Here’s part two of the watchlist of excellent books I have assembled. They’re all coming out early this year. Be sure to make a note of the ones you fancy! Do also please be aware that there tends to be a gap of a few weeks between when the book is officially released and when it becomes available in SA. I’ve included a rough indication of when you’ll be able to nab each one, but if you want a more specific date, be sure to contact your nearest Bargain Books branch so that you can reserve yourself a copy and get a bit more info on when you can expect it. I hope you are as eager to read these as we are.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende – Available Early February
Isabel Allende is a novelist whose influence cannot be overstated. As one of the world’s best known, and lauded, Latin writers, she tells the kind of grand stories that manage to communicate the vital core of being human while appealing to each one of our senses. Her new novel is a rich journey through time and place; a lyrical modern epic as vibrant as it is searching.
In 1939, Spain is forever changed by the emergence of Fascism and the resulting Civil War. Among those whose lives are marred are Roser, a pregnant young widow and pianist, and her brother-in-law Victor, an army doctor. Together they are forced from their home in Barcelona, into a life of exile and years of searching. Boarding a ship bound for fabled Chile, the pair form an unlikely partnership conceived in grief and displacement – a partnership that might see them survive as Europe erupts into war and their world is plunged into repression and agony. In their new country, and over the course of several generations, Victor and Rose become entangled in loves and tragedies driven by the constellation of vivid characters they encounter, waiting for the day they can return home but finding the sort of belonging they thought impossible.
In a Nutshell:
Top historical fiction from an author with considerable abilities to transport the reader and illuminate a diverse host of lives and loves. Gorgeous and immersive.
Here We Are by Graham Swift – Expected Late February/Early March
If you were privileged enough to come across Swift’s exquisite previous book, Mothering Sunday, you will know that he is a singularly gifted writer with an all but fathomless knack for precisely, and beautifully, depicting the quiet and blazing moments of longing that can easily come to define us. His new novel promises to be an equally rich exercise in conjuring and empathy – a droll study in character, tenuous bedazzlement and the dubious pleasures of seaside entertainments. Without reservation, I can say that Swift’s prose is dependably glorious.
1959 is a good year for the theatre at the end of Brighton Pier. They are having one of their best summers yet. Gifted young magician Ronnie and his suitably dazzling assistant, Evie, are drawing sizeable audiences every night. And Jack Robinson, consummate entertainer and beloved compere, holds the show together with panache. But, of course, as is so often the case in showbiz – even the sort that happens at the British seaside – the off-stage drama between the three of them threatens increasingly to ruin their theatrical success. By the end of the summer, the trio will be irreversibly marred, the connections between them ragged and painful. Illusions, no matter how convincingly conjured, cannot keep the devastations of reality at bay forever.
In a Nutshell:
Masterful, vibrant, wryly comic and quietly devastating… a most notable work of literary magic from a writer whose peeks behind the curtain are quite singular.
The Changing Mind by Daniel Levitin – Available Early March
Okay, so you’d probably be forgiven for not being wildly excited about the release of a neuroscience book. But there are two things that make this a release to look forward to. 1) Levitin is a fascinating character (he’s a musician, a record producer, a cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist with a bewildering array of credits and associations to his name… seriously, google the guy) whose books are inevitably intriguing in their scope, depth and practical applications. 2) This book challenges the long-pervasive idea that old age is a province of decay and dwindling capacity. As it turns out, this is not true and, actually, recent studies show that not only do our decision-making abilities improve as we age, happiness also peaks when we are in our eighties.
Levitin reveals the evolving power of the human brain from infancy to late adulthood. Distilling the findings from over 4000 papers, he explains the importance of personality traits, lifestyle, memory and community on ageing, offering actionable tips that we can all start now, at any age.
Featuring compelling insights from individuals who have thrived far beyond the conventional age of retirement, this book offers realistic guidelines and practical cognition-enhancing tricks for everyone to follow during every decade of their life. This is a radical exploration of what we all can learn from those who age joyously.
In a Nutshell:
A book that might actually change your life: brilliant and fascinating insights into the ever-changing human brain, and a clear, compelling challenge to unfair misconceptions.
The Boy from the Woods by Harlan Coben – Expected Mid March
We know that Coben is a modern master of the good ol’ shocking twist, don’t we? He’s also having quite the run with Netflix Original dramas at the moment. His output shows no sign of slowing. I especially like the sound of his upcoming novel because it has definite mystery-within-a-mystery appeal – a protagonist as confounding as the case he is called upon to crack.
A man whose origins are a mystery to everyone, including himself, is asked to use his particular set of skills to find a girl whose disappearance threatens to have disastrous implications for her community… and for the world. Thirty years ago, a boy was found living a feral existence in the woods. He had no memory of his past, no family could be found despite exhaustive searches, and there were considerable doubts as to whether he’d ever be able to integrate. They called this mysterious boy Wilde.
Now, Wilde is a contented outcast, comfortable living alone in the woods on the outskirts of town, leading a solitary life with few connections to other people. However, when a famous TV lawyer asks him to use his unique skills to locate the missing girl, Wilde must re-enter a world in which he has never been at home. And then another teenage girl goes missing and Wilde finds himself pitted against powerful people hiding a destructive truth.
In a Nutshell:
A brilliant thriller with an intriguing premise. Why not read an extract here.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Expected Early March
Yes, one of the English-speaking-world’s greatest masters of historical fiction is back at last – and this one concludes the riveting, and frankly astounding, trilogy that began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The trilogy, in case you’re not familiar with it, charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, poor young nobody turned arch political genius, and his involvement with the contentious, frequently fatal, court of Henry VIII. Audiences seldom tire of intriguing machinations and conniving schemes – especially when you throw in a few executions – and Mantel has proven herself unusually capable of instantly snagging the interest of even those of us who aren’t crazy about historical fiction. Because, she’s really incredibly good. These are novels that deliver the kind of visceral thrill that you don’t typically expect of the genre, novels that absolutely bring new life to a historical period we (wrongly) thought we’d had enough of sometime back in our school years.
England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?
In a Nutshell:
“…a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision…”
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel – Expected Late March
Emily St John Mandel’s last novel, Station Eleven, has found its way onto a fair few lists dedicated to the best novels of the last decade. So, it’s only fair that there should be a sizeable buzz surrounding her upcoming release – this buzz then amplified by the fact that is sounds fantastic. It is, however, not steeped in the same iconic dystopia that drove Station Eleven. This one sounds a little more tender and early reports call it “a kaleidoscopic mystery,” and “a big, evocative novel with the galloping pace of a thriller”. That said, it promises to be positively soaked in heartbreak and loneliness, affluence and corruption, throbbing guilt and actual ghosts. Ingenious and enthralling, particular attention has been given to The Glass Hotel’s deftly drawn and believable characters, and its breath-taking panoramic scope. It sounds fairly bound to be wonderful, doesn’t it?
The Blurb (courtesy of Knopf):
“Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass and cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. New York financier Jonathan Alkaitis owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it’s the beginning of their life together. That same day, Vincent’s half-brother, Paul, scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship.
Weaving together the lives of these characters, The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.”
In a Nutshell:
Big, artistic and bold yet nuanced and acute. A mystery of rare hue and an intensely human story. (Distant shrieks of glee).
Hope you made notes!