did not tell his wife about.
A first time novel from former corporate lawyer Sarah Harte (who now works with her husband, bar/restaurant owner Jay Bourke) looks like an interesting insider view of the same grim reality we now face. It's called The Better Half (Penguin Irl, May) and it's the story of Anita, who has lived the high life in Celtic Tiger Ireland with her developer husband Frank until the property bubble bursts and, even worse, sitting in her doctor's waiting room one morning she hears something that changes her life.
Amy Huberman is back with a second novel, I Wished For You (Penguin Irl, June), about Annie, a Dublin fashion stylist with a perky love-life who could settle down with her boyfriend but isn't exactly happy. Her problem is that she can't work out what she really wants. The much praised Ciara Geraghty's Finding Mr Flood (Hachette Books Irl, January) is about a young woman whose father went for cigarettes when she was 10 days old and never came back. She's got on with her life over the years, but now here sister is ill and she needs to find him.
Marita Conlon-McKenna's School for Cooks (Transworld, March) is about a cookery school that helps a woman get over her failed marriage. And Linda Kavanagh's new one Never Say Goodbye (Poolbeg, February) is about a woman who finds her long dead sister's diary with its revealing secrets.
Finally one from the home team that deserves a special mention is the next novel from Emma Hannigan, The Pink Ladies Club (Poolbeg, June), which is about a group of women brought together by cancer. Hannigan, who has been fighting a long battle with cancer herself also has a memoir out next week, Talk to the Headscarf (Hachette Ireland, January).
Jodi Picoult's new one again tackles an issue from the news. Sing You Home (Hodder & Stoughton, April) is about a woman whose marriage has broken down after multiple miscarriages. She finds love again with a female work colleague and wants to have a child, when she remembers the frozen embryos left from her many efforts to start a family with her former husband.
Anita Shreve's Rescue (Little Brown, April) is another of her tortured romances, with a paramedic falling for a young woman he rescues from a car crash that should have killed her. And Joanna Trollope's Daughters in Law (Doubleday, March) is about a mother losing her power over her beloved sons, written with the all-seeing unsentimental eye that has made Trollope so successful.
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