From Agamemnon to Zola: The books to look out for in 2017
A taste of what’s to come from some of the best-loved Irish and international authors
Sara Baume: Her second novel, A Line Made By Walking, will be published in February 2017.
FICTION: IRISH INTEREST
Highlight: Sara Baume, A Line Made By Walking (Tramp Press, February)
The follow-up to her dazzling debut, Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither, introduces another of Baume’s solitary, troubled, eagle-eyed narrators. It follows a young woman from her Dublin bedsit to her grandmother’s creaking house in the country, where she struggles to overcome her isolation while recounting the ferocious beauty of the world around her.
Great news: there’ll be a new Roddy Doyle novel in 2017. It begins with Victor Forde going for his evening pint in Donnelly’s pub. When he’s approached by another man who says he remembers Victor from school, memories begin to stir which threaten to unravel Victor completely. It sounds like a totally new direction for the ever-inventive Doyle, but we’ll have to wait until the autumn to read Smile (Jonathan Cape, September).
In the meantime, families are, as ever, a rich source for literary novelists. In House of Names (Viking, May), Colm Tóibín revisits the Trojan War , that family saga to end all family sagas, as he retells the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. When a child drowns off the west Cork coast, it causes ripples of devastation and grief which last for decades in William Wall’s Grace’s Day (New Island, April).
Galway short-story writer Alan McMonagle’s debut novel, Ithaca (Picador, March), set in the summer of 2009, is narrated by an unreliable 11-year-old with an absent Da and an infuriating Ma. Andy, a troubled teenager, enters a hall of mirrors at a seaside circus in Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque (Bloomsbury, February), but another boy goes home with his parents, leaving Andy trapped in a strange otherworld.
Cavan-born Shane Connaughton’s 1989 debut, A Border Station, will be reissued by Transworld in April as an appetiser for his long-awaited sequel, Married Quarters (Doubleday, May), which takes up the story of a hard-pressed sergeant and his group of garda misfits – rejects from bigger stations in more important places – in an Irish border town in the 1960s. John Boyne traces the story of Ireland from the 1940s to the present in his study of a gay man struggling with his sexuality and searching for his true identity: The Heart’s Invisible Furies (Transworld Ireland, February).
New novels are on the way from three of our most successful female writers. Baileys prize-winner Lisa McInerney follows The Glorious Heresies with The Blood Miracles (John Murray, April), which features a 20-year-old antihero, a black-market route from Naples to Cork, and the possibility of salvation through music. Liz Nugent, who recently snagged that elusive “six-figure deal” with Simon & Schuster, is writing about young, beautiful people – and a rotting corpse – in the south of France in Skin Deep (Penguin Ireland, July). And Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends (Faber & Faber, June) – the subject of a six-way publishers’ bidding war – promises us an intimate story of high-risk relationships.
The cultural dislocation experienced by American women living in Ireland is at the heart of Molly McCluskey’s When Light Is Like Water (Penguin Ireland, April) and Lisa Carey’s The Stolen Child (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, January). Aussie novelist Hannah Kent, who went to Iceland for her debut, Burial Rites, travels to Kerry for The Good People (Picador, February), which is based on an 1825 “changeling” murder case.
An 18-year-old woman sets out to solve a murder in 1818 Dublin in Andrew Hughes’s The Coroner’s Daughter (Doubleday Ireland, February). A middle-aged teacher goes seriously off track in John Toomey’s Slipping (Dalkey Archive Press, March). There’s a mother with severe dementia in Kate Beaufoy’s The Gingerbread House (Black and White Publishing, March), and Ethel Rohan deals with obesity and suicide – but gently, in the way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime dealt with high-functioning autism – in The Weight of Him (Atlantic Books, June).
Glasgow-based scriptwriter and actor Karl Geary has written a Dublin love story, Montpelier Parade (Vintage, January). The debut thriller from actor Ciarán McMenamin, Skintown (Doubleday Ireland, April), is being compared to Trainspotting, so expect fights, riots, sex, acid house and, um . . . fishing?
Other debuts to keep an eye out for are Laura McVeigh’s Under the Almond Tree (Two Roads, February), in which a young Afghani refugee tells her story; Lisa Harding’s Harvesting (New Island, April), in which teenagers from Moldova and Dublin bond in an Irish brothel; and Sarah Flannery Murphy’s more-than-slightly spooky tale of spiritualists and sexual obsession, The Possessions (Scribe, January).
Having recently rediscovered the joys of John Connolly’s evergreen Charlie Parker series, I’m looking forward to Volume 15, A Game of Ghosts (Hodder & Stoughton, April), which sends the Maine PI in search of a colleague who is into even darker stuff than Parker himself. John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black, is off to Prague, where a young doctor finds a body in the snow in Prague Nights (Viking, June). And Stuart Neville, writing as Hayden Beck, takes to the US for a thriller about missing children in Here and Gone (Harvill Secker, April).
FICTION: INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Highlight: The Zoo of the New: Poems To Read Now, selected by Nick Laird and Don Paterson (Penguin Books, March)
An anthology which aims to transform the way we define and appreciate poetry, drawing on works in translation as well as poems from oral cultures, undisputed masterpieces as well as rare discoveries? Bring it on, guys . . .
If you’re one of the millions of people – 11 million people worldwide, at a recent count – who bought Paula Hawkins’s record-smashing suspense story The Girl On The Train, you’ll be on tenterhooks for news of her follow-up. Into the Water (Doubleday, May) is set in a small riverside town in the UK, and while the publisher is wisely giving little away in terms of the plot, it will feature two sisters, “the slipperiness of the truth, and a family drowning in secrets”.
In defiance of contemporary global political trends, American writers have been forging strong links with the Man Booker prize judges, a trend which is likely to continue in 2017. Paul Auster, a regular on our own Impac lists, recounts the four lives of one boy in 4321 (Faber & Faber, January). The debut novel from short-story writer George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, (Bloomsbury, March) unfolds over a single night in a Georgetown cemetery in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with the body of his 11-year-old son. The biographer, rare-books expert and former Booker judge Rick Gekoski has also written his first novel, Drake (Canongate, February), a coming-of-old-age journal which is full of advice on how to live and how to die. Amor Towles, author of the surprise US bestseller about 1930s’ Manhattan, Rules of Civility, finds himself in the Soviet Union in the 1920s for A Gentleman In Moscow (Hutchinson, February), billed as “War and Peace meets the Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Back on our side of the pond, the author of HHhH, Laurent Binet, offers a madcap reconstruction of the death of literary critic Roland Barthes, The Seventh Function of Language (Harvill Secker, May); Edouard Louis explores the violence, homophobia and racism of contemporary France in The End of Eddy (Harvill Secker, February); and a major French publishing success arrives in English with Christophe Chabouté’s elegant graphic novel The Park Bench (Faber & Faber, May).
Two very different British Pakistani writers have love stories for spring. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Hamish Hamilton, March) is set in a city disintegrating into war and civil unrest, while Nadeem Aslam’s The Golden Legend (Faber, January) finds a community consumed by religious intolerance. Thomas Keneally draws on the time he spent in a Catholic seminary as a young man for his turbulent tale of a rebel priest fighting the Church’s cover-up of child abuse, Crimes of the Father (Sceptre, May). And keep an eye out for Bandi’s story collection The Accusation (Serpent’s Tail, March), tales of ordinary folks struggling against an inhuman system, which is said to be the first dissident fiction ever to get out of North Korea.
Fans of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will want to check out The Music Shop (Hutchinson, March), while Michèle Forbes follows her operatic story of 1920s’ Belfast, Ghost Moth, with a tale set against the backdrop of the music hall, Edith & Oliver (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, March).
On the crime front, newcomer Daniel Cole’s Rag Doll (Trapeze, February) is a brooding thriller in the mould of Se7en. Kate Hamer follows her Costa-listed The Girl In The Red Coat with The Doll Funeral (Faber & Faber, February). Italian bestseller Sandro Dazieri brings us two detectives who suffer from panic attacks in Kill The Father (Simon & Schuster, February). And if, like this writer, you can’t get enough of Nordic crime in any shape or form, why not start the year with The Ninth Grave (Head of Zeus, January), from Swedish crime writer of the year Stefan Arnhem? “It’s one of the worst winters Stockholm has ever seen . . .” Bliss.
NON FICTION: INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
Highlight: Richard Ford: Between Them (Bloomsbury, May)
In this much-anticipated memoir, the author of The Sportswriter pays tribute to his parents. His mother Edna was just 17 when she fell in love with travelling salesman Parker Carrol Ford, and they hit the road in the American south. (Actually, doesn’t that sound uncannily like the start of a Richard Ford novel . . .?)
One of the biggest-selling book genre in the contemporary publishing world is the memoir which traces the triumph of hope over adversity. The Korean writer Min Kym has a spectacular tale in the key of loss. A child prodigy, she acquired a Stradivarius at the age of 21 – only for it to be stolen from a railway station cafe. She chronicles her subsequent breakdown and recovery in Gone (Viking, April). Ballerina and gymnast Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz at the age of 16 and made to dance for Mengele. Now a psychologist who specialises in post-traumatic stress disorder, she has some extraordinary advice for those of us who lead more ordinary lives in The Choice (Rider, April).
After the Dreyfus affair, the French novelist Émile Zola was forced to leave Paris with nothing but the clothes he was standing in and a nightshirt wrapped in newspaper. In The Disappearance of Zola (Faber, January), the children’s laureate Michael Rosen tells the little-known story of Zola’s sojourn in England. The Australian novelist Tim Winton follows his two volumes of memoir, Land’s Edge and Island Home, with a very personal collection of family stories, The Boy Behind The Curtain (Picador, April); and the Nigerian novelist Teju Cole gets behind a camera for Blind Spot (Faber, April), a series of 150 photographs paired with surprising, innovative text.
You’d think being trounced by Deep Blue in 1997 would have put the chess grand master Garry Kasparov off computers for life: instead, he’s a convert to artificial intelligence and in Deep Thinking (John Murray, May) he argues that it represents the future for humanity. For many of us, the future also contains many Airbnb bookings; Leigh Gallagher gives an inside account of how three guys disrupted an industry, making billions of dollars and plenty of enemies, in The Airbnb Story (Ebury, March).
There’ll be a simultaneous US/UK publication of Mayte Garcia’s The Most Beautiful (Trapeze, April) on the first anniversary of the death of her ex-husband, the rock star formerly known as Prince. The Puerto Rican dancer and actress says she and Prince shared “a bond like no other”. Now she wants to share it with the world.
Life inside one of the world’s most fear-ridden cities is the topic for the anonymous Syrian journalist Samer, whose diary-style despatches were originally encrypted and exported by the BBC as a series of short radio broadcasts. In The Raqqa Diaries (Cornerstone, March) he writes about everything from his father being killed in an air strike to the 40 lashes he received for speaking out against a beheading. Native Lands (Allen Lane, June) takes Norman Davies from Texas to Tasmania via Abu Dhabi and Singapore to find out where the people who live there really come from – blowing simplistic ideas about racial purity out of the water in the process.
Paul Kingsnorth offers a guide to a future that has already arrived in the intriguingly-titled Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist (Faber & Faber, April). Anyone who read Philip Lymbery’s heartbreaking history of industrial agriculture, Farmageddon, will be awaiting Dead Zone: Where The Wild Things Were (Bloomsbury, March), his survey of our planet’s many endangered species, with keen interest and more than a hint of dread. Maybe best to prepare for the shock with a look at The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down (Penguin, February) by Haemin Sunim, who is not only a Buddhist monk but a Berkeley, Harvard and Princeton-educated Buddhist monk. Now that’s what we call Ivy League-standard self-help.
NON FICTION: IRISH INTEREST
Highlight: Garrett Carr, The Rule of the Land: Walking the Irish Border (Faber, January)
The Donegal-born cartographer and writer travels the border on foot and by canoe. This invisible line, now set to become the UK’s frontier with the European Union, has hosted smugglers and kings, runaways and peacemakers, protestors and terrorists. Carr also includes his own maps, which are something truly special.
Larger-than-life characters from history can make for particularly compelling books. In Mamie Cadden: Backstreet Abortionist (Mercier Press, January) Ray Kavanagh tells the story of the woman who drove around Dublin in an open-top MG sports car while providing a busy abortion service in the conservative Ireland of the 1940s. How James Connolly’s secretary fell in love with a staunch Unionist is the subject of Allison Murphy’s Winnie and George (Mercier Press, January); and a murder trial from Nenagh in 1849 is recreated by Andrew Tierney in The Doctor’s Wife is Dead (Penguin Ireland, February).
Seán Farren and Denis Haughey offer a selection of speeches, articles and interviews which played a key role in resolving the Northern conflict in John Hume: in his own words (Four Courts Press). Paddy Armstrong has never spoken at length about his 15-year incarceration as one of the Guildford Four, but in An Innocent Man (Gill Books) he takes an unflinching look at his ordeal and its aftermath. Gail O’Rorke’s Crime Or Compassion (Hachette Ireland, February) is the story of the first person in Ireland to be charged with – and acquitted of – the crime of assisting a suicide.
In 1943, Harry Callan was one of 32 Irish POWs who, having refused a Gestapo “request” to work for the Germans, were sent to a labour camp where they were starved, beaten and forced to dig the foundations for an immense U-boat factory. Unable to speak about the experience for many years, in his 80s he agreed to revisit the site of his incarceration – and found that the story had disappeared from official records. Determined to give his comrades recognition, he recounts the whole thing, with the help of his daughter Michèle, in Forgotten Hero of Bunker Valentin (Collins Press, March).
Declan Murphy and Ami Rao tell the inspirational story of the Limerick jockey who came back from the “dead” after having his skull shattered in 12 places – and his obituary published in the Racing Post – in Centaur (Doubleday, April). The Best Is Yet To Come (Hachette Ireland, August) finds Cavan footballer Alan O’Mara writing frankly about his struggle with depression – and his decision to speak out about his suicide attempt at the age of 22 – while psychiatry professor Jim Lucey explores some paths to recovery and emotional wellbeing through a series of personal case histories in The Life Well Lived (Transworld, April).
The author of the acclaimed 1916 TV drama-documentary A Terrible Beauty, Paul O’Brien, studies the violence visited on Ireland in 1920 in Havoc: the Auxiliaries in Ireland’s War of Independence (Collins Press, April). Journalists Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon chart the rise of the Kinahan criminal gang in The Cartel (Penguin Ireland, May), and Pádraic Fogarty issues a provocative call to environmental action in Whittled Away: the Tale of Ireland’s Vanishing Nature (Collins Press, April).
The social and intellectual diversity of 18th-century Ireland is examined in Vincent Morlay’s The Popular Mind in 18th-Century Ireland (Cork University Press, January) and Clair McDonald’s The 18th-century Landscape of Stradbally Hall (Four Courts Press). The authoritative, witty writings of an Irish feminist are collected in Margaret Ward’s Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington: Suffragette and Sinn Féiner (UCD Press, June). Christine Kinealy, Jason King and Ciarán Reilly (eds) shed light on Women and the Great Hunger (Cork University Press, February). Niamh Howlin’s Laypersons and Law (Four Courts Press) looks at the various roles played by juries in 19th-century Irish courts.
One of the biggest Irish books of 2016, in every sense, was Naturama, the illustrated volume from Michael Fewer and Melissa Doran. They follow it with My Naturama Journal (Gill Books, March), packed with projects, tips and plenty of space for putative nature-watchers to record their observations. The complex relationship between a mother and daughter is explored by Sally Phipps, daughter of the Kildare-born writer, in Molly Keane: A Life (Virago, January). There are gluten-free recipes galore in Finn’s World (Gill Books) from the Bundoran-based surfer Finn Ní Fhaoláin.
The next three lectures in the ongoing series from the Ireland Chair of Poetry (UCD Press, May) will come from John Montague, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Paul Durcan. And practical writing advice meets heartfelt love song to creativity in Colum McCann’s Letter to a Young Writer (Bloomsbury, June), 52 short essays from his blog which address everything from finding an agent to the moral imperatives of the writing life.