The Best Books to Look Out for in October 2018
Arriving just as the country shifts to shorter days and cooler hours, there can be no novel more fitting to the season than Sarah Perry’s atmospheric and quietly haunting triumph, Melmoth. Set in Prague and echoing Charles Maturin’s classic Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer, it is both a compelling - and truly chilling - ghost story and a deeply profound meditation on guilt and redemption.
As in her Waterstones Book of the Year-winning bestseller, The Essex Serpent, here Perry is an expert in peeling back the surface of things to consider what is sustaining and fundamental in the struggle not just to live, but to live well and with purpose. ‘At once hugely readable and profoundly important’, writes a euphoric Guardian, it is ‘one of the great literary achievements of our young century.’ Its praise that is only equalled by that levelled at Haruki Murakami’s daringly ambitious and superlative novel, Killing Commendatore. Like Perry, Murakami excels at seeing the bigger picture, and here he turns his gaze to where truth and fiction meet in a novel that is both a playful homage to The Great Gatsby and a slantwise story of art, artists and the value of both. ‘The novel will only burnish his reputation’, marvels the Telegraph, ‘barely rivalled since the days of Dickens, as the living novelist who best combines literary excellence and commercial popularity.’
October also brings the welcome - and long-awaited - return of a number of fiction’s heroes. Australian writer Markus Zusak’s last novel, The Book Thief, made him a household name around the world, but readers have had to wait patiently for his next offering, a book more than 10 years in the making. An intergenerational epic, Bridge of Clay is a layered and sweeping story of family and masculinity, woven around one man’s Herculean ambition to build a bridge. Timely and full of heart, Zusak delivers a story that’s more than worth the wait.
Like The Book Thief, Mitch Albom’s first novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, has attained cult status in the 15 years since its publication. Now Albom returns to tell the other side of the story in The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, giving readers the chance to reunite with Eddie, as it is now his turn to guide a traveller to acceptance and redemption. Death also proves a catalyst in Graham Norton’s second novel, A Keeper, which explores the secrets held close by family and community as a prodigal daughter returns home for her mother’s funeral. Norton’s debut, Holding, earned real critical acclaim, proving him a deft, sensitive novelist. His second is better still.
Barbara Kingsolver is a novelist whose work has long been rooted in contemporary concerns, asking key questions about the way our lives intersect with a world at risk from human neglect and acquisitive predation. Her latest offering, The Unsheltered, is no exception. Telling the stories of two families in crisis in 1871 and 2016, prepare to be enveloped by a novel that asks readers to see the world from a new perspective through the light cast by past generations. From voices of the past, to those of the present. We’re lucky to be living through an extraordinary flourishing of the short story genre and now author Philip Hensher follows up his excellent two-volume classic short story anthologies with a new contemporary collection. Expertly selected, authoritative and sumptuously designed, The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story has all the hallmarks of a future classic.
Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Nestling somewhere in the cracks between comfortable genre pigeonholing has always been Stephen King’s masterstroke, and his new novella proves why the Guardian calls him ‘one of the great storytellers of our time.’ Set in the slightly skewed small-town America that King has made his own, Elevation is an unexpectedly sweet and upbeat story; a celebration of finding common ground amidst a sea of division.
For fantasy fans there are grand conclusions in the offing. Sarah J. Maas’s career launched with her blockbuster epic, Throne of Glass and now, in Kingdom of Ash, she finally brings the story of rebel assassin queen Aelin Galathynius to its thrilling conclusion. Fans will be on tenterhooks as Maas unveils who will stand and who will fall in the final roll of the dice. Meanwhile Laini Taylor serves up the second part of the beautifully written duology begun with Strange the Dreamer, Muse of Nightmares. Taylor’s creative invention is second to none, her pleasure in the wonder of storytelling is infectious and in this sequence her imaginative powers are given full sway: the result is a joy.
There’s a real treat too for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s masterwork, Earthsea, which is given a lavish fresh lease of life in a new, fully illustrated edition, published to mark the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Earthsea. Bringing together the full Earthsea chronicles - including early short fiction, never-before-printed stories and a previously unpublished essay by Le Guin - for the very first time, with newly commissioned images by artist Charles Vess, it is an unmissable, landmark collector’s item.
Crime and Thrillers
Surely the year’s most highly-anticipated crime release, C.J. Sansom’s seventh novel in his phenomenally popular Shardlake series, Tombland, plunges readers into the heart of an England in turmoil, delivered as a richly-satisfying historical whodunit. Set in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s death, it sees Matthew Shardlake’s loyalties sorely tested as those around him choose sides in the bitter rivalry for succession.
Back in the present, two more detectives stalk back into view as Ian Rankin’s In a House of Life pulls Rebus from retirement to rattle the bones of his past, and Susan Hill’s Simon Serraillier finds his life and work irretrievably enmeshed as The Comforts of Home prove anything but. There’s thrilling tension too from Big Little Lies’ Liane Moriarty, whose Nine Perfect Strangers sets up a sinister scenario where a relaxing retreat turns into a dark experiment in social engineering. What emerges is a story that is nail-bitingly tense and a complete page-turner.
History, Politics & Philosophy
Revered as an icon and hero by some but decried by others, there’s no doubting that the titanic figure of Winston Churchill looms large over the canvas of twentieth century British history. Now acclaimed historian Andrew Roberts aims to unmask the real Churchill in an exhaustive new biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny that looks behind the public façade, creating a more intimate and holistic portrait of Churchill, both as leader and flawed individual. The Sunday Times sums up the critical response, declaring that Roberts ‘has produced the best single volume life of Churchill ever written.'
Meanwhile, readers more allied to Alan Bennett’s much-quoted History Boys assessment that ‘history is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men… women following behind with the bucket’, might find themselves consoled by Cathy Newman’s Bloody Brilliant Women, which goes some way towards restorative justice. A Channel 4 journalist, Newman has a winning, likable style and her book is a brilliant read: informative, well-researched and never less than thoroughly engaging.
Current AffairsAlready making history - and creating headlines - Scarlett Curtis's pioneering collection, Feminists Don't Wear Pink (and other lies) brings together some of today's most influential women discussing what contemporary feminism means to them. Featuring voices including Saoirse Ronan, Jameela Jamil and Tanya Burr, the collection is published in coordination with the UN women's foundation, Girl Up, with 10% of the RRP going to support adolescent girls in developing countries.
From history’s makers, we move to the frightening undermining of its very foundations, a reality explored in Michael Lewis’s damning new book The Fifth Risk. An examination of the ways in which American government infrastructure is under threat from those meant to uphold and protect those services, it provides a fascinating corollary to the current glut of political exposes laying siege to Trump’s presidency. Lewis suggests that the damage done to the country’s fabric may have far-reaching and explosive implications for its future.
Also looking to the future is the last book from Professor Stephen Hawking, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. Based on questions asked by students, academics, politicians and world leaders, it is a book of real breadth and depth, providing a window into Hawking’s views not only on science, but on our wider world and its trajectory. Alongside comes Blueprint, a ground-breaking and controversial new examination of the nature/nurture debate from geneticist Robert Plomin, suggesting that we owe more to our genes than we previously imagined - more perhaps than makes us comfortable. As the Spectator concludes, this is ‘an important and challenging’ book, albeit one that doesn’t always make for easy reading, and in Plomin’s hands the material is never less than fascinating.
Art, Nature and Travel
Whether it is Pauline Baynes’ depictions of Narnia, meandering from Cair Paravel to the Eastern Sea, or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, inspired by the circular ring of the Mappa Mundi, maps have a special place in the minds of writers and readers. It is a relationship that’s wonderfully explored in The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, a book that brings together the thoughts of writers including Philip Pullman, Robert Macfarlane and Frances Hardinge on the literary maps that have shaped their imagination and storytelling. Elegantly constructed and packed with illustrations, it is a volume to lose yourself inside.
From imaginary lands, to the awe-inspiring perspectives of Dynasties. The BBC’s landmark new nature series, it explores the role of animal families in shaping the makeup of the world’s natural habitats, brilliantly illustrated in Stephen Moss’s visually arresting accompanying volume which is introduced by Sir David Attenborough. Meanwhile, going behind the camera, Sue Perkins’ East of Croydon offers a very funny and human chronicle of her experiences travelling around India and East Asia, making her documentary about the Mekong River. If you’ve ever been tempted by adventure travel, but been put off by feeling vastly unqualified/insufficiently practical/downright terrified, then this is the book for you - it might just make you think again.
From Croydon to Straight Outta Crawley, the memoir by comedian Romesh Ranganathan. Covering everything from his childhood and his circuitous route into comedy, to how to cope as a vegan stand-up, it is irreverent, frank and hilarious. There’s equal merriment on offer too in Eric Idle’s breezily readable autobiography, appropriately titled (what else?) Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Packed full of anecdotes from a career spanning half a century - with walk-on parts for everyone from Mick Jagger to Queen Elizabeth - it is all brought together by Idle’s gift as a generous and genial raconteur.
When it comes to superstars, they seldom come bigger than Tina Turner and, as Turner marks 60 years in the music business, she finally tells all in Tina Turner: My Love Story. From her earliest years picking cotton in Tennessee through her tempestuous relationship with Ike Turner and beyond, it is a riveting story of one woman’s extraordinary life.
From dress-making to crochet, knitting to pottery, Britain is a nation of amateur crafters. Now, a new book from authors Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin explains how the principles of Craftfulness can also be a unique way to order and calm your mind, leading to a happier and more fulfilled life. Drawing on first-hand accounts and combining mindfulness techniques with easy-to-follow, simple craft projects, it is a practical, innovative approach to joining creativity with positive mental health.
Meanwhile, if you’re in need of some comfort food as the weather draws in, we’ve got the perfect recipe recommendations. Described by Nigella Lawson as the ‘instrumental force in leading [the English] beyond the land of spag bol, macaroni cheese and tinned ravioli’, Italian chef Anna Del Conte has been delivering the best in Italian cookery since the 1970’s. Her new book, Vegetables all'Italiana, is a collection of mainly unpublished recipes that put veg centre-stage and work with seasonal produce that’s ripe for the times. From the sunshine of Italy we move north to sample the deliciously tempting treats nestling The Nordic Baking Book. Compiled by acclaimed chef Magnus Nilsson and featuring 450 sweet and savoury bakes, it is a simply sumptuous selection of warming winter treats and seasonal dishes.
Lastly we’ve got three of this year’s most challenging puzzle books to pit your wits against. Last year’s hit bestseller, The GCHQ Puzzle Book, gave readers the chance to test themselves against real questions from the UK’s finest code-breakers. Now, in The GCHQ Puzzle Book II, there’s a second volume of mind-bogglingly difficult problems, this time coming alongside stories and photographs that illustrate the first 100 years of GCHQ’s history.
And if you don’t fancy yourself a budding cipher-solver, then how about trying out for the European Space Agency instead? Compiled by astronaut Tim Peake, The Astronaut Selection Test Book lets you do just that, offering up a range of real questions from the ESA’s selection test to let you see if you’ve got what it takes to leave Earth’s orbit. Not to be beaten, the Ordnance Survey are even getting in on the act with The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book, a selection of navigational tests, word games, code-crackers and anagrams to test your navigational skills to the limit.