Having now finished my own novel, I’m really looking forward to what 2012 may bring and I think readers of fiction are in for a great year with some very exciting new releases. I had a difficult but interesting time deciding what to include in my Hot Picks for 2012, but these are the ones which promised something special to me. They reflect my love of American writing, literary fiction, and the magical place where literary and commercial genres overlap. 6/10 are debuts and several (I won’t say which!) are tipped to be huge bestsellers. I’ve had a look at two of them already and can’t wait to read them all. I hope you find something to add to your own ‘To Be Read’ list here, and that you’ll be back for my reviews.
(In order of publication date)
It is 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and a photographer captures a moment forever: a street party with bunting and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze. Right in the centre of the frame, a small Asian boy stares intently into the camera. The photograph becomes iconic, but the harmonious image conceals a very different reality. Amid the party food and the platform shoes, the pop music and the punk, there are tensions in the Cherry Gardens community. Fast forward to the present and the boy, Satish, has become a successful cardiologist, saving lives, respected by those around him. But he is living with a secret. When Satish is asked to take part in a reunion of those involved in that Jubilee photograph, he must confront the truth about that day, and the events that changed his life.
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, Simon & Schuster, 2 February 2012
Bright, bookish Oscar Lowe has escaped the urban estate where he was raised and made a new life for himself amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge. He has grown to love the quiet routine of his life as a care assistant at a local nursing home, but when he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student at King’s College, Oscar becomes embroiled in the strange machinations of her brilliant but troubled brother, Eden, who believes he can adapt the theories of a forgotten Baroque composer to heal people with music. As Eden draws his sister and closed circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments, Oscar realises the danger facing them all.
A Good American by Alex George, Amy Einhorn Books, 2 February 2012
Set in a fictional Midwestern town and spanning more than a century, the novel tells the story of three generations of the Meisenheimer family. Beginning with an improbable love affair ignited by the power of song, the story follows an unorthodox young couple as they flee to America in search of a new life together. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies and the Kennedy assasination, the family is caught up in the sweep of history as they find their place in their adopted country. Accompanied by a chorus of unforgettable characters, from a chicken-strangling church organist to a malevolent bicycle-riding dwarf, each new new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American.
The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd, Simon & Schuster, 1 March 2012
An historical thriller with a supernatural twist, The English Monster tells the intertwined stories of the Ratcliffe Highway murders, which opened the 19th century in a terrible burst of bloodletting, and of young Billy Ablass, who sets sail on England’s first official slaving voyage, in a ship owned by Queen Elizabeth herself. On a sun-blasted islet in the Florida Cays, Billy is to be himself enslaved for the rest of his accursed days. The English Monster is a voyage across centuries, through the Age of Discovery and down onto the streets of Regency Wapping.
Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May, Bloomsbury, 29 March 2012
Billy’s Mum is dead. He knows – because he reads about it in magazines – that people die every day in ways that are more random and tragic and stupid than hers, but for 19 year-old Billy and his little brother, Oscar, their mother’s death in a bungled street robbery is the most random and tragic and stupid thing that could possibly have happened to them. Now Billy must be both mother and father to Oscar. The boys’ new world, where bedtimes are arbitrary, tidiness is optional and healthy home-cooked meals pile up uneaten in the freezer, is built out of chaos and fierce love, but it’s also a world that teeters perilously on its axis. And as Billy’s obsession with his mother’s missing killer grows, he risks losing sight of the one thing that really matters.
The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler, Chatto & Windus, 3 April 2012
Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, independent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly, he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.
In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what would become a Utopian community in a ramshackle mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and beyond. Arcadia’s residents include Handy, a musician and the group’s charismatic leader; Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah’s only child, the book’s protagonist, 13-year old Bit, who is born soon after the commune is created. While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. If he remains in love with life in Arcadia and deeply attached to its residents, including Handy and Astrid’s troubled daughter Helle, how will he make his way in the world outside where he must eventually live?
The Playdate by Louise Millar, Pan, 26 April 2012
Single mother Callie has come to rely heavily on her best friend Suzy. But Callie suspects Suzy’s life isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s time she pulled away – going back to work is just the first step towards rediscovering her old confidence. So why does she keep putting off telling Suzy about her new job? The two women live close to each other on a typical cramped, anonymous London street. Neighbours seem to move in, and move on, before you have even learned their names. Callie’s increased sense of alienation leads her to try to befriend a new resident on her street, Debs. But Debs is anxious, odd. You wouldn’t trust her with your child – especially not if you knew anything about her past.
What if the 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life…One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their modest suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.
Rook by Jane Rusbridge, Bloomsbury, 2 August 2012
Nora has abandoned her career as a cellist, returning home to the Sussex coast and her mother Ada, a fragile, bitter woman who distils for herself a glamorous past as she smokes French cigarettes in her unkempt garden. A charming young documentary maker arrives to shoot a film about King Cnut’s cherished but illegitimate daughter, whose body lies beneath the flagstones of the local church. As Jonny disturbs the fabric of the village, digging up tales of ancient battles and burials, the threads lead back to Ada and Nora, who find themselves face to face with the shameful secrets they had so carefully buried. Set in the ancient Sussex village of Bosham, Rook explores the mystery surrounding Harold II’s burial place, the hidden histories of the Bayeux Tapestry and connections forged through three women’s stories, past and present.
Do any of these particularly appeal to you ? I’d also love to know which other novels you’re eagerly awaiting in 2012 !