x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Going by the book: The best autumn novels

Jessica Holland picks the best of the rush of new novels coming out soon.

The past six weeks have been so unusually brilliant for ambitious, much-anticipated novels - such as Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, Zadie Smith's NW, Martin Amis's Lionel Asbo and Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth - that literary reviewers have struggled to find space to do them all justice.
And the boom shows no sign of slowing. The publication today of JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy should help the recent surge in book sales stay high. It's possible that the early-autumn rush is because of the US election in November. Publishers might not want to compete with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama for press coverage, but there are plenty of big books coming out next month and beyond. Here is our guide to some of the most eagerly awaited.
 
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (Little, Brown; out today)
A black comedy without a wand or an owl in sight, JK Rowling's first novel for adults, set in a deceptively pretty English town, is about a parish councillor who dies, leaving his seat empty and sparking a vicious election battle. As with the Harry Potter books, The Casual Vacancy has been kept so tightly under wraps that advance copies were not sent to the press, although the book's American publisher, Michael Pietsch, says its humour and humanity reminds him of Dickens.
The Silent House by Orhan Pamuk (Knopf; October 9)
This novel from the Nobel Prize-winner has already been published in seven other European languages and finally gets an English release this autumn. The book tells the story of three siblings who visit their bedridden grandmother in a crumbling house on the outskirts of Istanbul one month before Turkey's 1980 military coup. Pamuk has said that young people tend to like it best among his books because of its tangible youthful spirit.
 
The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z Danielewski (Pantheon; October 16)
The House of Leaves author only published 1,000 copies of this grown-up ghost story at US$1,000 (Dh3,673) apiece when it first came out. Now it's being widely released in time for Halloween at a more affordable price. Telling the spooky story of an invisible sword that inflicts wounds that only appear when the victim turns 50, the book is as visually inventive as we've come to expect from Danielewski, with unconventional layouts and coloured quotation marks to indicate who is narrating.
 
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Viking; October 25)
As if it wasn't audacious enough to write in the voice of Henry James for his 2004 novel The Master, Tóibín chooses the Christian figure of Mary as the narrator of his ninth published novel. An ageing, exiled Mary refuses to believe that her martyred son was the son of God and won't cooperate with the writers of the gospels. It won't fail to be a talking point when it's published next month in the UK and November in the US.
 
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper; November 6)
An unhappily married woman in her 20s, living on a failing farm in rural Tennessee, escapes to a mountain cabin to embark on a destructive affair but stumbles across a breathtaking natural phenomenon that changes her life. It has only been two years since Kingsolver won the Orange Prize for The Lacuna, and this environmentally conscious tale - of a woman whose sheltered existence is invaded by scientists, tourists and the media - is getting similarly glowing early reviews.
 
Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe (Jonathan Cape; October 25)
"In Miami, everybody hates everybody," says the Cuban mayor in the latest novel from the 81-year-old Wolfe. Back to Blood examines class, race, corruption, ambition, money and sex in a way that's familiar to anyone who's read The Bonfire of the Vanities, but this time the action happens in the Magic City, a place dominated and run by recent immigrants. At his best, Wolfe has a keen eye for social observation and here he focuses it on Haitian femme fatales, an Anglo sex therapist, Cuban cops and the Russian mob.
Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; November 13)
Bolaño was reported to have worked on this posthumously published novel for 30 years until his death in 2003. Set, like 2666, in a northern Mexican border town haunted by the unsolved killings of women, it follows an exiled, widowed Chilean professor who begins an affair with a young art forger, while his daughter Rosa sends romantic letters to a basketball player in Barcelona. The police investigation that follows is laced with plenty of plot twists and black humour.