Looking ahead to 2012

It’s around this time of year that I start receiving calls from journalists wanting to know what books and literary trends will be “hot” in 2012. I’ll get on to the potential big sellers in a future blog but first here’s a quick look at some trends I’ve spotted in new fiction so far . . .

Following the success of The Slap, first published in the UK in 2010, there are a couple of contemporary dilemma-type titles which have caught my eye: This Beautiful Life (Atlantic, February) Helen Schulman’s tale about a 15-year-boy who forwards a sexually explicit email attachment sent to him by a younger girl to his friends; and Noah Hawley’s The Good Father (Hodder, March) where a man discovers the child of his first marriage was responsible for a shooting.

Sequels or continuations of classic tales have been popular recently—I’m thinking of the new Sherlock Holmes The House of Silk from Anthony Horowitz. In a similar vein, former poet laureate Andrew Motion has Silver (Cape, April) a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (first published in 1883) with the son of Jack Higgins and the daughter of Long John Silver setting sail in search of Captain Flint’s hidden bounty.

I’ve just read three books in a row, all April titles, all very different stylistically but each with the central theme of the agonies and the joys of sibling relationships. Hannah Richell’s debut Secrets of the Tides (Orion) is a Rosamund Pilcher-esque family saga, very cleverly structured and compulsively readable. By Battersea Bridge (Chatto) by Janet Davey is a beautiful, elegiac account of a sister coming to terms with the past and Life! Death! Prizes! (Bloomsbury) by Stephen May is about a 19-year-old boy bringing up his six-year-old brother after their mother dies. So funny, so sharp, and reminiscent of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

I find lots of novels billed as crossover titles—that is, of equal appeal to adults and teenagers—not to be so. But there are two coming next year that I think really are, and both have young protagonists in dire peril. Nick Lake’s powerful and moving In Darkness (Bloomsbury, January), is set in the direct aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and is narrated by a teenage boy trapped in the rubble. In Advent (Hodder, February), the danger is magic, in a terrific return to old-school fantasy from debut author James Treadwell.  

There seems to be a trend for short story collections—never the retailers’ favourite BIC category I know as they just don’t seem to sell as well as the novels no matter how big the name—with incredibly long titles: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (W&N, February) from Nathan Englander, one of the New Yorker’s “20 Writers for the 21st Century". There’s also the debut collection from Jon McGregor, This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You (Bloomsbury, February) and another debut Once You Break a Knuckle (Bloomsbury, April) from D W Wilson, winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2011.

There’s a strong showing for unreliable narrators—always an intriguing read. Three of the best I’ve read so far are Alys, Always (W&N, February), a debut by Harriet Lane and a Barbara Vine-esque tale about a lowly newspaper sub-editor who sees an opportunity to upgrade her social circumstances. The heroine of Charlotte Hogan’s The Lifeboat (Virago, March) relays her experiences of three weeks on the open sea—was she innocent or complicit in the events which took place? And In When Nights Were Cold (Mantle, March) by Susanna Jones, a young Edwardian lady escapes her stifling upbringing to pursue her mountaineering dreams, with tragic consequences.

I am looking forward to seeing how they all fare. Happy New Year!