Books to beat the gloom
Today is "Blue Monday", the "most depressing day of the year", a perfect storm of mid-winter drudgery, post-Christmas comedown and credit card overload. Or is it? This entirely spurious "equation" was actually devised for a travel firm to help sell holidays in the sun, but it's the sort of ritualized non-story that runs well in certain sections of the media, and as you read this blog, the web is awash with comment pieces and interviews featuring concerned psychologists explaining why the third Monday in January is a day for hiding beneath the duvet.
At the TLS we are, however, of an altogether more cheerful disposition, which is why our thoughts turn to the uplifting matter of this year's forthcoming fiction titles. (And if you are cowering beneath the duvet, then a good novel can surely only help you.)
Among the highlights to arrive in Britain over the next month are Dave Eggers's A Hologram for the King – a tale about America, globalization and the world economy, set in Saudi Arabia – and Nadeem Aslam's The Blind Man's Garden – which looks at the effects of war and geopolitical upheaval in contemporary Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jim Crace's Harvest considers a rather different kind of political upheaval, moving back three centuries to a Britain torn apart by the new acts of enclosure.
If that isn't enough to raise some cheer, then March spells the return of William Gass – now in his late eighties – with his first novel in almost two decades. Middle C moves from 1930s Austria to post-war Ohio, and features a piano-playing fantasist struggling to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of his father. Also out in March is Javier Marías's "metaphysical murder mystery" The Infatuations (published in 2011 in Spain as Los enamoramientos), in which a woman becomes embroiled in the fall-out of an apparently random killing. Marías is joined by J. M. Coetzee, whose novel The Childhood of Jesus will already have bookies speculating (regardless of their having read it) on the possibility of the author winning a record-breaking third Booker Prize.
In April, we will be treated to new novels by Kate Atkinson and Rupert Thomson. Atkinson's Life after Life features a woman who is given the chance to overcome death – again and again. Thomson's Secrecy follows a man being pursued by his past in Renaissance Florence, Naples and Sicily. (Renaissance Italy is also the time and place for Sarah Dunant’s Blood and Beauty, which appears later in the year.)
In the same month, Granta’s "Best of Young British Novelists" circus swings around again, while a young British novelist (and TLS reviewer) who may or may not be on the Granta list arrives with his debut, Idiopathy: Sam Byers's novel is billed as a tale of "tangled relationships", "unhinged narcissism" and "self-help quackery".
As the days begin to lengthen, we can look forward to new novels, in May, by John Le Carré (A Delicate Truth), Lionel Shriver (Big Brother) and James Salter (All That Is). Summer solstice arrives just in time for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and the final instalment of Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” trilogy, Last Friends; in August, Margaret Atwood unveils the final instalment of her trilogy, MaddAddam. By September, it will be back to school with Jonathan Coe (Expo 58) and Iain Pears, whose novel, Arcadia, will first appear as an app.
But those days of long shadows are far off in the distance, and for now we must now embrace – or shrink from – the winter gloom. Whether you're feeling morose or optimistic, we hope you'll enjoy reading more about these novels, all of which will be reviewed in future editions of the TLS.