Thursday, January 3, 2008

2008 Book Preview - Fiction

Now that all the top books of 2007 have been duly listed and noted, it's time to turn your attention to the exciting crop of new books coming in 2008. And it's going to be a terrific year for readers!
A number of newspapers and bloggers have already noted their picks which you can read here and here, for example, but I can give you a better sneak peek because I've already read many of them (or a portion thereof) and I've also heard the buzz from my colleagues. So I'm not just giving you a sales pitch when I write that I am truly, truly excited about tons of books being published in the next coming months. Part of what makes this industry so interesting is its unpredictability; we usually know (or hope we know) what will be the huge commercial bestsellers but reps always have one or two favorites that we're rooting for in the hopes that word of mouth will turn them into sleeper hits. But this year, I have over 20 little babies that I have fingers crossed for and I haven't even heard about the fall books yet! So let me start to tell you about some of them (you can put your holds on early at the library). Today, I'll concentrate on fiction; non-fiction will come in a future post. Note: these books are "new" to Canada - some of them have already been published in the U.K.

If there's a trend for 2008 (at least with the publishers that I represent), it's definately an increase in publishing international literature in translation - a very welcome trend for this reader; I have been introduced to so many new, amazing writers. And this is showing up in crime fiction too, which is terrific. So, along with letting you know about some of the bestsellers on the horizon, here's a whirlwind (or should that be worldwind) tour of the books I'm most excited about and the ones I'm most looking forward to reading.

Canadian fiction:
My favourite upcoming Canadian novel so far, is Nikolski, by Quebec author Nicholas Dickner, translated by Lezer Lederhendler. To say it's the most charming novel I've ever read about fish, garbage and pirates isn't really doing it justice, but it's a quirky, funny, coming-of-age novel for bibliophiles and definately a great YA crossover book for older teens. Steven Galloway looks at those very tiny but essential moments of survival during wartime in his new novel The Cellist of Sarajevo, which follows four characters including a female sniper named Arrow. A beautiful novel. Impending war is the subject of Stephens Gerard Malone's I Still Have a Suitcase in Berlin about a Canadian caught up in the events and intrigue of 1930s Berlin. Paul Quarrington's latest, The Ravine, takes a middle-aged man still haunted by a childhood event in a suburban ravine. Quarrington describes the novel as what would happen if he'd written Mystic River. A colleague of mine has highly recommended Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa, a collection of linked short stories about a Portuguese fisherman and his son, who grows up in Toronto's colourful Little Portugal. I'm also looking forward to Andre Alexis's novel Asylum, set in Ottawa during the Mulroney years. And Kelley Armstrong fans can note March 25th down on their calendars when her latest Women of the Otherworld book, Personal Demon will be published; Joy Fielding's latest, Charley's Web, also comes out in March.

British Fiction:
Those who've heard me booktalk know that I adore British writers and none more so than Jonathan Coe, so a year with a new book by him bodes well for my universe at large. And even though his latest, The Rain Before it Falls is completely different from his previous work, I loved it for its narrative twists, its wonderful female characters, its desperate portrayal of generational pain, its affectionate nod to women writers like Rosamond Lehmann, and of course for its beautiful writing. It even partially takes place in two Canadian settings - Toronto and Saskatoon. What more could a reader want? It came out in England in the fall and I can't see how it didn't wind up on multiple award lists. My second favourite book is Louis de Berniere's The Partisan's Daughter. Also very different from some of his previous work, this is set in London in 1970 and involves an odd but incredibly engaging relationship between two unlikely people who meet in a very unexpected way. Their stories unfold to each other over a series of coffee meetings, but it's what is held back that makes this novel so intriguing. Adam Thorpe is another of my British literary boyfriends. We have two new books from him this year - I've just started Between Each Breath, which is literally taking my breath away. It's about a happily married, yet childless composer, whose brief affair while on a trip to Estonia comes back to haunt him. Later in the year, we'll be publishing The Standing Pool, about two Oxford academics who take a sabbatical with their young family in France, where all is not as idyllic as it seems. Jeanette Winterson's latest, The Stone Gods is a funny, eco-feminist satire coupled with a strange love story. I also expect laughs from David Lodge's latest novel, Deaf Sentence. And do NOT miss picking up this new debut novel, The Outcast by Sadie Jones. This story of an unhappy teen trying to get over his mother's death and to reconnect with his father and society after a stint in jail, has all the emotional intensity of something like Ian McEwan's Atonement and is my pick for best first novel of 2008. Okay, tied with Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost. I originally read the British edition last fall and then found out to my delight that we were going to be her Canadian publisher. I've already blogged my thoughts on this wonderful novel here. And of course, the big British book will be Sebastian Faulks writing as James Bond. Devil May Care comes out in May. Can't wait.

American Fiction:
Some big names and some big books. My pick so far is Russell Banks' The Reserve. Oh, how I love this book. Just good old-fashioned story-telling, a vampish heroine, some stunning writing and even a zeppelin or two. The Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire is a marvellous fictional account of the life of bestselling author Constance Fenimore Woolson. If you think you know her story from having read Colm Toibin's The Master, or David Lodge's Author, Author - think again. Two short story collections I can't wait to dip into are Tobias Wolff's Our Story Begins, and Kevin Brockmeier's The View From the Seventh Layer (I loved his novel, The Brief History of the Dead). Lara Vapnyar's Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love also looks promising. But if you only read one short story collection this year, you MUST get a copy of Jhumpa Lahiri's Unacustomed Earth. What a masterclass in short story writing this is - every entry reads like a complete, compact novel. I'm still thinking about them and I read the manuscript over four months ago. I just finished Mary Doria Russell's lovely Dreamers of the Day, about a lonely but feisty American schoolteacher (think Katherine Hepburn in Summertime) who travels to Egypt and gets caught up in the Cairo Peace Conference of 1921, mixing with Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence. Other treats to look forward to include Alice Hoffman's The Third Angel, Chris Bohjalian's Skeletons at the Feast, Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief, and David Guterson's The Other. And look for this delightful epistolary novel to become a book club favourite. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (a former librarian) and her niece Annie Barrows, is about a special bookclub formed during the Germans occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War and how one writer's interest in its members changes her life.

International Fiction:
Where to start? Bernhard Schlink's new novel Homecoming, translated by Michael Henry Heim, is a masterful, modern reworking (in part) of Homer's Odyssey; a novel that constantly changes in tone and narrative style following a man who spends a lifetime trying to understand what type of man his father - who never came back from the war - truly was. Swiss writer Peter Stamm's new novel, On A Day Like This, translated by Michael Hoffman, also looks to the past as a man tries to come to terms with his own life choices. Chilean writer Elizabeth Subercaseaux's A Week in October , translated by Marina Harass, is a delicious book of revenge that draws the reader into the heart of a marriage as a dying woman leaves behind a notebook for her husband, detailing her affair with another man. Of course all doesn't go quite as planned. An early finished copy of Peter Carey's His Illegal Self just dropped on my desk; it takes place in a hippie commune. I'm a hundred pages into Ma Jian's huge new novel Beijing Coma, translated by Flora Drew, which looks at the changes in China since Tiananmen, seen through the eyes of a man who has been in a coma for a decade. I'm also looking forward to Imre Kertesz's Detective Story, translated by Tim Wilkinson, Linn Ullman's A Blessed Child, translated by Sarah Death, Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong, translated by Howard Goldblatt, Julien Parme by Florian Zeller, translated by William Rodamor and The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.
Whew. Don't have time today to go into the exciting crime novels and classics coming as well, but stay tuned.


Alexandra Yarrow said...

Maylin, I'm watching this story on CBC about the real cellist of Sarajvo ... have you seen this? Can't find a link on CBC but there's one on the Times:

I stillllll haven't read the book - it's on my desk right now and I'm really looking forward to it.

Maylin said...

Hi Alexandra,
No - I didn't catch it, but thanks for the link. I did go to see Steven read when I was in Seattle a few months ago - he talked about his initial trepidation writing about a real person, but when you read the book (which is excellent), you'll see that the "real cellist" isn't the focus - it's about how Galloway's fictional characters react to him and the war. Galloway said at his reading that he really didn't put anything about the cellist into the book that wasn't common knowledge. This is one of my favourite Canadian novels of the year - I have my fingers crossed for Giller!