Books to get excited about in 2016
December 14, 2015 § 12 Comments
For some time I’ve been trying, and completely failing, to do the #TBR20 challenge. Failing, I think, because I like to arrange in advance all twenty books in a pile in the order I plan to read them, and then something happens: a library hold comes in with a two-week limit, I’m asked to review something, an ARC arrives, or some new book seems so wonderful I feel an urge to buy it and start reading on the spot. At least two of these will happen before I’ve finished even the first book on the pile, and then—well, then the whole thing is wrecked, naturally. I don’t handle disruption well.
So in a sort of reverse #TBR20 spirit, I’m choosing twenty books that will be published in 2016 that I’m really looking forward to. If I had to limit new book acquisition to just twenty in 2016, this would be a pretty good selection.
The publishing dates are probably a random mix of UK and Canadian, with a smattering of US dates in there, but most should be the book’s first publication date worldwide (feel free to comment if you know a book will be out earlier somewhere).
- Han Kang: Human Acts (Portobello, January, Korea, Deborah Smith)
The Vegetarian, which I wrote about for Open Letters Monthly earlier this year, was an excellent novel and an excellent translation–definitely one of my top five in 2015. Very much looking forward to this one, set in 1980 and dealing with suppression of dissent, protests and censorship.
2. Lina Wolff: Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs (And Other Stories, January, Sweden, Frank Perry)
Women at a Spanish brothel are collecting stray dogs and naming them after famous authors. Swedish, funny and Bolaño-esque–what’s not to like?
3. Sunil Yapa: Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Little, Brown, January, US)
Set during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, this debut novel promises rawness and heartbreak. Having once (many years ago) tried to write a novel based on political protests and radical activism, I’m eager to see what Yapa does with this.
4. Peter Verhelst: The Man I Became (Peirene, February, Netherlands, David Colmer)
This book is narrated by a gorilla which really should put me off. But it sounds very interesting, with the gorilla essentially a stand-in for humans and the dilemma of choosing between principles and self-preservation. It will be my first Peirene book as a subscriber, which is exciting in itself. I must confess that it also appealed because I initially confused the author with the Belgian Dmitri Verhulst (Problemski Hotel, Christ’s Entry into Brussels).
5. Raphael Montes: Perfect Days (Viking, February, Brazil, Alison Entrekin)
This combines a psychological thriller with a road-trip across Brazil. The author is a disgusting over-achiever: a celebrated writer, a lawyer, and he’s only twenty-five. Apparently his English is good enough to write a literary novel–or so you might believe from reading the various publishers’ pages about this book, none of which mention a translator. In fact, for all the big publishers on this list, I had to Google because the publisher “forgot” to #namethetranslator
6. Under the Stone, Karoline Georges (Anvil, Feb, Quebec, Jacob Homel)
This one seems intriguing but tricky to describe, so I’m going to simply quote Chantal Guy in La Presse: “A unique literary exercise that can’t be solely described as a traditional dystopian novel. Indeed, a disturbing strangeness worms its way throughout, a strangeness that could be at home in a fantasy novel, a realist psychological work, a poetic experience. Perhaps Karoline Georges has in fact created a new genre, the claustrophobic novel, but she demonstrates that despite whatever constraints are put on her work, a writer can create the most peculiar worlds through the singular strength of her imagination.”
7. Georgi Tenev: Party Headquarters (Open Letter, Feb, Bulgaria, Angela Rodel)
I am immediately attracted to anything with a life-under-communism theme, so this award-winning Bulgarian novel set in the 1980s and 1990s and dealing with both personal and political aspects of the transition from communism to democracy seems fascinating.
8. Fariba Hachtroudi: The Man Who Snapped His Fingers (Europa, February, France/Iran, Alison Anderson
From the Europa Editions website: “Winner of the 2001 French Human Rights Prize, French-Iranian author Hachtroudi’s English-language debut explores themes as old as time: the crushing effects of totalitarianism and the infinite power of love. She was known as “Bait 455,” the most famous prisoner in a ruthless theological republic. He was one of the colonels closest to the Supreme Commander. When they meet, years later, far from their country of birth, a strange, equivocal relationship develops between them. Both their shared past of suffering and old romantic passions come rushing back accompanied by recollections of the perverse logic of violence that dominated the dictatorship under which they lived. A novel of ideas, exploring power and memory by an important female writer from a part of the world where female voices are routinely silenced.”
9. Leonard Pfeijffer: La Superba (Deep Vellum, March, Netherlands, Michele Hutchison)
Another Deep Vellum book, Sphinx, by Anne Garréta and translated by Emma Kate Ramadan, was in my top five this year. For a new and tiny press, Deep Vellum is certainly getting some impressive others (which is probably, sadly, indicative of the enormous amount of literary talent waiting to be translated into English). Deep Vellum is a publisher whose catalogue I would happily read in its entirety.
The publisher’s blurb: A joy to read, profoundly funny, touching, and profound, La Superba, winner of the most prestigious Dutch literary prize, is a Rabelaisian, stylistic tour-de-force. Migration, legal and illegal, is at the center of this novel about a writer who becomes trapped in his walk on the wild side in mysterious and exotic Genoa, Italy—the labyrinthine, timeless port city nicknamed “La Superba.”
10. Helen Oyeyemi: What Is Yours Is Not Yours (Picador, March, UK)
Helen. Oyeyemi. Need I say more?
11. The Goddess of Fireflies, Geneviève Pettersen (March, Véhicule, Quebec, Neil Smith)
Acclaimed as not just a contemporary classic but also the Quebecois coming-of-age tale for those who grew up in the nineties, The Goddess of Fireflies, translated by Bang, Crunch author Neil Smith, is one not to be missed. Originally published in French by one of my favourite Quebec publishers, Le Quartanier.
12. Ismail Kadare: A Girl in Exile (Harvill Secker, March, Albania, John Hodgson)
My read-a-book-from-every-country-in-the-world ground to a halt after just one country (Afghanistan). This new book, from Albania’s best-known novelist, seems to have just the subject matter to draw me back in to the next country on the list.
From the publisher: “Stefa, a playwright, is called in for questioning by the Party committee after an unknown girl, Linda B., is found dead with a signed copy of his latest book in her possession. Stefa remembers dedicating the copy to Linda’s friend, who has since become his mistress. He soon learns that Linda’s family, considered suspect, were banished from Albania and that the girl committed suicide. Gradually Linda’s story unfolds: how she loved Stefa, and pretended to have cancer so she would be allowed back into the country to be near him, before succumbing to despair.”
13. Jacob Wren: Rich and Poor (BookThug, April, Canada)
I’ve yet to read a book by Jacob Wren, yet I’ve been fascinated from afar by him and his books for three years. Definitely time to remedy that situation with Wren’s newest book. Here’s the catalogue blurb: “Who hasn’t, at one time or another, considered killing a billionaire? Following on the critical success of his novel Polyamorous Love Song (one of The Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2014), Canadian writer and performer Jacob Wren picks up the mantle of the politically and economically disenfranchised in Rich and Poor—the story of a middle- class, immigrant pianist who has fallen on hard times, and now finds himself washing dishes to make ends meet. Rich and Poor is a rare work of literary fiction that cuts into the psychology of politics in ways that are off-kilter, unexpected, and unnerving. In drawing comparisons to fiction that focuses on “the personal as political” (including Chris Kraus’s Summer of Hate and Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives), Rich and Poor is a compelling, fast-paced, and energizing read for adventure-seeking, politically active and/or interested readers who rowdily question their position among “the 99%.”
Malcolm Sutton’s Job Shadowing, out from BookThug in May, also looks very interesting (excerpt here).
14. Michèle Audin, One Hundred and Twenty-One Days (Deep Vellum, Christiana Hills, April, France)
Another one from Deep Vellum! The second female Oulipian to be published by this Texas house (Garréta was the first), Audin is a mathematician and was elected to the Oulipo in 2009. This novel, which spans the twentieth century with a disparate cast of mostly mathematician characters in a variety of locations on several continents, but particularly Europe in the two world wars, is difficult to describe but not to read. French cover (blurrily) pictured.
15. Catherine Leroux: The Party Wall (Biblioasis, April, Quebec, Lazer Lederhendler)
This is an author I have somehow failed to spot in Quebec lit, so I’m very glad Biblioasis is bringing this one to a wider audience. Leroux has just been nominated for the Prix des Libraires for her new novel, Madame Victoria. 49th Shelf describes this novel as reminiscent of the novels of Tom Robbins and David Mitchell. The publisher’s blurb:
Catherine Leroux’s first novel, translated into English brilliantly by Lazer Lederhendler, ties together stories about siblings joined in surprising ways. A woman learns that she absorbed her twin sister’s body in the womb and that she has two sets of DNA; a girl in the deep South pushes her sister out of the way of a speeding train, losing her legs; and a political couple learn that they are non-identical twins separated at birth. The Party Wall establishes Leroux as one of North America’s most intelligent and innovative young authors.
16. Basma Abdel Aziz: The Queue (Melville House, May, Egypt, Elisabeth Jaquette)
This Egyptian novel is set in an almost present-day Egypt, slightly more dystopian than reality. After a failed uprising, a sinister authority, the Gate, rises to power. The main character was shot during the uprising and is waiting for official permission to have a bullet removed; the novel is, intriguingly, structured using his medical records. My main fear about books from the Middle East is that they’ll be similar to The Kite Runner in tone, mood or style (because it’s a proven genre that sells in the Anglo world, not because all ME writing is actually like that, but this one is published by Melville House and is described as “evocative of George Orwell’s dystopias, of Kafkaesque surrealism, and of the dark satire of Sonallah Ibrahim’s ‘The Committee’,” by the translator in a review at Madr Masr so it’s pretty certain to be way better than that.
17. Lola Lafon: The Little Communist Who Never Smiled (Serpent’s Tail, June, France, Nick Caistor)
I read this book in French purely on the basis that I loved the title, and even though I knew almost nothing about the (real, fictionalised) main character, the Romanian Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the book was still really good. It’s not exactly historical fiction, but traces a life of this tiny gymnast who captured the imagination of many in the west when she scored a perfect 10 in Montreal in 1974. (French cover pictured.)
18. Clemens Meyer: Hearts Like Diamonds (Fitzcarraldo Editions, October, Germany, Katy Derbyshire)
I read Meyer’s All the Lights (And Other Stories, also translated by Katy Derbyshire) and really enjoyed his sometimes disorienting style. Katy gives a good flavour of the book at love german books:
It’s about the sex industry, about prostitutes and the men who make money out of them. It’s about one particular man, Arnold Kraushaar, who rents flats out to prostitutes and provides them with services, a man who doesn’t see himself as a pimp as such. And there are other men with other names running other businesses, club managers, gang members, policemen, fathers and regular customers. And there are women who work as prostitutes, and we learn some of their names but they never tell us them directly. It’s about the changes that happen in one big city in East Germany, from a state that tolerated a miniscule amount of informal prostitution to one in which it has been a legalized industry for ten years.
And there are stones and rocks – gemstones and crystal and eyes like diamonds, and tunnels through the rock under the city, and there are angels and killers and horror and there’s even love, or something like it. The women are all so different but most of them so strong, and p. 301 made me cry twice over and I had to skip one chapter when reading for the second time. There is Machiavelli and Karl Marx and Wolfgang Hilbig and David Peace and Hubert Fichte and Lewis Carroll, and no doubt more I haven’t identified. And it ends – almost – with Mahler, but is otherwise nothing like Open City.
Note to self: writing this list might be easier if I’d chosen books with easily described plots and clear narrative arcs.(German cover pictured.)
19. Éric Plamondon: Hungary–Hollywood Express (Véhicule, autumn, Quebec, Dimitri Nasrallah)
This is the first of a superb trilogy called 1984. I know I’m not the only one to be deeply envious of Dimitri Nasrallah for getting to translate this fantastic book. It is, naturally, impossible to describe, but you can read an excerpt at Drunken Boat. Each book in the trilogy looks back, in fragments, over the 20th century (lots of cultural references both obvious and sly for people who like that sort of thing), through the eyes of a famous person who has a particular connection with the year 1984 (the Tarzan actor Jonny Weissmuller, Steve Jobs and the American novelist Richard Brautigan).
20. Megan Bradbury: Everyone Is Watching (Picador, June, UK).
I’m pleased to say that my friend Megan Bradbury will be publishing her first novel next year. From the publisher: “Everyone is Watching is a novel about the men and women [including Edmund White, Robert Mapplethwaite and Walt Whitman] who have defined New York. Through the lives and perspectives of these great creators, artists and thinkers, and through other iconic works of art that capture its essence, New York itself solidifies. Complex, rich, sordid, tantalizing, it is constantly changing and evolving. Both intimate and epic in its sweep, Everyone is Watching is a love letter to New York and its people – past, present and future.” (No cover yet.)