It is cold and dark and wet and Britain seems hell bent on self destruction so I’m going to try to cheer myself up my thinking about some of the literary treats we have in the months ahead.
Lanny by Max Porter
‘There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might do anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a figure schoolchildren used to draw green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth.
Dead Papa Toothwort is awake. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to his English symphony. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, enchanting boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.’
I loved Porter’s first book, ‘Grief is a Thing with Feathers’, a sweet, poetic meditation on death, whereas this sounds like a book for today, for a country which has lost a clear sighted view of its past and so can no longer understands what a sensible, peaceful future might look like.
Another Planet by Tracey Thorn
The music of Tracey Thorn (The Marine Girls, Everything But The Girl, solo) has been with me all my adult life and in recent years her writing has enchanted me too. ‘Another Planet’ is a look at what it was like growing up in suburbia in the 1970s which, like the 1980s, – to those of us who grew up then – really was another planet. Tracey was also responsible for one of the best albums of last year – ‘Record’
I’m also been lucky enough to get tickets to see Tracey in conversation with Jeanette Winterson, which to me is like a superheroes ‘team up’ comic. And speaking of Jeanette Winterson…
Frankisstein promises a reboot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ‘launching us into a hold-on-to-your hat modern-day horror story about very modern-day neuroses and issues, including identity, technology, gender and sexuality. Starting in 1915, Mary Shelley writes a story about AI. Zoom forward to post-Brexit Britain and we enter a world of a transgender doctor struggling with his feelings for a celebrated professor leading the AI debate. Elsewhere new generation sex dolls are being mass produced and a cryogenics facility is holding a mass of dead bodies waiting to come back to life.’ Winterson’s novels are always a treat and this one looks more starling bonkers than most.
Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis
I have written previously about my admiration for Louis’ philosophically French novels about growing up gay in small-town France and the politics of gay rape and this latest promises to be in the same vein, looking at the death of his father and how a society which turned its back on a whole class of people might be to blame. Unlikely to be a light and frothy read, so for that I’m looking forward to…
Flaming Sussex by Ian Sansom
Flaming Sussex is fifth in the ‘County Guides’ series in which Professor Morley, his spirited daughter Miriam and assistant Sefton stumble across dark happenings in the heart of England.
At about four o’clock on 5th November 1937, Miss Lizzie Walter, a teacher at the King’s Road Primary School in Lewes, said goodbye to her young pupils. The children clattered out into the dark streets, preparing for that night’s revelries – and Miss Lizzie Walter was never seen alive again.
Hitler, Mussolini and Pope Paul V are on fire. Fireworks explode and flaming tar barrels are being dragged through the streets. Bonfire Night in Lewes is the closest England comes to Mardis Gras. In their fifth adventure, Morley, Miriam and Sefton find themselves caught up in the celebrations and the chaos.
On the morning after the night before, Sefton goes for a swim in Pells Pool, the oldest freshwater lido in England – in the very centre of Lewes – where he discovers a woman’s body. She has drowned. Is it a misadventure or could it be … murder?
Light, frothy, fun and exciting, a new County Guide is light as breath of fresh air.
Spring by Ali Smith
For me, the third volume in Ali Smith’s seasons quartet has to be another highlight. Nothing much has been revealed about it yet, but if it lives up to the first two volumes then I shall be a very happy boy.
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver
I love a ghost story and ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver ranks alongside the best. Wakenhyrst promises another slant on the supernatural…
Something has been let loose…”
In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father.
When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened.
Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.
Grand Union by Zadie Smith
As a teenager I loved the music of The Smiths and I still do: except now my life is also enriched by the work of more Smiths, Ali and Zadie. Zadie’s ‘On Beauty’ and ‘NW’ filled by heart with joy while ‘Swing Time contained one of the most uplifting sentences in fiction:
‘She was right above me, on her balcony, in a dressing gown and slippers, her hands in the air, turning, turning, her children around her, everybody dancing.’
Grand Union promises 20 stories, 10 old, 10 brand new and I can’t wait.
Black Car Burning by Helen Mort
I’ve not come across Mort before but this, her first novel promises to be something special, especially as it is set in Sheffield, one of my favourite cities.
Alexa is a young police community support officer whose world feels unstable. Her father is estranged and her girlfriend is increasingly distant. Their polyamorous relationship – which for years felt so natural – is starting to seem strained. As she patrols Sheffield she senses the rising tensions in its disparate communities and doubts her ability to keep the peace, to help, to change anything.
Caron is pushing Alexa away and pushing herself ever harder. A climber, she fixates on a brutal route known as Black Car Burning and throws herself into a cycle of repetition and risk. Leigh, who works at a local gear shop, watches Caron climb and feels complicit.
Meanwhile, an ex-police officer compulsively revisits the April day in 1989 that changed his life forever. Trapped in his memories of the disaster, he tracks the Hillsborough inquests, questioning everything.’
I am sure there are going to be other treats too, not least ‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon, whose short stories we such a treat last year. But, of course, the book I REALLY want to see this year is the wonderful Shena Mackay‘s long promised memoir. I’ve got my fingers crossed but I really don’t think it would be wise to hold my breath…