This is the ninth Literary Sofa selection of new/forthcoming fiction, a labour of love that I am delighted to share. No book is here just because it sounds good – that’s the easy bit! I read all of my Hot Picks and many more in full to compile these listings. The right ones took longer than usual to surface but the result is a list of exceptional quality with a wide variety of settings and themes, period and genre. If they have anything in common it is stunningly good writing, frequently accompanied by extraordinary emotional intelligence.
You’ll find murder and teenage longing in 1960s Sweden  and 1950s Cornwall , an endangered whaling community in early C20 Australia , rioting in millennial Seattle , moving stories of a mother and daughter relationship set in New York , male bonding in Bulgaria  and female friendship set in Afghanistan, Montreal and New York , tragedy and heart transplantation in France , justice and revenge in Ireland  and guilt and redemption in rural Alabama in the 1920s . For the first time, I have included a (brilliant and provocative) story collection .
TITLES IN ORDER OF UK RELEASE, NUMBERS FOR REFERENCE ONLY. TEXT ADAPTED FROM PUBLICITY MATERIALS.
Fourteen-year-old Erik and his friend Edmund spend their summer vacation in 1962 by a Swedish lake, daydreaming about Ewa, a young teacher who is the spitting image of actress Kim Novak. When Ewa’s fiancé is found dead, Erik’s older brother Henry is the prime suspect but the actual killer is never found. Twenty-five years later, when Erik happens to come across an article about unsolved crimes, he is overwhelmed by memories about that summer and belatedly goes in search of the truth.
A young man in a dark depression roams the vast, formless landscape of a Dublin industrial park where he meets a vagrant in the grip of a dangerous ideology. A woman fleeing a break-up finds herself taking part in an unusual sleep experiment. A man obsessed with Nietzsche clings desperately to his girlfriend’s red shoes. And whatever happened to Killian Turner, Ireland’s vanished literary outlaw? Lost and isolated, the characters in these stories play out their fragmented relationships in a series of European cities, always on the move; from rented room to darkened apartment, hitchhiker’s roadside to Barcelona nightclub. Rob Doyle, a shape-shifting drifter, a reclusive writer, also stalks the pages. Layering narratives and splicing fiction with non-fiction, This is the Ritual is frank in its depiction of sex, the writer’s life, failed ideals and the transience of emotions.
Half Chinese and half Canadian, Katherine Goodnow struggles through a 1950s childhood hostile to all she represents. Then, as a teenager, she discovers jazz. Her talent for the piano helps her survive unexpected motherhood and her incurable love for the unreliable father of her children. Half American and half Afghani, Mahsa Weaver is only twelve when, after the death of her parents, she is sent to live with strict relatives in Karachi. She escapes to Montreal but the threads of her past are not so easily severed and she finds herself forced into an arranged marriage. For Mahsa too music becomes her solace and passion, allowing her to dare to dream of a life that is really her own. When the two women meet in New York they begin a friendship that will change everything.
UPDATE *LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016*
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. This unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
1999:. Nineteen-year-old Victor, homeless after a family tragedy, finds himself pounding the streets of Seattle with little meaning or purpose. He is the estranged son of the city’s police chief and today his father is in charge of one of the largest protests in history, against the World Trade Organization summit. But in a matter of hours hordes of protesters from all sections of society will clash with the city’s police force in riots which will alter lives: two armed police officers will struggle to keep calm amid the threat of violence; a protester with a murderous past will make an unforgivable mistake; and a delegate from Sri Lanka will do whatever it takes to make it through the crowd to a meeting that could dramatically change the fate of his country. In the fray, Victor and his father too are heading for a collision.
Mary Davidson, the eldest daughter of a whaling family in Eden, New South Wales, sets out to chronicle the particularly difficult season of 1908, marked not only by the sparsity of whales and the vagaries of weather but also by the arrival of John Beck, an itinerant whaleman with a murky past. Mary promptly develops an all-consuming crush on John but hers is not the only romance to blossom amidst the blubber . . Swinging from Mary’s hopes and disappointments, both domestic and romantic, to the challenges that beset their tiny whaling operation, Rush Oh! is a celebration of an extraordinary episode in Australian history when a family of whalers formed a fond, unique alliance with a pod of frisky killer whales – especially the one named Tom.
Early one winter morning near Le Havre, three teenagers head down to the sea to go surfing. Exhausted after just one hour in the rough waves, they begin their journey home but when the driver falls asleep at the wheel, the car skids off the road. Whilst his two best friends escape with broken bones, Simon is beyond resuscitation, brain dead in a deep coma. His devastated parents face an agonising decision: if his life support is switched off straight away his organs can be used to save other lives. In the space of 24 hours, Simon Limbres will have said goodbye to his girlfriend, lost his life in a horrific accident, had all of his organs removed and shipped around France to waiting matches. As his doctor cleans and stitches his empty shell, Simon’s starts to beat again in Paris inside the body of Claire Mejan.
1950s: Fifteen-year-old Betty Broadbent helps her erratic and beautiful mother run the Hotel Eden, a boarding house besieged by reporters keen for juicy gossip and eye-catching headlines following the recent murders of several young girls in their Cornish seaside town. Among the newspaper jackals, the quiet, serious Mr Gallagher stands out, a source of fascination for Betty, who is desperate to be noticed by him and not be treated as a child. With an atmosphere of suspicion and fear looming over the town, he and Betty take risks getting to know each other, through snatched conversation and illicit meetings. She starts to keep secrets from her mother, her friends and even herself. Secrets that will echo through the years, affecting the lives of many.
Roisin Burns has spent the last twenty years becoming someone else. The secrets she has kept since she was a naive schoolgirl in Belfast have blighted her existence and ruined her relationships; her life in New York is built on lies. Things are beginning to fall apart when a figure from her past flashes up on the news: it’s the man who stole her life. These days Brian Lonergan is a smooth, sharp-suited politician, a family man, the darling of the Irish press. But scandal is brewing and Roisin knows the truth. Armed with evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead and when Roisin arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her.
On an unseasonably warm autumn day, an American teacher enters the public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture, looking for sex. There he encounters Mitko, a charismatic young hustler. Over the next few months he returns to Mitko again and again. Their trysts grow increasingly intimate and unnerving as the enigma of this young man becomes inseparable from that of his homeland, Bulgaria, a country with a difficult past and an uncertain future. What Belongs to You is the story of an expat struggling with his own complicated inheritance whilst navigating a foreign culture, a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.
UPDATE *LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2016*
Rural Alabama in the 1920s: Roscoe has set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the 20th century: electricity. It becomes his training, his life’s work. But when his wife Marie inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give it up at great cost to his pride and sense of self, his marriage and his family. Realising that he might lose them all, he uses his skills to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness on a farm recently falling to ruin. Even the love of Marie and their son seems back within Roscoe’s grasp. But when a young man is electrocuted on their land Roscoe is arrested for manslaughter and – no longer an electrician or even a farmer – he must now carve out a place in a violent new world behind bars.
*THE NEW ADDITIONS!*
UPDATE *WINNER OF THE BAILEYS PRIZE AND THE DESMOND ELLIOT PRIZE*
‘He was definitely dead, whoever he was.’ One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with his unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family. Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city. In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of other perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight.
Desert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.
THE FICTION HOT PICKS 2016 COMPETITION – NOW ENDED
Thank you to everyone who entered the competition and spread the word around. The WINNERS, selected by the delightful daughter of Ben Blackman (twice a Sofa guest and the only person to have his own section on the blog – don’t ask) via random number generator are:
BOOKERTALK and VAN DEMAL who each win a copy of MEND THE LIVING by Maylis de Kerangal, trans. Jessica Moore (tissues not included).
DEREK NORTON who wins a copy of A SUMMER WITH KIM NOVAK by Håkan Nesser, trans. Saskia Vogel.
There’s a fantastic line-up for January including visits from a gifted poet and a Writers on Location trip to Tokyo – it’s just not quite lined up yet. Something good every week – how’s that for a promise?