This is going to be a great year for books. While 2013 was a great year for books, 2014 will be greater. Or so people keep saying. Is every year a great year for books? It’s hard to pinpoint a bad year but how do we know this year will be great?
Plenty of excellent writers – Lorrie Moore, Colm Toibin, Alan Warner – publish new books in 2014 but we’ve no idea what they’ll be like yet. Zadie Smith says she needs the third instalment of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle “like crack”, but how does she know what needing crack is like? I appreciate that I’m being a bit holier than thou. What the hell! I’m as excited as anybody about the books coming out this year so here are some by no means definitive selections from the Faber Spring catalogue. It’s going to be a great six months for books.
I know Andrew Sean Greer’s The Impossible Life of Greta Wells is one of the best novels appearing in January because I read the American edition last Summer after hearing this interview. Greer is best-known for The Story of a Marriage but this tale of roads taken and not taken might be his most perfect yet.
Published this month, Hanif Kureishi’s first novel for six years, The Last Word, concerns an eminent Indian-born novelist and his English biographer. It’s rumoured (by commentators) to be based on the tumultuous relationship between V. S. Naipaul and Patrick French, whose The World Is What It Is sets the standard for literary biography, but whether that’s true or not, expect a meditation on art and ageing.
Meeting Naipaul is one of many things Teju Cole has done since his 2011 debut, Open City, which established him as one of the most distinctive voices of his generation. He’s also been held up at gunpoint, become world literature’s most compelling user of Twitter and written brilliant non-fiction from all over the world. Every Day is for the Thief, which Cole wrote before Open City, tells the story of a young man who returns to Lagos after several years away and it appears in March.
As does the book that you, me and everybody we know is impatient to read. Bark is Lorrie Moore’s first collection of stories since Birds of America, although she did produce a fine novel in 2009. David Shields says that male readers fall in love with Moore for her wit, imagine themselves wisecracking with her over wheat beer on pale Midwestern afternoons. I confess that readers like that are the only readers here.
Spring isn’t all about fiction, of course. John Carey, who remains at 79 one of the most sensible and perceptive critics at work, reflects on his life in literature, including formative encounters with W. H. Auden, Robert Graves and Philip Larkin, in his memoir, The Unexpected Professor.
Anybody who followed Alev Scott’s coverage of protests in Istanbul last summer on her Turkish Awakening site will relish her book of the same name. Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, which is about how ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden became the world’s most wanted man, is also slated for Spring publication.
Even though I admired his skilful, wistful West End Final, I’ve always found Hugo Williams’s verse a little safe. ‘From the Dialysis Ward’, however, which appeared in the London Review of Books last year, was a harrowing venture in to new territory which bodes well for I Knew The Bride.
Toby Martinez de las Rivas makes the step up from Faber pamphlet to debut collection with Terror while Simon Armitage follows his earlier version of the Odyssey with The Last Days of Troy, a retelling of The Iliad, which could be read alongside Lavinia Greenlaw’s A Double Sorrow, her fresh telling of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida, one of literature’s most tortured love stories.
Lost love is a theme of The Temporary Gentleman, Sebastian Barry’s novel about “an ordinary man who’s seen extraordinary things.” Barry’s protagonist is a Second World War veteran whereas Andrew O’Hagan’s Illuminations is, in part, concerned with 21st-century conflict in Afghanistan. The novel, which is the author’s fifth, culminates in Blackpool, the Lancashire seaside town which has until now been inexplicably absent from contemporary fiction. (Editor’s note: unfortunately this is now to be published in 2015).
For a story set further afield, Akhil Sharma, who was one of Granta’s Best American Novelists Under 40, publishes Family Life, his long-awaited second novel in May.
After that, we’ll wait to see what Autumn brings. There is one book that will definitely be there though. Two years ago, Creative Director Lee Brackstone introduced Alan Warner’s reading at the Faber Social by saying that, if he could bring any living author to Faber, it would be Warner. Lee has got his wish and Warner’s eighth novel, Their Lips Talk of Mischief, which is about two broke writers in 1980s London, will be launched at the Edinburgh Festival in August.