Most Anticipated New Books for 2018

In the first few months of last year I sampled rather more contemporary fiction than is usual for me. Frankly much of it wasn’t to my taste and ended up abandoned. Contemporary literature in any period tends toward mediocre, so it wasn’t too surprising.

This year, my new book purchasing will be much more restrained. These are those I am most looking forward to.

It isn’t any surprise that Seagull Books dominates the list as they have impeccable taste in bringing forth newly translated treasures. I also expect to make some new discoveries through my subscription to the always intriguing Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Giorgio Agamben, Pulcinella: Or Entertainment for Children (trans. Kevin Attell)
Giorgio Agamben, The Adventure (trans. Lorenzo Chiesa)
Friederike Mayröcker, Requiem for Ernst Jandl (trans. Rosalyn Theobald)
Ilse Aichinger, Bad Words (trans. Uljana Wolf and Christian Hawkey)
Pascal Quignard, Villa Amalia (trans. Chris Turner)
Rachel Cusk, Kudos
Claudio Magris, Journeying (trans. Anne Milano Appel)
Dag Solstad, Armand V (trans. Steven T. Murray)
Dag Solstad, T Singer (trans. Tiina Nunnally)
Peter Handke, The Great Fall (trans. Krishna Winston)
Jon Fosse, Scenes from a Childhood
Esther Kinsky, River (trans. Iain Galbraith)
Clarice Lispector, The Chandelier (trans. Benjamin Moser and Magdalena Edwards)
Cesare Pavese, The Beautiful Summer
Alberto Manguel, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions
Joanna Walsh, Break.up
Kate Zambreno, Drifts (since confirmed for early 2019)
Ismail Kadare, Essays on World Literature Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Dante

Autumn Books

It is my favourite time of the year for book buying, when publishers release the highest volume of compelling books. Most of the books I buy during the year are older releases, filling gaps in my collection of the thirty or so writers I return to repeatedly (the ‘I Prefer’ list in my side-bar). Occasionally I am drawn in by a new writer on the scene (Teju Cole) or by newly translated writers. Here are some of the books I have pre-ordered and look forward to reading in the colder, darker months:

  1. The second volume of Samuel Beckett’s letters covering the war years and the period when he wrote The Trilogy.
  2. Impossible Objects – Interviews with the inspiring Simon Critchley, covering tragedy, poetry, humour and music.
  3. 1Q84 – The long-awaited Murakami which I won’t be reading until the noise has passed.
  4. Pascal Quignard’s Sex and Terror and The Roving Shadowsa writer endorsed by two great readers.
  5. All the Roads are Open and Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach. A new writer to me but both books sound deeply fascinating.
  6. Professor Andersen’s Night – Dag Solstad. I enjoyed Shyness and Dignity and the brilliant Novel 11, Book 18.
  7. Dukla – Andrzej Stasiuk (review).
  8. The Map and the Territory – Michel Houellebecq’s latest provocation, his books draw me in like a rubbernecker at an accident scene.
  9. Parallel Stories – Péter Nádas. Though I must read A Book of Memories (“The greatest novel written in our time, and one of the great books of the century.” Susan Sontag) first.

Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad

Perhaps Novel 11, Book 18 really was (in 2001) Dag Solstad’s eleventh novel and eighteenth book; if not, the significance of the title is not readily apparent. The title implies the writer’s wish for distance from the narrative; not a story, but perhaps a case study, maybe one within the filing cabinet of the sinister Doctor Schiøtz.

Written in refined, free indirect style, or better, a term James Wood borrows – ‘close writing’, any space between the author and character Bjørn Hansen is dissolved. The style, a simultaneous feeling of distance and closeness to the character’s stream of consciousness, adds hugely to the sensation of being pulled into this excellent novel.

Bjørn Hansen brings to mind Sartre’s Antoine Roquentin (Nausea):

I think it’s I who has changed: that’s the simplest solutions, also the most unpleasant. But I have to admit that I am subject to these sudden transformations. The thing is that I very rarely think; consequently a host of little metamorphoses accumulate in me without my noticing it, and then, one fine day,  a positive revolution takes place.

Hansen’s existence is punctuated by these sudden transformations, but he remains haunted:

‘You know, I find myself in this town by pure chance, it has never meant anything to me. It’s also by pure chance that I’m the treasurer here. But if I hadn’t been here, I would’ve been somewhere else and have led the same kind of life. However, I cannot reconcile myself to that. I get really upset when I think about it.’

After unburdening himself to Doctor Schiøtz, another ‘host of little metamorphoses’ accumulate, leading to a  further revolution, one that in turn will provoke another sequence of metaphysical doubts.

More powerful and successful than Solstad’s Shyness and Dignity, this novel is reviewed more completely by John Self and Stephen Mitchelmore.

Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad

Dag Solstad: described in the blurb as Norway’s leading author, an icon among Scandinavian writers. This book Shyness and Dignity, described as one of Solstad’s major works. I suspect that there is depth here that I missed through my unfamiliarity with Ibsen’s The Wild Duck.

The first part of the book, Elias’ growing tension in his senior school classroom, is brilliant. The presence of this melancholic man, set against the bored, passive defiance of his classroom, whether real or perceived, is powerful. After Elias’ pivotal action, the novel is undermined to a degree by the lofty, romantic Johan Corneliussen, a heroic figure who’s use as a plot device is flimsy and clichéd.

It’s not all melancholic introspection, there is humour here, of a sort, as in the description of a downhill skiing race:

One after another, they turned up on screen, in helmets and Alpine gear, before they threw themselves down the mountainsides of (or among) the Alps. Henri Messner, Austria. Jean-Claude Killy, France, Franz Vogler, West Germany. Leo Lacroix, France. Martin Heidegger, Germany. Edmund Husserl, Germany. Elias Canetti, Romania. Allen Ginsberg, USA. William Burroughs, USA. Antonio Gramsci, Italy. Jean-Paul Sartre, France. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austria. Johan Corneliussen knew the strengths and weaknesses of all the racers and continually informed Elias that now, now, he had to watch out, for there, on that slope, Jean-Paul Sartre will have some problems, whereas now, just look how Ludwig Wittgenstein’s suppleness manifests itself in that long flat stretch …

It’s not Curb, but I chuckled.

The writer’s artistry, to the degree it survives translation, is palpable from the first part of this novel. The second part feels compromised. I do however plan to read Solstad’s other novel in translation Novel 11, Book 18.