BOOK REVIEW / And in with the new: The Yanks are coming, the British women are here in force, poetry is bursting out all over: Jan Dalley examines what's in store on the publishers' spring lists

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The Independent Culture
IT IS going to be a remarkable few months for fiction, but why do publishers shape their fiction lists so that a whole battalion of American men appear in the same season? Because of the Booker, probably, which dominates the autumn and prompts editors to schedule their non-eligible heavyweights (especially Americans and home-grown short stories) at the opposite end of the calendar. The consequence, this year, is that January sees the first of these (mostly macho-sounding) titles, Garrison Keillor's The Book of Guys, as well as Frank Conroy's Body and Soul, while February brings new books from two youngish turks, Ethan Canin and Nicholson Baker - and from Henry Roth, whose Mercy of a Rude Stream is published almost 60 years after his first novel. March and April have John Updike with Brazil, Paul Auster with Mr Vertigo and Harold Brodkey with Profane Friendship. Jay McInerney gets in on the act too with Cowboys, Indians and Commuters: The Penguin Book of New American Voices in May.

By that time, we might be forgiven for wanting something other than American voices. As a counterweight, the spring also brings impressive talent among British women, starting this month with A S Byatt (The Matisse Stories) and Mary Gordon, going on with a new novel from Hilary Mantel called A Change of Climate, as well as work by Jenny Diski (a 'triple-decker narrative'), Jeanette Winterson, Janice Galloway, Mary Flanagan and Deborah Levy among many others. By June, we can expect Anita Brookner's annual, this year entitled A Private View.

This is also the moment when several of 1993's Best of Young British have to justify all that hype. First to go is A L Kennedy, whose stories (Now That You're Back) appear next month. Candia McWilliam's Debatable Land, her third novel, comes in June; Alan Hollinghurst's The Folding Star, the eagerly awaited follow-up to A Swimming-Pool Library, appears in May.

Other British male novelists include Lindsay Clarke, who has not produced a novel since the prizewinning The Chymical Wedding; his new one is Alice's Masque. Next month James Kelman, the nearly man of recent Bookers, publishes How Late It Was, How Late, while fellow Scot Irvine Welsh follows his juggling of four-letter words in Trainspotting with stories collected as The Acid House, in March. A very different Scot, George Mackay Brown, has a new novel that month too: Beside the Ocean of Time. Others to watch for include Walking the Dog by Bernard Mac Laverty (yet another resident of Glasgow); Eating Pavlova by D M Thomas; and (for something completely different) Stephen Fry's second, The Hippopotamus. Like The Liar, it'll probably go straight to No 1 and stay there for weeks.

Ruth Fainlight and Helen Dunmore both publish a prose work and a book of poems this spring. Such prodigious energy aside, it is quite a season for poems. Stephen Spender shares the 60-year honours with Henry Roth: six decades ago his first poems were accepted for Faber by T S Eliot, yet his new book, Dolphins (in February), still breaks new ground. 'New Generation', an enthusiastic promotion for 20 poets under 40, based on the Best of Young British prose counterpart, will get under way in May, but the over-40s are still making the running. There are new collections from Hugo Williams (Dock Leaves), Alan Brownjohn (In The Cruel Arcade), Selima Hill (Trembling Hearts in the Bodies of Dogs), Andrew Motion (The Price of Everything), Tom Paulin (Walking A Line), Peter Reading (Last Poems), Anthony Thwaite (The Dust of the World). And Harm, the third collection from Alan Jenkins (b 1955).

Cape has the welcome news that, in April, it is launching (or re-launching, depending on the length of your memory) its poetry list, with titles from Eleanor Cooke, David Dabydeen, Vicki Feaver and Peter Redgrove. And in Scotland (again), Birlinn Books have the redoubtable Walter McCorrisken ('semi-skilled poet'), whose A Wee Dribble of Dross comes jacketed like souvenir shortbread, in clashing tartans and Scottie dogs. An attractive set of false teeth propelled at speed is accompanied by the immortal quatrain: 'This life to me is full of fun, / Of drama and adventures. / How oft the unexpected cough / Precedes the flying dentures.' Move over, Wendy Cope.

Glyn Maxwell is a name we are used to seeing among the poetry titles, but in March he brings out his first novel, Blue Burneau. Since writing a blockbuster has become the next move in many a stalled showbiz career, the first novel lists often make hilarious reading: enticing to some, this year, will be the long-promised fiction from Edwina Currie, wittily called A Parliamentary Affair. Journalists are at it, too: Barbara Ehrenreich delivers up Kipper's Game in May, when Craig Brown does the same with The Hounding of John Thomas. I wonder what that can be about.

But the fact that it's permanently silly season for first novels shouldn't distract us from some interesting new voices. Emma Donoghue, with Stir Fry, comes to the fine Hamish Hamilton list this month. In May I am looking forward to The Dreamhouse by Alison Habens, as well as Hugh Barnes's Special Effects in June. We have to wait until the dog days of July for Raffaella Barker's Come and Tell Me Some Lies, but it may well be worth it.

This part of the publishing year always carries a rich crop of foreign fiction. Don't let any funny names put you off in March: two interesting Russians (Fazil Iskander with Sandro of Chegem and Grigorij Baklanov with The Moment Between the Past and Future); Juan Marse's The Fallen, from Spain; Catherine Axelrad (she's French) with Warszawianka; and Japanese bestseller Haruki Murakami's Dance, Dance, Dance. Josef Skvorecky's Republic of Whores comes in May, and reading Skvorecky is never like reading a translation: his translator, Paul Wilson, is so good.

In the non-fiction lists the sex war rages on with Katie Roiphe (The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism) this month, but in The Myth of Male Power, in February, Warren Farrell claims superior victim-status for men, the ones who are really oppressed. In February, though, I will be too busy furthering my pathetic scientific education with Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest by the excellent Russell Stannard: they say it's for children, but that must be nonsense.

Among the substantial Lives, we can look forward to autobiography from Penelope Lively (Oleander, Jacaranda, in May), Mario Vargas Llosa (A Fish in the Water, June) and Bob Hawke (April). Martin Seymour-Smith's Hardy and Jeremy Treglown's Roald Dahl both appear next month; Jay Parini's John Steinbeck in March. Forthcoming essays include Ian Hamilton's, Edmund White's and Suzy Orbach's. I can hardly bear any more people touring the former Soviet Union and wanting to tell me about it, but Ryszard Kapuscinski must be an exception: he went to all 15 republics in 1989, and the result is Imperium, published in May. It is to move, perhaps, from the sublime to the - well, unlikely - to think that Daniel Farson also went, to cross the Caucasian mountains on horseback, and got muddled up with the 1991 coup: A Dry Ship to the Mountains will reveal all, next month.

Serpent's Tail, a brave small company, are to be applauded for launching a new list. Called 'High Risk', it features writing on 'sex, death and subversion', and writers who 'share an 'outlaw' sensitivity': the April titles are Rent Boy by Gary Indiana and Stripping by Pagan Kennedy, who stars in her own cult cable TV show in Boston. High risk? In business terms, probably not: apparently safer bets like One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop might prove trickier to sell, and Christopher Butler's Early Modernism: Literature, Music and Painting in Europe 1900-1916 could turn out, in our climate, to be more truly adventurous. Finally, the prize for the season's best title goes to Ben Watson for Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. But I expect he knew he'd win it.

(Photographs omitted)

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