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STEPHEN ROMEI ON MUST-READ BOOKS OF 2014
IF 2013 was a blockbuster 12 months for local fiction, with JM Coetzee, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan, Alexis Wright, Alex Miller, Christos Tsioklas and Tom Keneally publishing novels, this year international authors will take centre stage. We can expect new works from Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, Emma Donoghue, EL Doctorow, Isabel Allende, Haruki Murakami and many others.
But let’s return home to kick off this preview of the books of 2014. David Malouf, one of the finest writers this country has produced, turns 80 on March 20 and the occasion will be marked by the publication of a new collection of poetry, Earth Hour (UQP, March), his first since the award-winning Typewriter Music (2007).
I’ve had a sneak preview of this volume, which brims with the intelligence, elegance and wit we have come to expect from Malouf. While the poems are wide-ranging, there is an understandable interest in mortality — of the individual and potentially of the planet we share. This is from the title poem: ‘‘. . . we sit behind moonlit / glass in our McMansions, cool / millions at rehearsal / here for our rendezvous each with his own / earth hour’’. The poem ends with the disturbing image of ‘‘ our green accommodating tomb’’.
Footloose, a Senior Moment, is a lovely piece dedicated to fellow poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, who will turn 80 two months after Malouf. In it the Brisbane-born poet crystallises a quintessential Australian childhood memory: ‘‘ the Bay / all glitters and my father / on the skyline steeping away out / of reach’’.
I could go on, but I will leave you to discover the pleasures of this volume for yourself. Also in March, Random House will bring out a collection of Malouf’s ‘‘ writings on life and culture’’.
Another significant anniversary this year is that it’s 50 years since Keneally published his first novel, The Place at Whitton. Like Malouf, Keneally is someone I know a little and admire a great deal. He will mark the occasion with the publication, in the second half of the year, of the third instalment of Australians (Allen & Unwin), taking his history of this nation up to the 1960s.
In 2012, Favel Parrett ( Past the Shallows) and Tony Birch ( Blood) shared the distinction of having their first novels shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Both, pictured above, are due to publish new books this year. Parrett’s second novel, When the Night Comes (Hachette, September), is set in Hobart and Antarctica and centres on a friendship between ‘‘ a young girl’’ and ‘‘ a modern Viking’’. Birch’s The Promise (UQP, May) is a collection of short stories sure to tap into the sort of ordinary, desperate, hopeful lives that made Blood so compelling.
As a huge fan of Melbourne writer Craig Sherborne — his memoirs Hoi Polloi and Muck are masterpieces of the form — I am looking forward to his second novel, Tree Palace (Text, April), which is centred on an itinerant family in rural Victoria.
Text will also publish Stephen Orr’s fourth novel, One Boy Missing, billed as a literary crime thriller (February); Chris Flynn’s second, The Glass Kingdom (June), described as ‘‘ a breakneck tour of rural Australia’s underbelly’’; and a sequel to Graeme Simsion’s smash hit The Rosie Project. And it is promising new novels by Wayne Macauley and Krissy Kneen later in the year.
However, the Text project that most intrigues me is a new novel by Mark Henshaw, due in September. Henshaw’s first — and so far only — work of fiction, the experimental, extraordinary Out of the Line of Fire, published in 1988, remains one of my favourite Australian novels. In a similar vein, Text has In Certain Circles (May), a previously unpublished novel by Elizabeth Harrower, the 85-year-old Sydney writer who burst back into the public consciousness when her 1966 novel The Watch Tower was republished as a Text Classic in 2012.
Joan London’s The Good Parents was one of the standout novels of 2008. It’s been a bit of wait (though not as long as with Henshaw!), but Random has her new novel, The Golden Age, scheduled for August. Booker Prize winner DBC Pierre has been busy: last year he served up an amuse bouche in Petit Mal; this year he’s giving us a horror-thriller novella, Breakfast with the Borgias (Random, June). Random is also promising a new novel by multiple Miles Franklin shortlistee Gail Jones, as well as a ‘‘ Charles Bean novel’’ by Matthew Condon (September) and Analogue Men, by Nick Earls (July), which explores male midlife crises in the digital age. Pan Macmillan has an as yet untitled novel by Liz Byrski scheduled for September and will also have new books by blockbuster authors Matthew Reilly and Di Morrissey in time for the Christmas market.
Sonya Hartnett, below, writes brilliantly for children, young adults and adults: in the last category the Miles Franklin shortlisted Butterfly (2009) still unnerves in the memory. So I am braced for her new novel for adults, The Golden Boys, (Penguin, June), ‘‘ an urban gothic tale’’.
Braced is probably a good position to be in for Only the Animals Can Know (Penguin, May) by South AfricanAustralian social anthropologist and writer Ceridwen Dovey. In this story collection, major events of the 21st century are told by the souls of 10 animals killed in human conflict. Linda Jaivin has a new novel, Empress Lover (Fourth Estate, April). Penguin will also publish new novels by Honey Brown ( Through the Cracks, May) and Wendy James ( The Lost Girls, March), as well as Beams Falling (March), a follow-up to the fabulous The Old School by Sydney detective turned crime writer PM Newton.
While we’re thinking about crime fiction, Peter Corris and the indestructible Cliff Hardy go around the block again in Silent Kill (Allen & Unwin, out now) and Tony Cavanaugh’s haunted homicide cop Darian Richards returns in The Train Rider (Hachette, March). Cavanaugh’s novel carries a blurb by my colleague Graeme Blundell: ‘‘ As good as Harlan Coben.’’ Well, the mega-selling Coben is back, too, with Missing You (Orion, March), in which a New York detective’s past comes back to terrorise her. Speaking of terrifying types, Jack Reacher will be doing his thing for Lee Child in Twenty Seconds Ago (Random, August), and we’re told the author will be visiting Australia to promote the book. The reigning king of Nordic noir, Jo Nesbo, is back with The Son (Harvill Secker, April), in which a model prisoner escapes from prison to try to learn the truth about his father’s death.
First Australian novels that are on my radar at this stage include Ray Glickman’s Reality and Robert Edeson’s The Weaver Fish, published by Fremantle Press in February and March respectively, Suzanne McCourt’s The Lost Child (Text, February), Here Come the Dogs (Penguin, June), the fiction debut of Sydney poet and rapper Omar Musa, and Anna George’s What Came Before, promoted as a ‘‘ literary thriller in the vein of Gone Girl’’.
Having run through that impressive list of Australian novels — which are only the ones I’ve heard about — I’m less sure about my opening claim that 2014 will be the year of the international author. But let’s see. Few would argue that the most anticipated work of fiction on the horizon is The Mirror and the Light, the concluding book in Hilary Mantel’s Tudor England trilogy. The first two, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, each won the Booker. What a thing it would be if the final novel delivered Mantel a record third Booker, something that has eluded the only other dual winners, Coetzee and Peter Carey.
At the time of writing publisher HarperCollins said The Mirror and the Light did not have a publication date and that 2015 was much more likely than 2014 . . . so perhaps I’m cheating a bit by mentioning it, but I don’t think it’s a beheading offence. Further, the publisher confirmed there would be at least one new work of fiction by Mantel published in 2014, a short story collection with an attention-grabbing title: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Expect it in the first half of the year.
At the risk of doing a Rumsfeldian glide from known unknowns to known knowns, I do know that Amis, who will be here next month for the Perth Writers Festival, Rushdie and McEwan, above right, will each publish new novels this year, all with Random, but I don’t know any more about them.
One novel I do know about, because I’ve read an advance copy, is Hanif Kureishi’s The Last Word (A&U, February). This is a funny, insightful story about a young English writer who is commissioned to write the authorised biography of a septuagenarian Indian-born literary lion. If this reminds you of the young English writer Patrick French writing an authorised biography of VS Naipaul a few years ago, I am sure the coincidence is entirely intentional.
I also know a little bit about Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the new novel by perennial Nobel Prize contender Murakami, because it sparked a run on Tokyo bookshops when published in Japanese earlier this year. Random will bring out an English translation in October, which is fast for a Murakami.
Sticking with the house of Random, there’s also a new Doctorow, Andrew’s Brain (out now), a ‘‘ radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once in his life, has been an inadvertent agent of disaster’’, a World War I novel, The Lie, by Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore (February), Chuck Palahniuk’s Beautiful You (August),