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1st February 2013

Our picks of the year ahead

New publications in 2013 suggest there is much to be optimistic about in literature

The naysayers nay-sayed their way through 2012: books are dying, no one uses pens any more,  soon we will all live on screens. Things looked bleak. Random House and Penguin seemed to confirm their pessimism with a merger. No one wanted to publish anything except celebrity autobiographies. And yet. The cynics forgot to account for all the many beautiful books that were published last year. And judging by the wealth of new books coming out in 2013, for a dying art form the world of literature is overstuffed with new books and new writers: books by Sheila Heti, Margaret Atwood, Lena Dunham, Neil Gaiman, Khaled Hosseini, to name only a very few.

It’s also a year of anniversaries reminding us to look backwards as well as forwards for reading material: Pride and Prejudice has already turned 200 (happy birthday!); the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s death will be marked with a re-issue of The Bell Jar; and November will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Camus and the 50th anniversary of the death of Aldous Huxley.

Here are some of the books we can’t wait to read this year:

Joelle’s Picks:

1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (18th June, William Morrow)
Neil Gaiman’s latest offering is described by his publishers as “a fable that reshapes modern fantasy: moving, terrifying and elegiac.” Strong words, but for an author whose back catalogue includes American Gods, Stardust and Coraline, and is an equally highly-regarded graphic novelist, then maybe reshaping modern fantasy isn’t such a leap. The story remains something of a mystery. We are told that it is “a novel about memory and magic and survival, about the power of stories and the darkness inside each of us”. That at its centre a man battles for his life against “ancient powers better left undisturbed” with help from three women who live at the end of a lane, all because 40 years previously his lodger committed suicide in the family car. A tricky set-up but Gaiman’s strengths in detail and clever twists will surely make this novel worth a read.

2. A New Bridget Jones novel – Helen Fielding (October, Jonathan Cape)
Helen Fielding has announced that 17 years since Bridget Jones’s Diary first hit bookshelves she is writing a new diary for literature’s most famous singleton. But when we last saw Bridget she had secured her man and seemed to finally be leaving the single life behind for good. This new novel will be set in current-day London and Fielding says it will focus on “a different phase in Bridget’s life”. Will this mean nappies and school run then? Or maybe a high-flying career? It doesn’t matter, either way this will surely be an immediate best-seller, gratifying millions of fans worldwide, who undoubtedly can’t wait to see what awkward situation Bridget has managed to get herself into now.

Phoebe’s Picks:

1. The Tenth of December – George Saunders (3rd January, Bloomsbury Publishing)
My first book is already out, and I can’t wait to read it. George Saunders, master of the short story, returns with a collection that promises to combine his characteristic surrealism (previous stories feature sliding brains and a futuristic holographic advertising) and an all too familiar glimpse of reality. As author Hari Kunzru points out in The Guardian, his work is often more subtly, and disturbingly, resonant of the world we really inhabit than much non-fiction.

2. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid – Shani Boianjiu (7th February, Vintage Publishing)
The debut from this Israeli novelist comes with plenty of good recommendations. As with the best female writers, she deals with the full complexity and contradictions of life, in this case the life of female soldiers in Israel’s national service. I got my first taste of Israeli fiction last year with Etgar Kerrett’s short stories, and am looking forward to getting some more with this book.

3. The Bleeding Edge– Thomas Pynchon – (Penguin Press)
It has been announced that the famously reclusive author, of previous tomes of American postmodernism Mason and Dixon and Gravity’s Rainbow, has written a new novel that will be published sometime in 2013. The blogs are all aflutter with the news. And this makes my list, if only because Pynchon is an old-fashioned rock star of a writer, and it’s exciting to still see a writer (and writing) provoking such fervour. Who knew there were so many rabid Pynchon fans out there? (Well, Pynchon obviously). Maybe I won’t even read it. I’ll just sit back and watch the mayhem unfold.

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