Ian McEwan
Review 25 September

The best new books from 2016's 'big hitters', from Ian McEwan to Eimear McBride

As Autumn approaches, publishers bring out their big guns for Christmas and end-of-year lists. Dan Lewis recommends a few of the best (Ian McEwan, John le Carre, JM Coetzee...) to look out for...

 

Nutshell

Ian McEwan

£16.99 (click here to buy)

“Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space – were it not that I have bad dreams” goes the line from Hamlet which gives McEwan’s latest endeavour its title. Never one to rest on his laurels, in Nutshell McEwan flexes his narrative muscle by choosing to retell the Bard’s most familiar tale of murder, vengeance and existential angst in the present day, and narrated by a foetus. The foetus here has had enough of listening to his mother, Trudy, and uncle, Claude (see what he did there), getting it on at a disturbing proximity to him, and plotting to kill his father with a poisoned smoothie. Needless to say, this isn’t the McEwan of Atonement. The novel is full of laughs as the author plays with this expertly designed conceit, and the Radio 4-educated Hamlet bemoans the state of the world he is to be born into, whilst resolving to exact revenge on Trudy and Claude.

 

The Pigeon Tunnel

John le Carré

£20 (click here to buy)

John le Carré is one of those authors whose life I feel I know more about than I actually do. I’m a huge fan; nothing will ever beat the twists and turns of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and I can barely contain my rage when someone claims the film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is anything above merely “OK”. From (what I perceived as) clues in books like these and A Perfect Spy and the various interviews he has done over the years, I’ve pieced together an image of the author in my mind. The imminent publication of The Pigeon Tunnel, however, will finally allow me, and thousands of other le Carré readers, to get a clearer understanding of David Cornwell, the man behind the nom de plume,  and his journey from intelligence agent, himself outed as such by infamous double agent Kim Philby, to internationally bestselling author. This first collection of memoirs has been a long time coming.

 

The Schooldays of Jesus

J M Coetzee

£17.99 (click here to buy)

A new book from two-time Booker Prize-winning author J M Coetzee is always cause for celebration - as much for his fans as his critics, who I’m sure will find much to get their teeth into here. This is the follow-up to 2013’s controversial The Childhood of Jesus and sees young Davíd arrive in the town of Estrella, where he is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. The rest makes it hard to give you a neat narrative summary. The Schooldays of Jesus (you won’t meet Jesus, by the way - he’s hanging out with Godot somewhere) is a sparsely written allegory that omits much of what we have come to expect from a novel, in favour of questions and opaque prose which, though challenging, are sure to be unlike anything you've encountered before, other than with JM Coetzee, of course. He must be doing something right - The Schooldays of Jesus has been nominated for 2016’s Man Booker Prize, so Mr Coetzee may be about to do the triple.

 

Worth Dying For

Tim Marshall

£16.99 (click here to buy)

Former Sky News diplomatic editor Tim Marshall knows a thing or two about foreign affairs. This time last year, we had our noses buried in his brilliant, internationally bestselling book Prisoners of Geography and have spent the ensuing time champing at the bit for more of his insightful and entertaining prose. Enter Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags, another expertly penned tome that manages to capture the complexities of foreign affairs in an intelligent yet engaging and approachable style. Marshall takes a look at our relationship with flags and explores how they've managed to have such a hold on us - uniting us, dividing us, enthralling us, terrifying us. It's a truly fascinating book that feels all the more considered and urgent in today's world of Brexit, Trump, China and ISIS. Stanfords is lucky enough to have a special Edward Stanford signed and numbered Collector’s Edition of this brilliant book - there’s only 150 of them though so get them while they’re hot.

Also, Tim will be appearing at Stanfords, Covent Garden, on 20th September to discuss Worth Dying For - tickets are going fast, so snap yours up now.

 

The Lesser Bohemians

Eimear McBride

£16.99 (click here to buy)

Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing won the Goldsmith’s Prize in 2013, then the Baileys prize for fiction in 2014. Not bad for a debut which had spent 10 years in the publishing wilderness, being bounced about from publisher to publisher before finding a home at indie Galley Beggar Press. No such problem faced McBride then with the follow up, The Lesser Bohemians, though it apparently took her some eight years to write. Telling the story of a passionate love affair between an aspiring young Irish actress who has moved to London to study drama and an actor some 20 years her senior who has a troubled past, it’s a book that again completely immerses you in a character’s head through McBride’s trademark linguistic gymnastics; think somewhere between Joyce and a post LA Confidential Ellroy.

 

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari

£25 (click here to buy)

It’s finally here. Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind  was an utterly wonderful, revelatory book of non-fiction that asked and answered big questions about the nature of evolution from the Stone Age to the 21st Century. It was full of scientific research, presented in an engaging and relevant way, and it was enormously popular as a result. Homo Deus picks up Sapiens' baton and runs way off into the future to see what might be next for mankind. Where Sapiens told us how accidentally we came to be masters of Earth, Homo Deus seems to posit the idea that through our own ingenuity we may come to make ourselves obsolete. There’s a touch of the SF dystopia in Harari’s theorising - the individual finally conceding, as it is subsumed by the network of information it has contributed to creating. It would be truly chilling stuff, were it not for the author’s light hand and his reassurances that this is, of course, not a future set in stone. We can’t know what’s coming next. We just have to hope there’s still room for the lighter bits of humanity amidst the hard data.

 

Atlas Obscura

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton

£25 (click here to buy)

AtlasObscura.com is one of my favourite websites, filled with weird and wonderful tales of the unexpected from all over the world. So it's an exciting prospect to see their big book of collected writing, photographs, maps and charts covering over 700 of the most intriguing places on earth. If you’re an enthusiastic traveller, always on the look out for a new and exciting place to visit - and since you’re reading Wanderlust, that should be a given - this book is destined to become your inspiration for many future adventures - whether that’s seeking out a leech-powered weather-predicting device in Devon, joining in the Spanish Baby Jumping Festival or exploring New Zealand’s glowworm caves. Get this book on your Christmas list now.

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