November is one of my favourite months — after I've got over the shock of the clocks going back and the nights closing in. I love the crisp clear mornings (on my bike) and the leaves changing colour. But most of all I love the cooler weather, which is perfect for snuggling under the duvet or sitting by the fire, a steady supply of coffee and books to hand.
Here's five new books — three by Nobel Prize winners — that are due to be published this month, which have caught my attention. They have been arranged in alphabetical order according to author's surname.
Two men meet for a pint in a Dublin pub. They chew the fat, set the world to rights, take the piss. They talk about their wives, their kids, their kids' pets, their football teams and — this being Ireland in 2011-12 — about the euro, the crash, the presidential election, the Queen's visit. But these men are not parochial or small-minded; one of them knows where to find the missing Colonel Gaddafi (he's working as a cleaner at Dublin Airport); they worry about Greek debt, the IMF and the bondholders ( whatever they might be); in their fashion, they mourn the deaths of Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Davy Jones and Robin Gibb; and they ask each other the really important questions like 'Would you ever let yourself be digitally enhanced?' Inspired by a year's worth of news, Two Pints distils the essence of Roddy Doyle's comic genius. This book shares the concision of a collection of poems, and the timing of a virtuoso comedian.
Roddy Doyle's Barrytown Trilogy is one of my favourite ever books, and much of what he has released since (with the exception of Booker Prize winner Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) pales by comparison. I read Bullfighting, his last book — a collection of short stories — last year and enjoyed it. I'm interested in this new one, if only because it is part of a whole swag of books now emerging from Ireland that examine the boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger.
'I know you'll return'. These are his grandmother's last words to him. He has them in his head as he boards the truck at 3am on a freezing mid-January morning in 1945. They keep him company during the long journey to Russia. They keep him alive — through hunger, pain, and despair — during his time in the brutal Soviet labour camps. And, eventually, they bring him back home. But when he does return, he finds that an embarrassed, traumatised silence hangs over his harrowing experiences. Even with his two friends, fellow Romanian-Germans who survived the camps with him, the memories that have branded them so indelibly seem impossible to put into words.
Romanian-born German writer Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009, but I am still to read any of her work. This one sounds intriguing...
There is something special about the ancient cathedral in Chartres, with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained-glass and strange labyrinth. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning. No one quite knows where she came from — not the diffident Abbé Paul, who discovered her one morning twenty years ago, sleeping in the north porch; nor lonely Professor Jones, whose chaotic existence she helps to organise; nor Philippe Nevers, whose neurotic sister and newborn child she cares for; nor even the irreverent young restorer, Alain Fleury, who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes, her colourful clothes and elusive manner. And yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she has touched their lives in subtly transformative ways, even though they couldn't quite say how. But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès' past returns, provoking malicious speculation from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the rumours grow more ugly, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds...
Salley Vickers is one of my favourite writers, so I did a little dance of happiness when I heard about this new one a few months back.
First published in 1980 and finally published for the first time in English, Saramago's prizewinning novel Raised from the Ground follows the changing fortunes of the Mau-Tempo family — poor, landless peasants not unlike the author's own grandparents. Set in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal known for its vast agricultural estates, Saramago charts the lives of the Mau-Tempos as national and international events rumble on in the background — the coming of the republic in Portugal, the First and Second World Wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar's life. Yet, nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm labourers' lives until the first communist stirrings.
The late José Saramago was another recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1998) — and despite having several of his novels on my shelves I'm yet to dip in and explore his writing. This sounds like a good place to start.
The Republic of Wine by Mo Yan (translated by Howard Goldblatt)
Arcade Publishing, hardcover, 384 pages (13 November)
When special investigator Ding Gou'er hears persistent rumors that there is cannibalism in the province called the Republic of Wine, he goes to learn the truth. Beginning at the Mount Luo Coal Mine, he meets Diamond Jin, legendary for his capacity to hold his liquor and fondness for young human flesh. A banquet is served during which the special investigator, by meal's end in an alcohol-induced stupor, loses all sense of reality. Interspersed are stories sent to Mo Yan himself by Li Yidou (aka Doctor of Liquor Studies), each one more mad than the next. Wild and politically explosive, The Republic of Wine proves that no regime can stifle creative imagination.
Chinese writer Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature a couple of weeks ago. A handful of his novels are already available in English, but this is his very latest to be translated.
________________________________________________________________________Please note that the release dates quoted are for the UK and are subject to change. Are there any on this list that have piqued your interest?