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Books to look out for in 2009

The New Statesman's selection of what's hot in the coming year


Haunted by the spectres of technological change and straitened finances, publishing may well be undergoing, as the Observer's Robert McCrum has it, "a new frugality". But that doesn't preclude a wealth of appealingly varied fiction to anticipate this year. Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate, £18.99, May) is a weighty tome about the schemers behind the throne of Henry VIII. Geoff Dyer ends a long novel-writing hiatus in April with Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Canongate, £12.99), which tackles drug tourism. This may well turn out to be the worst title of the year. There will also be new books from Marina Lewycka (Fig Tree, July) and A S Byatt (Chatto & Windus, March) and looking to the autumn, the names Amis, Pynchon and Roth loom large on the horizon. Elsewhere, David Peace continues his forensic examination of post-Second World War Japan with Tokyo: Occupied City (Faber & Faber, May) and Toby Litt carries on up the alphabet - after Adventures in Capitalism, Beatniks, Corpsing, and so on - with Journey Into Space (Hamish Hamilton, £7.99, March).

In translation, readers here can finally get to see what all the fuss was about in Germany over Charlotte Roche's Wetlands, a candid exploration of the female body (Fourth Estate, £12.99, February). And also the feted Francophone - but not French - writers Alain Mabanckou and Jonathan Littell. The former is a Congolese author whose Broken Glass (Serpent's Tail, £9.99, February) is billed as an African take on Tristram Shandy; the latter, a bilingual New Yorker, won the Prix Goncourt in 2006 with Les Bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones, Chatto & Windus, £20, March). Any mention of Italo Calvino is cause for celebration, so it is gratifying to see that his works will be republished as Penguin Modern Classics in May. There is also the first ever English translation of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Normance: Fable for Another Time II (Dalkey Archive Press, £9.99, May).

This year will mark the welcome return of several talented younger authors. Helen Oyeyemi's third novel, Pie-Kah (Picador, £16.99, June), is set near the white cliffs of Dover. It features a girl protagonist with a taste for chalk and an eye for ghosts. Sarah Hall, whose intricate 2004 novel The Electric Michelangelo was set in the gloomy seaside resorts of Morecambe Bay and Coney Island, publishes How to Paint a Dead Man (Faber, £12.99) in June. Carlisle-born Jacob Polley - whose finest poem, "The North-South Divide", surveys a flooded southern England from the vantage point of a newly coastal Manchester - makes his fiction debut with Talk of the Town (Picador, £12.99, June).

Finally, though you won't be able to get hold of this in British bookshops (at least, not yet), it might be worth hunting on for a copy of the Jamaican Marlon James's Book of Night Women (Riverhead, February). James, whose first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2008), was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize, spins an ambitious tale of revolt and intrigue among the female slaves on a Jamaican sugar plantation. Narrated in 19th-century patois, it is perhaps not one for the faint-hearted, but promises to be something rich and strange indeed.


In Bodies: the Growing Obsession With How We Look (Profile, £10.99, January), Susie Orbach deals with a vast and ever-expanding modern phenomenon: the pursuit of physical perfection through cosmetic surgery (35,000 cosmetic nose reconstructions each year in Iran, for example). How have our bodies become the supreme measure of our self-worth?

Paul Dirac was the greatest physicist this country had produced since Sir Isaac Newton, a Nobel-winning pioneer of quantum mechanics, and a pathologically reticent and emotionally retarded personality. Graham Farmelo's The Strangest Man (Faber, £22.50, January) lucidly explains Dirac's scientific genius and does justice to his extraordinary character.

Edmund White, the accomplished novelist, memoirist and biographer, offers a new life of Arthur Rimbaud and his lurid, meteorically short career in Rimbaud: the Double Life of a Rebel (Atlantic, £16.99, January). The first of three volumes from papers left by Susan Sontag (right) , Reborn: Early Diaries (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99, January), takes the formidably precocious intellectual from the ages of 14 to 30 and to 1964, the year that her essay "Notes on Camp" made her famous. It is by turns rigorous, pretentious and moving.

From antiquity, the ubiquity of benevolence in society was taken for granted, but in recent centuries more selfish theories of the basis for human motivation have prevailed. On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor (Hamish Hamilton, £14.99, January) outlines its history and makes the case for the value of affectionate open-heartedness for individuals and society alike.

Iain Sinclair anatomises his London home of 40 years in his distinctive "documentary-fiction" style. Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire (Hamish Hamilton, £20, February) traces the borough's history from suburb of Arcadian villas to byword for inner-city chaos and crime, by way of Lenin, Stalin, Godard and Orson Welles.

Roger Scruton has a long-standing interest in aesthetics. In Beauty (Oxford University Press, £10.99, March), he insists that beauty is a real and universal value anchored in our rational nature, and that the sense of beauty plays an indispensable part in shaping the human world.

In The Frock-Coated Communist (Allen Lane, £25, April), Tristram Hunt teases out the contradictions in the life of Friedrich Engels: the cotton capitalist who was Karl Marx's tireless collaborator and backer; the co-author of the Communist Manifesto who rode to hounds; ruthless party factionalist and famed bon vivant.

Francis Wheen brilliantly re-creates the delusionary politics of Richard Nixon and Harold Wilson in Strange Days Indeed: the Golden Age of Paranoia (Fourth Estate, £16.99, April). He returns to the early 1970s, when the leader of the Liberal Party stood trial for attempted murder, private armies were created to take control when the UK descended into union-led anarchy and plotters planned to replace Wilson with Lord Mountbatten in a coup. Clive James is the most accomplished essayist at work in Britain today. The Revolt of the Pendulum (Picador, £15.99, June) collects his work from the past three years on such diverse topics as the rules of grammar and the culture of fandom.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza