My list of 2016 books is so huge, I've had to split it into two. This post includes books due to be published in January and February; the second will cover the remainder of the year. Without further ado...
After loving The Vegetarian, I'm excited about Human Acts by Han Kang (7 January), also translated by Deborah Smith. Set in South Korea in 1980 following a student uprising, it's made up of a 'sequence of interconnected chapters' in which 'the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma'. Another one I can't wait to get my hands on is The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson (7 January). It's 'a love story and a charming, surreal and funny tale about happiness', so (intriguingly) it sounds a world away from his cynical, satirical novella The Room.
Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser (7 January) has been gathering buzz on social media; on the one hand, I feel like I'm close to having had enough of stories about 'female friendship', but on the other, this tale of two antiheroines sounds like it could be a fresh and unconventional take on the subject (Lisa McInerney called it 'Mean Girls for those of us still unconvinced that we're grownups'). I've also been hearing a lot about American Housewife by Helen Ellis (14 January), a collection of strange short stories about (who'd have guessed) American housewives, and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (28 January), a debut that's 'part whodunnit, part coming of age', about two young girls investigating a disappearance in the blistering heat of a 1970s summer.
One of the titles I'm most interested in this month is The Natashas, the debut of Yelena Moskovich (21 January). It is, apparently, 'a startlingly original novel that recalls the unsettling visual worlds of Cindy Sherman and David Lynch and the writing of Angela Carter and Haruki Murakami'. The story follows two characters, a French jazz singer and a Mexican actor, who 'are drawn deeper into a city populated with visions and warnings, taunted by the chorusing of a group of young women, trapped in a windowless room, who all share the same name ...Natasha.' I've learned to be wary of blurbs that build books up like this, with all the comparisons, but I can't lie, this sounds absolutely fascinating and I will definitely be giving it a try.
The Noise of Time (28 January) is Julian Barnes' first novel since the Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending, and is a reimagining of the life of Shostakovich, but more broadly 'a story about the collision of Art and Power, about human compromise, cowardice and courage'. A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones (14 January) similarly uses the work of a famous figure as a starting point, in this case Nabokov. Six international travellers, all enthralled in some way by the author's work, meet in empty Berlin apartments to share stories and memories - but 'a moment of devastating violence shatters the group, and changes the direction of everyone's story'.
Other miscellaneous literary highlights include This is the Ritual by Rob Doyle (28 January), a set of stories of 'the ecstatic, the desperate and the uncertain' into which the author inserts himself as a character; Sea Lovers by Valerie Martin (14 January), another collection of short stories which explores the intersection between myth and reality, the animal and the human; Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs by Lina Wolff (14 January), a black comedy set in a Spanish brothel; and two new Patrick Modiano translations, In the Café of Lost Youth, translated by Euan Cameron, and The Black Notebook, translated by Mark Polizzotti (both 7 January). Both are set in Paris; the former tells the stories of four 'forgotten people', while the latter sees a writer traversing the city in search of a woman he fell in love with forty years previously.
I remember hearing about Elizabeth McKenzie's The Portable Veblen (14 January) when it came out in the US last year, but as is so often the case, the UK blurb makes it seem much more interesting than I'd previously assumed. With quirky Veblen and her fiancé Paul as central characters, it's a 'riotously funny and deeply insightful adventure through capitalism, the medical industry, family, love, war and wedding-planning'. In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie (28 January) also sounds like it could be an imaginative and enjoyable read. Set in a Chinese mountain-top boarding school for the children of British missionaries, it charts the fates of a group of ten-year-old girls who form the 'Prophetess Club' to search for signs of God's intent.
January inevitably brings with it a clutch of psychological thrillers. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan (14 January) is the tale of twin sisters who 'swap places' as children, only for one twin to refuse to switch back - ever. I've tried this and it wasn't for me, but it's had some good reviews already and I don't doubt it'll be a hit. The same goes for The Widow by Fiona Barton (14 January), touted as 'this year's The Girl on the Train', in which the wife of a man 'accused of a terrible crime' tells her story. Fever City by Tim Baker (19 January) focuses on a kidnapping and is 'a high-octane, nightmare journey through a Mad Men-era America of dark powers, corruption and conspiracy'. Finally, there's Rebound by Aga Lesiewicz (14 January), about a successful woman whose life begins to unravel when she becomes obsessed with a handsome stranger.
In the horror corner, meanwhile, we have Travelers Rest by Keith Lee Morris (7 January), which involves a family becoming trapped at an eerie hotel during a blizzard - an almost perfect The Shining-esque setup, surely. The Children's Home by Charles Lambert (5 January) is 'an inversion of a modern day fairy tale' in which a reclusive, disfigured heir finds strange children appearing around his estate.
I'll finish with one I've already read. The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle (14 January) is a fantastic mystery, a story about a conman that is, in itself, a confidence trick. It starts off as the tale of seasoned trickster Roy finding his perfect mark in wealthy widow Betty, but it goes in directions that are almost impossible to predict.
Again I'm starting with the one I'm most excited about - Look at Me by Sarah Duguid (25 February). When, shortly after her mother's death, Lizzy finds out she has a secret half-sister, she invites the girl to live with her, but almost immediately realises she's made a terrible mistake. Family relationships also loom large in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (4 February), in which an estranged mother and daughter reconnect. Another buzzy book for this month is The Ballroom by Anna Hope (11 February), 'a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which', set in a Yorkshire asylum in 1911. This is one of those books that wouldn't sound interesting to me without recommendations from others, but I've heard so many good things about it, I've become convinced it's worth sampling.
I Am No One by Patrick Flanery (4 February) follows what happens when a professor, newly returned to New York, appears to find himself at the centre of a conspiracy: he is followed by a strange young man, is sent mysterious packages and becomes convinced he is constantly being watched. The story 'explores the tenuous link between fear and paranoia' in 'a world of surveillance and self-censorship, where privacy no longer exists'. Anything like this makes my ears prick up straight away, so this is another one I'll definitely be seeking out.
The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson (4 February) switches between two time periods, weaving together a tale of parental heartbreak and the mystery of a hundred-year-old crime, drawn together by a common location - a cottage in rural Suffolk. The Maker of Swans by Paraic O'Donnell (11 February) is an interesting-sounding blend of literary sensibility and fantastical detail, revolving around a man with 'extraordinary gifts' who, having become a hermit, is brought back to civilisation by a secret society to which he belongs.
Coincidentally, February offers two historical novels about - of all things - whaling. Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett (4 February) tells the 'poignant and hilarious' story of a small community in early-20th-century Australia, as recorded by the eldest daughter of a whaling family, while The North Water by Ian McGuire (11 February) portrays a potentially deadly confrontation between two men aboard a whaling ship, in the midst of an Arctic winter.
For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian (25 February) isn't a 'new' book - it was written in 1934 - but this is the first English translation, by Philip Ó Ceallaigh. It's a 'prescient interwar masterpiece' about a young Jewish student, alone in Romania and trying to make sense of a world in which he feels he doesn't belong. Sticking with translated fiction, The Man Who Snapped His Fingers (4 February) is an award-winning novel by French-Iranian author Fariba Hachtroudi, translated by Alison Anderson, exploring the symbolic relationship between a former political prisoner and a powerful colonel.
A few more for February: Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (4 February) follows an estranged father and son as both become embroiled in the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle; Perfect Days by Raphael Montes (18 February) is the disturbing story of a man who kidnaps and imprisons the woman he believes himself to have fallen in love with; and Shylock is My Name (4 February) is Howard Jacobson's modern reimagining of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
Books to look forward to in 2016, part 2: March and beyond