October is one of the most important months in the book trade. It’s when the publishers release the titles they want to be bestsellers at Christmas, it’s the time of the Frankfurt Book Fair, there are a bunch of literature festivals going on, the Booker winner is announced… plenty to talk about. In fact, this year has been slightly unusual in that September saw the publication of some key titles – Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and Stephen King’s The Institute. I’ll be giving you a run-down of what to look out for this month.
I love all of John le Carré’s work, and I cannot wait for his new novel, Agent Running in the Field. It’s got everything you could want from his books – a spy who returns to the field, threats from Russia, and political unrest, all set in 2018 London with the associated growing division in society. Le Carré is not known for pulling his punches at politicians, nor his view of Brexit (sheer bloody lunacy), and our current Prime Minister (at the time of writing) does not come off well. For a less charged thriller, there’s also a new Lee Child, Blue Moon, the latest outing for the phenomenally best-selling Jack Reacher. There are rival gangs, a bit of comedy, it follows the standard Reacher formula, but early reviews have been extremely positive.
After Adam Kay’s hugely successful debut, This is Going to Hurt, he is following up with Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. Once again focusing on the trials facing junior doctors in the NHS, it promises to be funny and poignant and probably more than a little bit messy. His first book was the number-one bestseller in The Sunday Times for six months, it will be interesting to see whether the new collection is as unstoppable. If you want something non-fiction but a little more restrained, the wonderful Helen Macdonald is releasing a collection of essays about nature and the natural world, and our human relationship to this place. H is for Hawk was one of the first books I ever wrote about for OX, and I highly recommend her upcoming Vesper Flights.
There is something comforting and familiar about these recommendations. You know the authors that you like, these are not debuts, they are not risks. I write a lot about independent publishers and books in translation, but there is a particular pleasure in picking something and knowing you will have a good time. When I was younger I devoured Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, there was something in the sweeping majesty, the personalisation of a vast and changing history, so Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China is on my list of highly-anticipated releases.
I’m also intrigued by the new collection of short stories, Grand Union, from Zadie Smith. I admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of Swing Time, her last novel, but as these are (a) short stories and (b) have been described as ‘formally experimental, playful, and with a slightly cynical sense of humour’ I’m sold. In other short story collections, Nudibranch (Irenosen Okojie) had me at the title. Nudibranchs are ridiculously cute sea slugs, add in a love-hungry sea goddess, dark surrealism, and time travel, this has been one of my more anticipated books since it was announced.
The Secret Commonwealth is the second book in Philip Pullman’s second trilogy, The Book of Dust. Lyra Silvertongue has grown up, we get to see Pantalaimon again, and there is adventure from the heart of Oxford to the deserts of Asia. It’s also huge – coming in at almost a kilo of actual book – and the cover art is stunning. Personally, I can’t wait. Keeping on the theme of atheist authors who have had a spot of controversy over the content of their books (ahem), Richard Dawkins is releasing a beginner’s guide to atheism. Called Outgrowing God, it takes 12 major philosophical questions and contends that we really don’t need to believe in a creator. I am more looking forward to the inevitable ‘discourse’ this book will generate rather than the book itself, because I love messy gossip.
All in all, this is shaping up to be an incredibly varied set of releases, with something for pretty much every taste. From blockbusters to slim novellas, punchy crime to elegiac nature writing, happy reading.