I've just had a bit of an exciting moment writing a little commissioned piece for The Times on the books I am looking forward to in 2011 and I think it will be in this Saturday's edition. The trouble is the word limit was a mere 200, I mean on a normal day that barely gets me into the second paragraph on here so it has been an exercise in unaccustomed precision...actually that's not true, I have to use wordly precision in the day job, so dovegreyreader is where I can go word-mad. See look 93 words already and I've hardly said anything, it's hopeless...now 104.
In order to do justice to the slender piece, I spent another morning with the catalogues spread across the kitchen table and browsed... and browsed...and browsed, and realised that what I had already suggested with RTBCAP 1 is definitely true, 2011 is to be a stellar year for books. I managed by some miracle to squeeze ten books into that piece, but so many more were begging for inclusion that I've picked out a few more here for you to add to your wishlists and library reservations.
First stop the Granta catalogue and an intriguing looking title, Night Waking by Sarah Moss (February 2011). It segues nicely into some of the titles I flagged up up in RTBCAP 1 with its location on a remote and uninhabited Hebridean island. Author Anna Bennett has a book to write but also a toddler and a disturbed seven-year old to care for plus the puffin-watching scientist husband who has brought them all there. Haunted by the discovery of a baby's skeleton in the garden and letters from a nurse sent to introduce modern medicine to the island in the 1870s... I could go on but I'm up to 264 words and have many more books to go, so I won't. But that sounds promising to me.
From the same stable and given this year's penchant for troikas and all things Russian, I like the sound of The Possessed - Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman (April 2011) because apparently it 'is quite unlike any book you'll have read before' and will 'send you back to your bookshelves with a sublime buzz'. Elif Batuman follows the foosteps of her favourite authors both literally and metaphorically as she searches for the answers to the big questions via Tolstoy's estate and a possible murder, thence to Samarkand and St Petersburg, and on the trail of Pushkin in the Caucasus. Fresh readings of the great Russians are promised and though I still haven't quite grasped the premise I'm up for anything that offers a new slant on Russian literature, and apparently there is much humour here too.
The Journey of Anders Sparrman by Per Wastberg (April 2011) is of that thorny genre the biographical novel which does sometimes throw me, but I do love the sound of this life... a Swedish scientist, explorer and abolitionist who travelled with Captain Cook and was a forerunner to Charles Darwin as he journeys to China, Tahiti and South Africa. A beguiling soul is to be rescued from oblivion which we can only applaud and as historical chronicle the novel can't be faulted apparently.
From Portobello Books The Report by Jessica Francis Kane, (March 2011) a novel based on the true story of the worst UK civilian disaster of World War II, the Bethnal Green tube tragedy which claimed the lives of 173 people. As truth is disentangled from rumour, decisions must be made about how much truth a community can bear. It is decades later when the case is re-opened by a survivor that the facts can finally emerge. Hilary Mantel rated Jessica Francis Kane's short story collection highly and classed her as an author to watch.
The Rest is Silence by Carlo Guelfenbein ( May 2011) is translated from Spanish and will apparently appeal to fans of Isabel Allende, that's me and probably plenty of you. Tommy, twelve years old and with a weak heart finds himself unable to join in with his cousin's games and so settles under the table after a family lunch and records the conversation. Inevitably he's going to hear things he's not supposed to and with other family members harbouring their own griefs much is left unsaid between as the novel moves towards its... No that's quite enough of the plot, but the novel had been high in the bestseller lists around the world which though no guarantee of success here in the UK bodes well.
From Bloomsbury, Lucky Break by Esther Freud (April 2011). I have not kept pace with Esther Freud's writing since reading Summer at Gaglow and Hideous Kinky but should have done because I enjoyed both those very much indeed, so I am ready and waiting for this one. A huddled circle of nervous dramatic arts students are told that at this drama school they will taught to Act, trained not to perform but to truly Be. In the hands of Esther Freud I fully expect this to be a wonderful expose of the behind the scenes (sorry) shenanigans because as I recall she has a way of getting to the truth of those seemingly sham and false life situations.
From Corvus comes Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees (May 2011) better known by me for his crime series set in the Middle East but now turning his hand to a new setting. It is 1791 and Vienna's brightest star is convinced he has been poisoned, his death within six weeks opens up one whole can of concertos as rumours abound about infidelity, bankruptcy and murder. It is Mozart's sister who investigates, searching for clues in the bewitching last opera, The Magic Flute. For an operatic philistine like me this purloining of the great life for a crime novel doesn't worry me in the slightest, in fact, knowing how much I have enjoyed Matt Rees's other crime novels, I suspect I will enjoy this one as a great page turner. Others among you may feel differently.
Fields of Ice by Arabella Edge (February 2011) from Picador tells the story of Franklin's final expedition to the North-West passage after which he was never heard from again and all told through the eyes of the ship's chief steward. I have Andrew Lambert's biography so could just as easily return to the source and this novel may well inspire me to read more, but Arabella Edge also tells the story of Franklin's wife who spent years and a great deal of money trying to find her husband so I'm interested.
Also from Picador, The Devil's Garden by Edward Docx (April 2011) his first novel since Self Help was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007. I sense Conradian Heart of Darkness themes as scientist Dr Forle finds himself on the last inhabited river station before the impassable interior and with an expedition to lead into the forest glades where may lay important revelations about evolution. Witnessing something he cannot 'unsee' presents Forle with many dilemmas and takes him deeper into a world of mystery and violence where he will be faced with his true self and have to make some very tough decisions. That's my precis of Picador's precis so make of it what you will but I enjoyed Self Help and am looking forward to this one
1262 words and counting and still not finished, plenty more great reads to shout from the rooftops so you can see how impossible 200 were and I will let you know about those other 10 when that little piece has been published.