Books: Mangoes, men and guitars

Lovers of literary fiction will be spoiled rotten over the coming months, with delicious offerings from old favourites, young Turks and tyros, plus writers tackling that difficult second novel. Suzi Feay picks the talents to watch out for
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The Independent Culture
The fictional year gets off to a great start with Don DeLillo, but there are plenty of other pleasures lining up, from big, established talents to intriguing newcomers. Names don't come much bigger or more established than Garrison Keillor, whose Wobegon Boy is published by Faber in March. John Tollefson, the titular boy, leaves the midwest to run a campus radio station and fall in love with a tiresome anti-feminist academic. Keillor taps into the familiar strain of sentimental conservatism - don't we all wish life was the way it used to be, with kids safe to play outdoors? - but this cutesiness masks a faint yet persistent misanthropy. It's amazing how much sneering you can do with a chubby smile on your face.

Firmly in the world of men, and unhappy about it, is the protagonist of Riven Rock by T C (formerly Coraghessan) Boyle (Bloomsbury, May). Stanley McCormick, given to bouts of sexual mania, is under house-arrest by squadrons of psychiatrists. Set in the first half of this century, the story charts the relationship of Stanley and his wife, negotiating vast bogs of misunderstanding, misogyny and love in the process.

Geoff Nicholson demonstrated an admirably full-on attitude to the sex/violence interface in his carnal reworking of the A-Z, Bleeding London. February sees the publication, by Gollancz, of Flesh Guitar, which promises to be even more outre. Enter Jenny Slade, with something unusual in her guitar case...

Tackling that difficult second novel is Derek Beaven, whose debut, Newton's Niece, was an ambitious alternative Orlando, with its sex-changing, long-living heroine rubbing shoulders with the likes of Swift and Handel. With his next, he moves to the more recent past: Acts of Mutiny (Fourth Estate, Jan) is set on board an Australia-bound ocean liner in 1959. If he lives up to his astonishing debut, he's one to watch.

Faber is pushing the Paperback Original format this spring; though with names such as Allan Garganus (Plays Well With Others, Feb), Hanif Kureishi (his novella, Intimacy, is out in May), David Mamet (The Old Religion, also May), and Josef Skvorecky (Headed for the Blues, a memoir with 10 stories, Jan), there is nothing second-rate about the line-up. A mere pounds 9.99 is money well spent on new novelists of the calibre of Giles Foden (The Last King of Scotland, the "memoirs" of Idi Amin's doctor, out in March) and Andrew Martin, whose Bilton (also March) is a very funny media satire with an engaging anti-hero in the form of 26-year-old Marxist hack Martyn Bilton.

Also with Faber, Kiran Desai, daughter of Anita, gets the full hardback monty in May, with Hullaballo in the Guava Orchard, extracted in Salman Rushdie's Vintage Book of Indian Writing. Despite the cringeworthy title, her writing has real charm.

After a long time away from novels (among other things, she was our TV critic for a while), Lucy Ellmann returns with Man or Mango? (Headline Review, March). "In what way is a man more than a mango? ... Is he as generous and obliging as this succulent fruit gently ripening on your window sill? ... I have only ever known one mango that was no good." Anyone who enjoyed Sweet Desserts will rush for this one.

The Boy is a striking, slightly overcooked debut by Naeem Murr (Fourth Estate, March). If you can cope with a teenage renter who seems to spend most of his earnings on lessons in elocution and theology, this is a dark, demonic literary thriller.

Dedalus doesn't publish much original fiction, but when it does, it's truly unique. James Waddington's Bad to the Bone is touted as the next Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf, the last big find. Bone is a comedy set against the backdrop of the Tour de France. Well, there are a lot of cycling fans out there.

February alone features new work from William Boyd (Armadillo, Hamish Hamilton); Anne Fine, this time writing for adults (Telling Liddy, Bantam), Booker short-listee Romesh Gunesekera (The Sandglass, Granta) and Nadine Gordimer (The House Gun, Bloomsbury). In the following months come offerings from Rick Moody (whose The Ice Storm has been stylishly filmed), Alan Warner, Helen Dunmore, Alan Hollinghurst, Julie Myerson, Howard Jacobson, Shena Mackay, and the androgynous Nicci French. It's going to be a great year.

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