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Women of the world, take over: the books we’ll be reading in 2018

Grime, Murdoch, suffragettes – and why it's set to be a good year for women speaking out.

If there was one good thing to emerge from the Trump-and-Brexit-blighted 2017, it was the surge in women speaking out – and being listened to – following the Harvey Weinstein revelations. It’s a theme that resonates in publishers’ lists for 2018. The year begins with the centenary of the act that gave British women the vote on 6 February 1918, marked by two books – Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote by Jane Robinson (Doubleday, January), which focuses on the suffragists’ march on London in 1913, and Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes by Diane Atkinson (Bloomsbury, February), the “definitive history” of the movement. A lesser-known tale is told in A Lab of One’s Own (Oxford University Press, January), in which Patricia Fara describes the women scientists who made great advances – and tasted freedom – during the First World War, only to find their jobs being reclaimed by men in peacetime.

The conversation around gender parity is continued by Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of the suffragette Emmeline, in Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now (Sceptre, February) and by Gina Miller in her memoir, Rise (Canongate, August). Having taken the government to court over Brexit, Miller knows the risks involved when a woman – especially a woman of colour – speaks out (Rhodri Philipps, the fourth Viscount St Davids, offered on Facebook “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first-generation immigrant”).

Two books offer more literary treatments of 21st-century womanhood. In Free Woman (Bloomsbury, March), Lara Feigel charts her decision, prompted by rereading Doris Lessing, to experiment with sexual, intellectual and political freedom; The Cost of Living (Hamish Hamilton, April) continues Deborah Levy’s “living autobiography” about gender politics and the writing life.

While there are many women writers being published in 2018, one publishing house is devoting its entire list to them. And Other Stories has taken up Kamila Shamsie’s 2015 challenge – to devote a year to publishing only women – and its list spans a collection of stories by the cult English writer Ann Quin (The Unmapped Country, January) and an inventive work of fiction about polar exploration and autism by the young Catalan writer Alicia Kopf (Brother in Ice, April).

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Alongside (and not unrelated to) gender politics, one of our many concerns at the moment is the pussy-grabbing guy with the nuclear codes. Writers continue to try to make sense of Donald Trump: where he came from, what he means and where he is taking us. Sarah Churchwell explains the significance of the “America first” slogan in Behold, America: A Partial History of America First and the American Dream (Bloomsbury, May); Lawrence Wright (the winner of a Pulitzer for his 9/11 book The Looming Tower) looks to his native Texas as a bellwether of Trump-era politics – despite being red in tooth and claw, it is a state in which minorities already form a majority. God Save Texas: A Journey into the Future of America is coming from Allen Lane in March.

Predating Trump’s America but no doubt updated over the past year, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (WW Norton, April) by Ronan Farrow describes the “cowardice, short-sightedness and outright malice” that has accompanied the “rise of White House generals”. Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, was instrumental in breaking the Weinstein story.

It’s not just diplomacy that is under threat: democracy is either dying or dead, depending on who you believe. How Democracies End (Profile Books, May) by David Runciman and How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (Viking, January) are attempts to explain how we should recognise it and react when our democratic systems come under threat.

The biggest threat may come from the waves of populist nationalism sweeping the world. The Road to Unfreedom (Bodley Head, April) by Timothy Snyder is a rallying cry against the return to authoritarianism in Russia, Europe and America; the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has written Fascism: A Warning (William Collins, April), informed by her upbringing in Czechoslovakia under Hitler. Francis Fukuyama finds the roots of today’s nationalism in narrowing conceptions of identity; Identity (Profile, October) suggests how we can rethink and reshape the idea. Touching on these themes, the essays and profiles of this magazine’s editor, Jason Cowley, will be collected in Reaching for Utopia: Blair, Brexit and Our Age of Upheaval, coming in September from Salt Publishing.

The Jeremy Corbyn revolution is, for good or ill, a form of populism, and not much of substance has yet been written about its roots and meaning. Lewis Goodall, a political correspondent for Sky News, is attempting that in Left for Dead? The Strange Death and Rebirth of Labour Britain (William Collins, May). Rise (Simon & Schuster, March) by Liam Young – a journalist and activist who, aged 19, worked for Corbyn’s leadership campaign in 2015 – looks at Jezza’s remarkable appeal for young voters.

It’s a good year for books about what Corbynistas would call the “MSM” (mainstream media). Glimpses into Rupert Murdoch’s empire come from two close associates: Irwin Stelzer in The Murdoch Method (Atlantic, February) and Les Hinton in his memoir, The Bootle Boy (Scribe, June). Former bigwigs at the New York Times and the Guardian go head to head in September with accounts of the changing media landscape and the post-truth era in News Wars by Jill Abramson (Bodley Head) and Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger (Canongate).

How much time has David Cameron been spending in his shed (sorry, wool-insulated shepherd’s hut) in the Cotswolds? The answer might tell us whether he’ll finish his memoir this year. Suggested titles? Perhaps he could name it after the charming placard found by Harper’s Bazaar in his kitchen: “Calm down dear, it’s only a recession.” Good subjects for voters to be grappling with in the meantime include – as Isabel Hardman puts it in her new book – Why We Get the Wrong Politicians (Atlantic, September) and “why it matters who our politicians are”, which is the subtitle of Peter Allen’s The Political Class (Oxford University Press, May). Why are we governed by people we so often distrust? And why is our society still so scarred by inequality and social division? James Bloodworth spent six-months undercover in “low-wage Britain” for Hired (Atlantic, March) to find out, while Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett turn to “more equal societies” to show how we might improve our own. The Inner Level, a sequel to their influential 2009 book The Spirit Level, is published by Allen Lane in June.

Any discussion of equality needs to include race. The Good Immigrant, an anthology edited by Nikesh Shukla on what it means to be black, Asian and minority ethnic in Britain today, was published in 2016 and became a major talking point. In spring 2018, Shukla will launch The Good Journal, a quarterly magazine showcasing new work from writers and artists of colour (he also has a novel out: The One Who Wrote Destiny, Atlantic, April). Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch (Jonathan Cape, February) mixes history, journalism and personal experience. It will be followed by Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, the founder of the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and younger brother of Ms Dynamite, in May (Two Roads). Looking outwards, Daniel Trilling tells the complex human stories he has gathered over years of reporting (for publications including this one) for Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe (Picador, May).

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If despair seems a valid response to the displacements and disruptions of the 21st century, Steven Pinker reminds us that, worldwide, human lives have become longer and more prosperous. Enlightenment Now (Allen Lane, February) is his “manifesto for science, reason, humanism and progress”. The idea of progress in art and culture is given a fresh approach in the Civilisations series from Profile, updating the idea behind Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series with two books each by Mary Beard and David Olusoga, in March and April. Writers unafraid to tackle big subjects include the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, whose book The Future of Humanity (Princeton University Press, October) projects our cosmic destiny; the Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, who tackles the meaning of time in The Order of Time (Allen Lane, April), and Yuval Noah Harari, who returns in August with 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Jonathan Cape, August). A new book from the philosopher (and NS critic) John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism (Allen Lane, April), will explore the rich tradition of non-belief, as well as its inadequacies and contradictions.

Religion forms the backbone of two of the year’s most striking historical titles: Stuart Kelly’s The Minister and the Murderer (Granta, February), which takes a 1969 murder case as a starting point for a genre-defying study of the Scottish Church, and Antonia Fraser’s The King and the Catholics (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, May), which tells the story of Catholic emancipation from the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots that traumatised London in 1780 to the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. Riots were a fact of 20th-century life, too, and the anniversary of the civil unrest in Paris in May 1968 is marked by Eric Hazan, who revisits the key sites in A Walk Through Paris (Verso, February), and Richard Vinen in The Long ’68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies (Allen Lane, April).

The other big anniversary is the end of the First World War. Peace at Last by Guy Cuthbertson (Yale University Press, October) uses letters, diaries and newspapers to build an hour-by-hour account of “how the people of Britain experienced the moment that peace became a reality”.

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This year brings memoirs from Viv Albertine, David Lynch and Alan Johnson, but a good diptych might be Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus, April) on the beginnings of her life as a writer, and Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson of Suede (Little, Brown, March), the band responsible for the Britpop movement – if not the name, which they hated. In music writing, it’s time, after so much Prince-worship, to give the King of Pop some serious critical attention again: Margo Jefferson's 2006 book On Michael Jackson is finally getting a UK publication from Granta in May, with a new introduction. For those with more up-to-date playlists (“Corbyn Riddim”, anyone?), Dan Hancox tells the story of grime in Inner City Pressure (William Collins, May). Nina Caplan, the NS’s award-winning wine critic, is probably the one person qualified to advise what you should drink while listening to Stormzy; her first book, The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me (Bloomsbury, March) is travel writing with a thirst for knowledge.

Last month’s Arts Council England report on the declining sales of literary fiction will be worrying publishers as well as writers. Booker winners such as Peter Carey and Julian Barnes at least are still seen as bankable, but for how much longer? The year begins with Carey’s A Long Way from Home, set during a car race around Australia in the 1950s (Faber & Faber, January), and Barnes’s The Only Story, about a young man falling in love with a married older woman (Jonathan Cape, February). Jim Crace emerges from the retirement hinted at after Harvest – four years later, here is The Melody (Picador, February), taking on wealth and poverty. Also keenly anticipated is Sarah Perry’s Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail, October), inspired by the 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer. With The Essex Serpent, Perry proved herself one of the few who can turn out sophisticated prose that sells. Meg Wolitzer also has the gift, but why this witty, enormously skilled chronicler of American life isn’t as famous as Jonathan Franzen is not too hard to fathom: the clue is in the title of her new novel, The Female Persuasion (Chatto & Windus, June).

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Autofiction continues to mutate in interesting ways. Before Karl Ove Knausgaard concludes his My Struggle series in September, Rachel Cusk closes her singular trilogy with Kudos (Faber & Faber, May), in which Faye visits a Europe in flux and is made to consider “the relationship between pain and honour”. Olivia Laing, acclaimed for her non-fiction, has written a novel, Crudo (Picador, June), which “charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017”. Sheila Heti, the author of How Should a Person Be?, returns with Motherhood, about the desire and duty to procreate (Harvill Secker, May). The mother and child relationship is atomised, too, in Chris Power’s quietly compelling debut short story collection, Mothers (Faber & Faber, March).

Further afield, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Oneworld, February) transposes Mary Shelley’s classic – 200 years old in 2018 – to bomb-scarred Iraq. Gaël Faye, a French-Rwandan investment banker-turned-rapper, has become a sensation in France for his novel Small Country (Hogarth, June), set in Burundi during the Rwandan genocide. And a wolf travels from Poland to Berlin connecting the lives of disparate individuals in One Clear, Ice-Cold January Morning at the Beginning of the 21st Century by the German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig (MacLehose, April). Given that the novel charts the free movement through the EU of a brazen “citizen of nowhere”, it’s not, however, one to recommend to Brexiteers.

Publication dates are subject to change

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Young vs Old