2013 provided a literary feast for book lovers with the long-awaited return of Donna Tartt as she burst back onto the scene with her spectacular third novel, The Goldfinch, after an agonising ten-year hiatus. There was also a host of deserved nominations for the Man Booker prize with the likes of Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary and the winning début of Eleanor Catton with The Luminaries, not to mention a Scandinavian book that wasn’t actually about murder or crime with Carl-Johan Vallgren and Ellen Flynn’s The Merman.
2014 isn’t shaping up to be too shabby either with the promise of a new Murakami out in the summer, the UK distribution of The People in Trees – the first novel by Condé Nast Traveler writer Hanya Yanagihara, which has been lauded by Sarah Waters and Paul Theroux across the pond, Barracuda, the next book by The Slap author Christos Tsiolkas is out now and Penguin is planning to re-publish Pat Barker’s seminal First World War trilogy as a single volume to mark the anniversary of WWI. But let’s begin at the beginning with a round-up of the best books out this month.
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas. Atlantis Books
“Daniel Kelly, a talented young swimmer, has one chance to escape his working-class upbringing. His astonishing ability in the pool should drive him to fame and fortune, as well as his revenge on the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of his dream. But when he melts down at his first big international championship and comes only fifth, he begins to destroy everything he has fought for and turn on everyone around him.
Tender and savage, Barracuda is a novel about dreams and disillusionment, friendship and family. As Daniel Kelly loses everything, he learns what it means to be a good person – and what it takes to become one.” Atlantis Books
The People in Trees, Hanya Yanagihara. Atlantis Books
“In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumoured lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub ‘The Dreamers’, who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price…” Atlantis Books
The Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah. Sarah Crichton Books
“An affecting, tender parable about postwar life in Sierra Leone. At the centre of Radiance of Tomorrow are Benjamin and Bockarie, two long time friends who return to their hometown, Imperi, after the civil war. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. As more villagers begin to file back, Benjamin and Bockarie try to forge a new community by taking up their former posts as teachers, but they’re beset by obstacles: a scarcity of food; a rash of murders, thievery, rape, and retaliation; and the depredations of a foreign mining company intent on sullying the town’s water supply and blocking its paths with electric wires. As Benjamin and Bockarie search for a way to restore order, they’re forced to reckon with the pain of their past and the uncertainty of their future.” Sarah Crichton Books
Leaving the Sea, Ben Marcus. Random House
“From one of the most innovative and vital writers of his generation, an extraordinary collection of stories that showcases his gifts—and his range—as never before. “In the hilarious, lacerating “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” a washed-up writer toying with infidelity leads a creative writing workshop on board a cruise ship. In the dystopian “Rollingwood,” a divorced father struggles to take care of his ill infant, as his ex-wife and colleagues try to render him irrelevant. In “Watching Mysteries with My Mother,” a son meditates on his mother’s mortality, hoping to stave off her death for as long as he sits by her side. And in the title story, told in a single breathtaking sentence, we watch as the narrator’s marriage and his sanity unravel, drawing him to the brink of suicide” Random House
Silence Once Begun, Jesse Ball. Pantheon Books
“Over the course of several months, eight people vanish from their homes in the same Japanese town, a single playing card found on each door. Known as the “Narito Disappearances,” the crime has authorities baffled—until a confession appears on the police’s doorstep, signed by Oda Sotatsu, a thread salesman. Sotatsu is arrested, jailed, and interrogated—but he refuses to speak. Even as his parents, brother, and sister come to visit him, even as his execution looms, and even as a young woman named Jito Joo enters his cell, he maintains his vow of silence. Our narrator, a journalist named Jesse Ball, is grappling with mysteries of his own when he becomes fascinated by the case. Why did Sotatsu confess? Why won’t he speak? Who is Jito Joo? As Ball interviews Sotatsu’s family, friends, and jailers, he uncovers a complex story of heartbreak, deceit, honour, and chance.” Pantheon Books
For a tongue-in-cheek look at the literary year ahead, see The Guardian’s fabulously irreverent 2014 in books: an alternative calendar featuring Christopher Marlowe punch ups, a musical co-written by Elton John and David Starkey and camping sabotage to mark the 150th anniversary of the poet John Clare’s death.