Tuesday 6 December 2016

Great expectations

John Spain

Published 08/01/2012 | 06:00

Books Editor John Spain on some of the leading titles coming in the year ahead

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Two anniversaries heavily influence the publishers' lists of books on the way in 2012. February 7 is the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens in 1812 and April 15 is the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Books on both Dickens and the Titanic have been appearing for months now and there will be even more as we approach the big days.

We have already had the best, Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life (Viking), which came out in October. But also worth a look will be Dickens And The Workhouse (Oxford University Press, out in February) by Ruth Richardson, exploring the fact that when he wrote Oliver Twist he was living just a few doors away from one of the biggest workhouses in London.

And if you really want to get into the mood, you can download the Complete Works Of Charles Dickens (Illustrated) on to your Kindle for less than €2 from March 12.

This includes all 15 novels, with the original drawings as well as all the short stories, plays and poems and everything else that Dickens wrote. Similar deals are available for other e-readers. It's the kind of competition that makes one despair for the future of the printed book.

If you're thinking we've already had a Titanic anniversary, you're right. But that was the anniversary of the launch of the hull on May 31, 1911. It took almost a year to complete the fit-out of the ship before the ill-fated maiden voyage, which ended with the sinking in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

So we've had almost a year of Titanic books and there are more on the way, from Titanic Lives by Richard Davenport-Hines (Harper Press, next week) to Titanic: The Last Night Of A Small Town by John Welshman (Oxford University Press, March) and Titanic On Trial by Nic Compton (Bloomsbury, March) as well as Senan Molony's The Irish Aboard Titanic (Mercier Press, this month). And, of course, there will be numerous picture books.

Also making multiple appearances in 2012 will be James Joyce, since he is out of copyright this year. First up will be an edition of Dubliners (O'Brien Press, February) with an introduction by Striped Pyjamas author John Boyne, to be followed by new editions and/or e-books of Portrait, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. The paperback of James Joyce: A Biography, the very accessible new life of the great writer by Gordon Bowker (Phoenix), will be out on March 1.

Irish authors

Booker winner John Banville has a new novel called Ancient Light (Viking, July) in which the Alexander Cleave character from Eclipse and Shroud reappears, the elderly actor remembering the suicide of his daughter a decade earlier and all the way back to his teenage years in 1950s small-town Ireland and the affair that he had with his friend's mother.

Colm Toibin deserves an award for catchiest title of the year for New Ways To Kill Your Mother (Viking, February), a collection of the essays he has done for various literary magazines (with some new pieces) on the often tortured family relationships that made some of the greatest writers.

Joseph O'Connor, after completing his trilogy of novels with Ghost Light in 2010, will be back in September with a new short-story collection titled Where Have You Been? (Random House), which should be of special interest to his vast Drivetime fan base.

Kevin Barry, who won so much praise for his first short-story collection, There Are Little Kingdoms, and first novel City Of Bohane, will be back with a new story collection called Dark Lies The Island (Cape, April), which promises more west of Ireland layabouts and mad behaviour.

Northern writer David Park, best known for The Truth Commissioner, has a new novel The Light Of Amsterdam (Bloomsbury, March), in which three sets of people (including a hen party) leave dreary Belfast in December for a break in Amsterdam and become entangled there.

Also from the North, Glenn Patterson has a new novel, The Mill For Grinding Old People Young (Faber, March), which is set in Belfast in the 1830s and centres around a love affair between a young Protestant worker and a Polish barmaid.

Conor Fitzgerald will be back with his third Commissioner Blume novel, The Namesake (Bloomsbury, March), again set in the criminal underbelly of Rome, a series which is being compared to the late Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen.

Kevin Brophy's The Berlin Crossing (Headline, this month) is an atmospheric first novel set in Germany after the Wall came down, when the stress of reunification and the revelations that came with it caused upheaval in so many lives.

Afric Campbell's third novel is a story of a life in crisis set in the world of high finance. On The Floor (Serpent's Tail, March) is about a young Irish woman who is a major player in a London investment bank when the financial meltdown starts and her own life comes apart. Having been a senior investment banker in London for 13 years, it's a setting that Campbell knows well.

In the area of popular fiction, the big one in 2012 will be RTÉ journalist Kathleen MacMahon's (right) This is How It Ends (Sphere, June) which provoked a bidding war between publishers last year and got her a two-book deal for €684,000, including film rights.

It's a mid-life love story between a pair of distant cousins, American and Irish. He's a former Lehmans banker with three marriages behind him who comes here in search of his roots. She's an out-of-work architect in Dublin, daughter of a well-known hospital consultant, who has been unlucky in love and is pushing 40. Sounds corny but the difference is in the intensity of the characterisation and the way the story works out.

MacMahon's grandmother was Mary Lavin. This one has Hollywood written all over it.

Former lawyer Sarah Harte, who is married to restaurateur Jay Bourke, got a lot of publicity for her first novel The Better Half, which was seen as a commentary on Celtic Tiger behaviour. Her new one, Thick And Thin (Penguin Ireland, April), is about two women whose long friendship is tested in the fallout after the Tiger goes bust.

In non-fiction, historian Diarmaid Ferriter's Ambiguous Republic: Ireland In The 1970s (Profile, July) will be a 700-page examination of a turbulent decade, with a 13-part RTÉ radio series to accompany it.

Cork University Press's Atlas Of The Great Irish Famine (CUP, May) will be a massive coffee-table book (similar to the magnificent CUP cultural atlas of the Ring of Kerry). It will cost €59, will have lavish illustrations and involves an army of eminent historians -- but not Tim Pat Coogan. He is working on his own book on the Famine, which may be out at the end of the year and is predicted to be as big as his IRA or Michael Collins bestsellers.

Dan Boyle has been off Twitter long enough to produce the inside story of the Greens in the last government, Without Power Or Glory (New Island, March), and the title says it all.

Finally, there is Saved By Cake (Michael Joseph, February), in which Marian Keyes talks about her lengthy battle with depression and how baking helped her. A novice in the kitchen, Marian decided to bake a cake for a friend and soon realised that it was great therapy. And so she baked and wrote her recipes down and little by little the depression started to lift -- along with her sponges.

As uplifting and funny as one would expect, this is also a great baking book, with chapters on cupcakes, cheesecakes, meringues and macaroons, chocolate cakes, fruit cakes and favourite classics, all aimed at novice bakers.

International

American writer Greg Baxter's memoir of his time in Dublin, A Preparation For Death, was so mesmerising -- and so sexually explicit -- that there will be a lot of curiosity about his new one The Apartment (Penguin Ireland, April). This one has no sex at all, although it straddles the same existential territory, following an American man with a shady military past in Iraq as he wanders through a snowy East European city, looking for an apartment to rent, accompanied by a woman he has met by chance.

There will be a new novel from double Booker winner Peter Carey, The Chemistry Of Tears (Faber, April), which tells the story of a woman grieving in secret after the death of her married lover when she is given a box by the director of the museum where she works, something that changes her life.

Richard Ford's Canada (Bloomsbury, June) is a big novel about a wandering family in post-war rural America and the son who, after his clueless parents rob a bank, flees into Canada, " a landscape of rescue and abandonment".

Martin Amis's new novel Lionel Asbo (Cape, July) is a satire on modern Britain and its tawdry, celebrity culture. All the young hero wants is a quiet life but he is the ward of his uncle, Lionel Asbo (self-named after the Anti-Social Behaviour Orders), who wants to introduce him to the joys of pit bulls and internet porn.

Mark Haddon, best known for The Curious Incident Of The Dog, will be back with The Red House (Cape, May); a novel about an extended family on a week-long break together in the English countryside, a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and illicit desires, adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life.

In John Irving's new novel about secrecy and sexual identity, In One Person (Doubleday, May), the bisexual narrator Billy tells the tragicomic story of his life as a "sexual suspect", a phrase first used by Irving in his landmark novel, The World According To Garp, 30 years ago.

Irvine Welsh has never quite managed to repeat the success of Trainspotting (right), so he has gone back to the same well for his next novel Skagboys (Cape, April), a prequel to his bestseller.

Former British poet laureate and Booker chair Andrew Motion is doing a sequel novel which, even for a writer of his talents, is exceptionally brave; it's a follow-up to everybody's favourite book, Treasure Island. It's titled Silver (Cape, April) and begins in 1802 in an inn kept by Jim Hawkins and his son on the lower Thames.

Young Jim spends his days roaming the estuaries and his nights listening to stories about buried treasure and a man with a wooden leg. Then a girl named Natty arrives on the river with a request for Jim from her father -- Long John Silver.

Aged and weak, but still possessing a strange power, the pirate proposes that Jim and Natty sail to Treasure Island in search of Captain Flint's hidden bounty of silver left behind many years before. A ship and crew are waiting; all they need is the map, locked away in the inn.

William Boyd's new novel Waiting For Sunrise (Bloomsbury, February) begins in Vienna in 1913 as war clouds gather and becomes a story of sex, scandal and spies, with an appearance by Freud.

Another award-winning British writer, Tim Lott, is back after a gap of several years with a new novel, Under The Same Stars (Simon & Schuster, March) about two estranged brothers driving across America's Deep South in search of the father who abandoned them 20 years earlier.

We Need To Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver's novel The New Republic (Harper, March) is a satirical look at politics and journalism and also observes the relationship between terrorism and personality cults, exploring what makes some people so magnetic and others such easily led followers.

Zoo Time, the new novel by Booker winner Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury, August), is about a writer who is tempted into having an affair with his mother-in-law. In fairness, he's a bit addled since he exists at a time when publishing is dead, killed off by the internet. The novel is also a literary attack on the internet, as powerful as Nicholas Carr's non-fiction study last year The Shallows, which showed how the internet is rotting our brains.

In non-fiction, it will be hard to beat Just Send Me Word: A Story Of Love And Survival In The Gulag by Orlando Figes (Allen Lane, May), another journey into the nightmare of Stalin's USSR by the bestselling author of The Whisperers. This one is about two young Muscovites separated by the icy Gulag for 10 years and the 1,500 letters which kept their love alive and which have survived.

When an extract from the brilliant Rachel Cusk's book Aftermath: On Marriage And Separation (Faber, March) was published in Granta last year, there was a very heated reaction, so the complete book should cause further shockwaves. As in her last book on motherhood, she tells it exactly like it is.

Fans of the incomparable AA Gill will be pleased to know that he has a new book coming called The Golden Door: Letters To America (W&N, June), which is a collection of linked essays based around places that reveal the truth about Americans.

Every other small town in America claims to be the home of something (peaches, spotted pigs, a president, the world's biggest ball of string etc). So that's where he starts, going to find the home of everything.

Masha Gessen's life has already been threatened for writing about Putin, but that has not stopped her doing a new book on the little body-building KGB man. The Man Without A Face (Granta, March) shows how he climbed the slippery pole and how dangerous he is.

It's perfectly timed, given what's going on over there.

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