It may have been a dreary few years in publishing, but there are plenty of great books to look forward to in 2010.
The reading list
A feature of publishers' catalogues this year has been their brevity. Belt tightening has meant that fewer books are being commissioned and writers are taking care not to stray far from established formulas. Advances have dropped dramatically, too, to the point where £1,000 (Dh5,865) for a novel is now considered not bad. Yet there are reasons to be cheerful as 2010 approaches. Sales of hardback fiction are up, thanks to Dan Brown, and publishers' unseemly love affair with celebrity non-fiction seems, in the UK at least, to be coming to an end. Borders UK may have gone into administration, but independent bookshops are thriving as more discerning readers reject the big chains' dreary supermarket approach. Robin Freestone, the finance chief of the media group Pearson, told the Reuters Global Media Summit last week that he thought booksellers were through the worst of the recession. And if Pearson, which owns Penguin, thinks that, then it must be true. What's more, we're due some wonderful books over the next 12 months. These are, arguably, the cream of the crop. Bubbling under are new offerings from Peter Carey, Jonathan Coe, Xiaolu Guo, Rose Tremain, Joshua Ferris, Elizabeth Kostova, Henning Mankell, Dave Eggers and more.
The Atonement author's first novel since 2007's On Chesil Beach is the story of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Michael Beard, who discovers a way to fight climate change using artificial photosynthesis. Beard's reputation crashes after he declares in an interview that the reason men outnumber women at the top of his profession is not gender discrimination but inherent differences in brain structure.
The novel, due out in March, is believed to have been inspired by the media response to controversial remarks McEwan's friend Martin Amis made about Islam in 2006, and by McEwan's escalating impatience with climate-change deniers in the United States. "It's so overwhelming [that climate change is happening]," he said recently. "Just talk to a salmon fisherman if you don't want to talk to scientists. Go talk to a ski lift operator in Switzerland."
Rumoured to be Amis's best work in years, this book takes its title from a quotation by the Russian intellectual Alexander Herzen to the effect that, when a given form of social order dies, what's left behind is "not an heir but a pregnant widow". Set for a February release, the book is narrated, like Amis's first novel, The Rachel Papers, by a brilliant English student in his early 20s, and is set mostly in an Italian castle during the summer of 1970. Its subject is one readers might associate more readily with mid-period Ian McEwan: the social changes of the 1960s and their legacy of awkwardness and misunderstanding between men and women. Amis has been working on The Pregnant Widow since 2003 - indeed, it has its origins in an autobiographical novel he abandoned midway through because "it just didn't work". Keep your fingers crossed that this one does.
Lee, a Korean-American, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award for his first novel, Native Speaker (1995), but divided critics with 2004's Aloft, his first novel to feature a protagonist of European rather than Asian descent.
Word on his new novel, The Surrendered, is strong. His editor calls it "an international novel on a par with Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance". Due out in May, it's about the Korean War's impact on the lives of two of its survivors, a Korean girl and an American veteran, and it shifts between Korea in the 1950s and New York, New Jersey and Italy in the 1980s. Lee worked as a financial analyst on Wall Street before turning to writing full time. He currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.
Roberts's autobiographical first novel, Shantaram, arrived out of nowhere to become one of the publishing sensations of the decade. Since it was published in the UK in 2003, its sales have risen every year and now exceed 600,000. It's the barely credible story of how Roberts, a convicted bank robber in his native Australia, escaped from prison and fled to Mumbai, where he worked as a film extra and for the mafia before ending up in Afghanistan smuggling weapons for the mujahideen. Madonna loves it. Johnny Depp is rumoured to be starring in the film adaptation, now in preproduction. The Mountain Shadow, due out in September, continues where Shantaram left off and is expected to be huge.
The Afghan-born Pakistani journalist and poet Fatima Bhutto is the granddaughter and niece of the former Pakistani prime ministers Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, respectively. She has strong views on family connections: "I don't believe in birthright politics," she told The Guardian last year. "I don't think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything." Songs of Blood and Sword, due out in April, is a memoir of life in her famous family, and contains some strong allegations, not least that her aunt Benazir was to some degree complicit in the murder of Fatima's father, Murtaza. (Fatima was 14 in 1996 when he was shot outside their house in Karachi by hit men disguised as Pakistani police.)
Temple is an Australian institution: a five-time winner of the Ned Kelly Award for crime fiction and the only Australian writer ever to have won the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger for crime fiction (in 2007, for The Broken Shore). His much-anticipated new novel, due out in January, follows Inspector Stephen Villani, the head of the Victoria Police Homicide Squad (and the superior of The Broken Shore's Senior Detective Joe Cashin), as he investigates the death of a young woman in a luxury apartment high above the city.
Pearl Buck was the once best-selling, early-20th-century novelist who was raised in China by her American parents, Presbyterian missionaries from Virginia whom she immortalised in the books The Exile and Fighting Angel. Her father, especially, was a terrifying figure who used up the family's savings translating the New Testament into Mandarin. Buck became a major figure in US letters and the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her "rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces". Talking of biographical masterpieces, Spurling won the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2006 for her two-part biography of Henri Matisse. Burying the Bones is due out in April.
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay and Wonder Boys comes a form-busting work of non-fiction: a memoir that's also a manifesto; a sequence of interlinked essays that amount to a disquisition on masculinity in the modern age. Manhood for Amateurs, due out in March, includes reflections on his childhood, especially his parents' divorce, and tributes to his wife, the New York Times columnist Ayelet Waldman. Really, though, this is an upmarket daddy diary from which Chabon emerges with honours: he is a dedicated, hands-on father to his four children - but also a modest one. As he observes: "The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low."
Another collection of essays, due out in February, this fragmentary polemic against the "well-made novel", with its ordered plotting and characters who behave as they do for a reason, has been a hit in galley-proof form in the most unlikely quarter. Literary novelists such as Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Dyer, Tim Parks and, most recently, Zadie Smith have been lining up to rapturously agree with statements such as "All the best stories are true" and "The creators of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manage to offer us anything more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe". Shields is a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington whose autobiography, The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead,was a best-seller last year.
At the time of his death in September 2008, David Foster Wallace left behind a significant chunk of a novel he had been working on for many years. Set in an IRS tax-return processing centre in Illinois in the 1980s, it's the story of a bunch of entry-level processors, or "wigglers" as they are called because of their resemblance to tadpoles. Although the novel is unfinished, it runs to several hundred thousand words. Work on it (by Wallace's longtime editor Michael Pietsch) has apparently taken longer than expected and it's thought that publication will now be in the autumn rather than spring as originally hoped. Fans can expect a lot of footnotes, not all of them by Wallace.