Books to look forward to in 2019
Arminta Wallace selects the most exciting Irish and international titles of the year ahead
Margaret Atwood’s last and final word on Gilead, The Testaments, is coming in September.
NON-FICTION INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Choice: Robert Macfarlane’s Underland: a Deep Time Journey (Hamish Hamilton, June). From the ice-blue depths of glacial moulins to the vast invisible networks by which trees communicate, the multi award-winning nature writer takes us into the concealed geographies of the ground beneath our feet.
Migration, the degradation of the environment and the aftermath of the “Me too” movement are major recurring themes in the spring non-fiction lists. Pulitzer-winner and author of the million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond, examines the ways in which nations cope with crisis – or don’t – in Upheaval (Allen Lane, May) while the award-winning journalist Jack Shenker attempts to make sense of the dizzying new political landscape in Now We Have Your Attention! (Bodley Head, June).
The Ungrateful Refugee (Canongate, May) by Dina Nayeri, who moved from Iran to the US with her family when she was 10, aims to articulate “a new narrative of resettlement”; and on the 40th anniversary of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution, Amin Saikal’s Iran Rising: the Survival and Future of the Islamic Republic (Princeton University Press, February) looks at the country’s continuing centrality to Middle Eastern politics. Even for Asians, Asia is dizzying to navigate, says the Indian American author Parag Khanna – but he gives it a go in his economic study The Future Is Asian (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, February). James Palmer’s Heaven’s Empires (Head of Zeus, June) recounts the long, complex history of China – as well as Tibet, Mongolia and the rest of the world – in 20 essay-style episodes.
Caroline Criado Perez is the activist who put a woman on a UK banknote: in The Other Half (Abrams Press, March), billed as “a feminist Freakonomics”, she looks at how the data gap renders women invisible. Laurie Penny’s study of rape culture, Consent (Bloomsbury, March), has been described as “a hand grenade of a book”. Benjamin Balint recreates the international battle over the papers of Franz Kafka in Kafka’s Last Trial (Picador, January) while the Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, who has curated a major exhibition by Edvard Munch in Oslo, takes a very personal look at the painter’s unhappy life in So Much Longing in So Little Space (Harvill Secker, March).
“Would you take a ginger child?” asked the social worker when the novelist Patrick Flanery and his husband attempted to adopt: the experience is chronicled in The Ginger Child (Atlantic, May). The 2012 Olympic poet, Lemn Sissay, who was raised as Norman Greenwood until he was 17, reflects on race, family and the institutional care system in My Name is Why (Canongate, August).
The many fans of the phenomenally successful The End of Eddy will want to read Edoard Louis’s non-fiction companion to the book, Who Killed My Father (Harvill Secker, February). Bookseller Tim Waterstone tells his own story in The Face Pressed Against a Window (Atlantic Books, February), and in Dear Mr Faber (Faber & Faber, May) Toby Faber tells the story of his grandfather’s tiny firm, which ended up publishing TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney.
The true story of an Alabama serial killer, and the trial which obsessed the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is the subject of Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Harper Lee and an Unfinished Story of Race, Religion and Murder (Heinemann, May). And in an uncannily timely graphic novel, A Fire Story (Abrams Comicart, March), Brian Fie recreates the wildfires which have been devastating California this year.
FICTION INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Choice: Haruki Murakami Birthday Girl (Harvill Secker, January). A single story, published to celebrate the Japanese novelist’s 70th birthday on January 24th. Partly inspired by a William Trevor short story, it’s set on a rainy night in Tokyo, it’s tiny, and it gets the literary year off to a stylish start.
Not surprisingly, given the political situation, the new books on the way from a couple of the biggest names in British fiction have a dark, dystopian look to them: John Lanchester’s The Wall (Faber & Faber, January) opens with a soldier on patrol atop a wall built to keep “the Others” out, and Ian McEwan explores themes of genetic engineering in Machines Like Me (Jonathan Cape, April), which is set in an alternative 1980s London. And a new name is also on the post-apocalypse trail: Penguin is expecting great things from the young writer Hanna Jameso, whose book The Last (Penguin, January) is set in a Washington hotel after a nuclear weapon has detonated.
Perhaps Ali Smith will cheer us all up with Spring (Hamish Hamilton, March), the third instalment in her dazzlingly inventive cycle The Seasonal Quartet. A strange boy in a strange English village is at the centre of Max Porter’s Lanny (Faber & Faber, March), the follow-up to his bestselling Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. Deborah Levy takes on the thorny topic of masculinity in The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton, August). Polly Clark’s debut Larchfield earned her praise from Margaret Atwood, so watch out for Tiger (Quercus), which brings together three humans and a big cat in the wilds of Siberia.
A nightmare journey through Morocco is the subject of a the novella The Death of Murat Idrissi (Scribe, January) by the Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa; a popular politician turns paranoid in Herman Koch’s The Ditch (Picador, April). Enrique Vila-Matas offers a comic novel about the process of writing, Mac and His Problem (Harvill Secker, June). And 18th-century Stockholm is the setting for The Wolf and the Watchman (John Murray, February), the debut novel by the wonderfully named Niklas Natt och Dag.
“From early on I have been aware that life is a prison,” says the Nigerian novelist Ben Okri: he examines the nature of that prison in The Freedom Artist (Head of Zeus, February). Impac winner Tishani Doshi’s Small Nights and Days (Bloomsbury, April) is a study of marriage in modern India, while a mother’s grief following the suicide of a teenage son is the starting point for Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End (Hamish Hamilton, February).
It isn’t just British writers who are turning to sci fi to express the dislocation of the contemporary world. A literary fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is the opening instalment of a new trilogy from Booker-winning US novelist Marlon James (Hamish Hamilton, February). The Spirit of Science Fiction (Picador, February) is a newly discovered novel from the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, and Jane Rawsom’s From the Wreck (Picador April) is an Australian novel which, intriguingly, has been nominated for awards in both literary fiction and sci fi categories Down Under.
There are short story collections on the way from the Man Booker International-shortlisted Argentinian writer Semanta Schweblin, Mouthful of Birds (Oneworld, February) and the winner of the inaugural Al-Multaqa Prize for the best Arabic short story, the Palestinian-Icelandic poet, translator and journalist Mazen Maarouf (Jokes for the Gunmen, Granta, January).
Among the billion or so crime novels on the spring lists are the first book in 13 years from the creator of Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris (Untitled, Heinemann, May), and Chris Mullin’s sequel to A Very British Coup, The Friends of Harry Perkins (Scribner, March), billed as “the first post-Brexit thriller”. There’s another Brexit-themed plot from the MI6 chronicler Alan Judd, Accidental Agent (Simon & Schuster, March). Alexander McCall Smith forsakes the Botswana of his Number One Ladies Detective Agency series for the Malmö-set caper The Department of Sensitive Crimes (Little Brown, March), which he describes as “Scandi blanc”. And in Conviction (Harvill Secker, May) by the queen of Glasgow noir, Denise Mina, a woman obsessed with true crime podcasts sets out to solve one for herself.
Oh, and here’s a treat to keep for later. Set 15 years after the closing scene of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s last and final word on Gilead, The Testaments, is coming in September. Publishers Chatto & Windus say it has no connection to the TV series. We shall see . . .
NON-FICTION IRISH INTEREST
Choice: Based on JG Farrell’s Empire Novels, Rebecca Ziegler’s The Decline and Fall of the Human Condition (Four Courts Press, January). August 2019 will mark the 40th anniversary of JG Farrell’s death by drowning, so this scholarly study of his darkly comic genius is particularly timely. In our beleaguered times, who wouldn’t love a writer who bestowed on one of his major literary characters a mangy, smelly dog named The Human Condition?
The high quality of Irish Times feature writer Rosita Boland’s journalism has been recognised this year by her Newsbrands Ireland Journalist of the Year 2018 award. Next year, a different facet of her talent – her gift for vivid, incisive travel writing – will be brought to the fore with the publication of the essay collection Elsewhere: One Woman, One Rucksack, One Lifetime of Travel (Doubleday Ireland, May). Another powerful Irish female voice is that of Sinead Gleeson, whose collection of essays Constellations (Picador, April) will delve into a range of subjects from art to illness, nature to feminism, ghosts to grief.
Looks like it’s going to be a great year for the essay form: Ian Maleney’s Minor Monuments (Tramp Press, March) is a kind of story made from essays, a meditation on family, music, Alzheimer’s and the landscape of the Irish midlands. And the Dublin-born, Belfast-based writer Kevin Breathnach has produced what is described by the publishers as “a lethal cocktail of memoir and criticism” in his essay collection, Tunnel Vision (Faber & Faber, March).
In a rapidly changing world, we need accurate historical studies more than ever. A Treatise on Northern Ireland, Volume One (OUP, April) by the political scientist Brendan O’Leary promises to be “a broad-ranging, interdisciplinary” history of the North, while Diarmaid Ferriter tracks the Border from 1916 to Brexit and beyond in The Border: the Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics (Profile Books, February).
Declan Kiberd dons his sporting whites for England and Eternity: a book of cricket (Head of Zeus, May), a celebration not just of cricket through the ages but of the people who love and play it.
Would a life without technology be a dream or a nightmare? Mark Boyle has tried it on the smallholding in Co Galway where he lives entirely without money, and writes about his experiences in The Way Home (Oneworld, April). The feeling of being “switched on” 24/7 is one which adversely affects more and more people; Siobhán Murray offers a three-month panacea in The Burnout Solution (Gill, January).
Other ways to juggle the work-life balance are explored in two books by experts based in Trinity College Dublin: in The Doctor Who Sat for a Year (Gill, April), professor of psychiatry Brendan Kelly embraces meditation while neuroscientist Shane O’Mara takes to the hills in hiking boots to celebrate A History of Walking (Bodley Head, June). The author of the award-winning study The Way We Die Now, the gastroenterologist Seamus O’Mahony, challenges our current views on healthcare – and its over-reliance on metrics in What Is Medicine For? (Head of Zeus, February). The story of a newborn’s death is the starting point for Mary Cregan’s The Scar (Lilliput, March).
Our capital city is a constantly changing entity which is examined by Ruth McManus in Through the Builder’s lens: Dublin’s Evolving Streetscapes (Four Courts Press, July). The Book of Kells (Head of Zeus, June) sees Victoria Whitworth on the trail of the medieval manuscript whose textual oddities have puzzled scholars for decades. More than a decade after the death of the philosopher-poet John Moriarty, his longtime publisher Lilliput aims to engage a new generation with his work with two new volumes: Introducing Moriarty (June) is edited by Michael W Higgins and is aimed at the beginner; A Complete Metamorphosis, edited by Brendan O’Donoghue, offers a more comprehensive selection.
And in the first of a new series celebrating Irish heritage, Irish Aran (O’Brien Press, March), Vawn Corrigan looks at how this traditional craft form has made its way into homes – and indeed onto catwalks – all over the world.
FICTION IRISH INTEREST
Choice: Sarah Davis-Goff Last Ones Left Alive (Tinder Press, March). As co-founder of the publisher Tramp Press, Davis-Goff has provided us with a stream of challenging, satisfying and distinctively Irish fiction. Now she has written her first novel, and it promises something very special. Opening on a tiny island off the coast of a post-apocalyptic Ireland, it features a killer creature and a heroic young female lead.
Summer reading, 2019? Sorted. We’ve got new books coming from three of the most celebrated names in Irish fiction. Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate, June) features two Irish gangsters in the Spanish port of Algeciras. A daughter has gone missing. A lover has been lost. We can’t wait.
Fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, meanwhile, will be keen to get hold of Joseph O’Connor’s Shadowplay (Harvill Secker, June),which follows Stoker as he wanders the fog-bound streets of Victorian London; and Roddy Doyle fans can look forward to Charlie Savage, which gathers together a whole year’s worth of his weekly columns from the Irish Independent (Jonathan Cape, March).
The new literary year kicks off, however, with David Keenan’s For The Good Times (Faber & Faber, January), a story set in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast in the 1970s. Following the success of Anna Burns’s Booker-winning Milkman, with its portrait of a divided Belfast, Jan Carson offers another intriguing take on the city in The Firestarters (Transworld, April). And the Belfast writer Lucy Caldwell has edited the latest Faber anthology Being Various (Faber & Faber, May), selecting writers who are Irish by birth, by parentage or by residence and who are also making waves in the literary world, so the index will include Eimear McBride, Lisa McInerney, Stuart Neville and Kit de Waal.
Cape Cod in the steamy summer of 1950 is the setting for Christine Dwyer Hickey’s The Narrow Land (Atlantic Books, March). Shenanigans crosses the sea in Felicity Hayes-McCoy’s The Transatlantic Book Club (Hachette Ireland, May). My Coney Island Baby (Jonathan Cape, January) by the Cork-based writer Billy O’Callaghan is an intimate tale of love and deceit in the famous Brooklyn beach resort.
The comedian and author of the “Irish mammy” books, Colm O’Regan has a new main mammy; Ann Devine (Transworld Ireland, February) is described as “a riddle wrapped up in a fleece inside a Skoda Octavia”. Two very different Irish grannies take centre stage in Molly’s Will (Head of Zeus, May), the new book from Between Dog and Wolf author Elske Rahill, and M for Mammy (John Murray, March), Eleanor O’Reilly’s debut about a rambunctious Irish family called the Augustts,
Other debuts to watch are When All Is Said And Done (Sceptre, January), in which the Hennessy award-winner Anne Griffin tells the life of an 84-year-old Irishman through a set of short stories, and a YA/sci fi crossover novel from the Co Wicklow author Charlie Pike, Jacob’s Ladder (O’Brien Press, April). The visual artist and writer Adrian Duncan brings us Love Notes from a German Building Site (Lilliput, February) and Eibhear Walshe, associate editor of of the bestselling Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks, retraces the composer George Frederick Handel’s life in Georgian Dublin in his historical novel The Trumpet Shall Sound (Somerville Press, January).
On the crime front there are new books from Tana French (The Wych Elm, Hamish Hamilton, February), Arlene Hunt (Into the Fire, Hachette Ireland, March) and the co-writer of the ground-breaking RTÉ drama series Taken Down, Jo Spain (Dirty Little Secrets, Quercus, February). Katie Maguire is fighting for justice for the homeless in Graham Masterton’s Begging To Die (Head of Zeus, February), and in Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar (Sphere, March), Cormac Reilly’s hit-and-run investigation takes him to the sinister side of Irish Big Pharma.