BOOKS 95

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The Independent Culture
Publishers have been busy, and the literary forecast for the new year is definitely sunny: expect a strong season for fiction; not so much in the way of poetry (but it'd be hard to match 1994 in that); a rich crop of biography; new voices and old chestnuts. Jan Dalley chooses a few highlights from the spring lists THESE DAYS, everyone seems to be as interested in the publishing process, the how, why, with whom and for how much, as in the content of a book. A couple of weeks ago, the (inconclusive) auction of Martin Amis's new book, The Information, made the national press. The numbers being bandied around were impressive, certainly, but not a patch on the advances paid to the likes of Jeffrey Archer - never mind, it's the talk that counts.

Other titles among the spring crop come trailing their reputations behind them, and before there's any chance of finding out whether the book in question is any good or not, we are involved in admiring its telephone-number sales figures (Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder, coming from Phoenix House this month after an astonishing career on the Continent), or the length of its gestation (Jon Stalworthy's very long-awaited biography of Louis MacNeice, to be published by Faber in February), or the shock-factor (Serpent's Tail's April novel by Robert Gluck, Margery Kempe, is described as having "lots of sex, some of it with God"). And one of the oddest books of the spring promises to be Jan Morris's Fisher's Face (Viking, March ), not so much a biography as a "capricious evocation" of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, whose personality and predilections (ships, maverick adventure and romance) apparently mirror Morris's own. Oh and she is determined to enjoy an affair with him in the afterlife, of course.

Don't think I'm down on hype: I love it. Half the pleasure of a book can come from the anticipation of reading more by an author you already know and enjoy, or of discovering a new voice, and if it arrives bobbing on a wave of PR nonsense there's the added spice of being able to dismiss it all loftily. There are an impressive range and number, this season, of novels by already well-loved authors - in fact, 1995 looks set to be a cracker for fiction. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled (Faber, May) runs agai nst his usual grain in length - a hefty 688 pages - and the word is that it'll make everyone start to wonder whether 1995 will see an author win the Booker twice. Robertson Davies has a new novel, The Cunning Man, from Viking in April; Chatto have a good range that includes Ladder of Years by Ann Tyler (May) and the first novel from Georgina Hammick, whose two books of stories have collected plaudits. It's called Foxymoron, and is published in July.

Still with novels, the Secker list is stunning: it seems unfair to pick out plums when the menu includes new work from David Lodge, Adam Thorpe, Gordon Burn, Jeff Torrington, John Banville and black comedian Tim Parks. I'm also especially looking forwardto Hilary Mantel's An Experiment in Love (Viking, March), a tale of mothers and daughters, and Victoria Glendinning's Electricity (Hutchinson, April). And for those who (understandably) thought that they were never going to read a new book by William Golding, Faber have a surprise in June: The Double Tongue is a short novel left in draft when the author died suddenly and sadly in 1993.

Last year's most unexpected bestseller, E Annie Proulx, has a book of stories, Heart Songs, coming from Fourth Estate in March; hot younger talents Michael Bracewell and A L Kennedy have new novels, and there are interesting-sounding first books from twonew voices from the subcontinent - Ameena Meer's Bombay Talking (Serpent's Tail, April) and Vikram Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain (Faber, June). John Gregory Dunne's Playland (Granta, March) sounds like a deliciously decadent account of Hollywood hell. In fact, the fiction lists go on and on. The craze for celebrity novels seems to have died down a little, but Michael Palin joins the famous first-timers in April with Hemingway's Chair (Methuen). The wooden spoon prize of the year might perhaps goto Alina Reyes for her Behind Closed Doors (Weidenfeld, June), "the first inter-active erotic novel", in which the reader can choose the gender of the main character and so determine the outcome of the story.

Throughout 1994, there was a poetry bonanza. This season looks much leaner, but there will be a New Selected Poems from Ted Hughes in March (Faber), which takes in both published and unpublished work from 1951 to the present, and, since it even includes work for younger readers, should represent the widest range of Hughes's work to date.

The essay is a curious form, and it's possible that they are only any good if they are bad - ie, if they are sufficiently abrasive and contentious to leave the reader tetchy and discomfited, but stimulated. Two women who love to be as irritating as possible, and succeed magnificently - Camille Paglia and Jeanette Winterson - each have collections of essays about to appear (from Viking in March and Cape in May respectively). Can we wait to hear what Paglia has to say about Lorena Bobbit? In a mil der, more meditative, certainly more oblique mode is Les Testaments Trahis by Milan Kundera (Faber, June), a single extended essay in several parts that weaves its themes and characters into a single, novel-like unity.

The biography boom goes on and on. Over the course of the next few months you can, if you wish, read the lives and loves of Rabindranath Tagore (by Andrew Robinson and Krishna Dutta, Bloomsbury, Feb- ruary), the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature; of the Andres Breton and Malraux (the first from Bloomsbury in June, the second from Hutchinson in the same month); of Barbara Hepworth (by Sally Festing, Viking, May). Alan Sillitoe has written his Autobiography (HarperCollins, April), the chronicle of his childhood poverty and early stardom as one of literature's first working-class heroes.

There's endless squabbling about the accuracy of biographical writing, so the man who said: "I don't want any portrait of me to be accurate; I want it to be flattering" might be an ideal subject. Orson Welles (for `twas he) comes in for two-volume treatment from Simon Callow, and the first of these will appear from Cape next month - a sizeable book, but still only Welles's life until the age of 23 (23!) when he made Citizen Kane.

Other artists and musicians get a showing, too. Richard Ingleby has written the first biography of Christopher Wood (Allison & Busby, May), the painter who was the first (what a lot of firsts) and only Englishman to design for Diaghilev, who "sketched with Picasso, smoked opium with Jean Cocteau and broke Max Jacob's heart".

Recent social history - of a period that can seem like the Dark Ages of our century - is stoutly provided in Peter Vansittart's In the Fifties (John Murray, April). Vansittart defends his decade, with its optimism and its nostalgia, against the taint of dullness, relishing the unexpected as well as the typical.

Science made easy (or at least reasonably accessible) has become one of publishing's modern money-spinners, in the wake of the Hawking craze. No one can explain why we buy these books in such quantities, for even the most strokeable are much too difficult for most of us; perhaps we use them as modern talismen against the baffling world. A science book I am really looking forward to, however, is David Weeks and Jamie James's Eccentrics (Weidenfeld, February), which claims to be "the first com prehensive account of human eccentricity ever undertaken". (What about Tristram Shandy?) And surprise, surprise, the authors discover that eccentricity is "an essential element in most creative activity". Another that sounds excellent, from the same company, is River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins, a lyrical explanation of the process of evolution and of DNA: "never were so many facts explained by so few assumptions", as Dawkins writes.

An outstanding prospect is Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory (HarperCollins, March). From one of our most interesting historians, it has a breathtakingly wide sweep - nothing less than the earth itself, and time, and their effect on our instincts, institutions, social development and identity. Delving beneath apparently familiar landscapes, Schama's book reveals patterns and forces that have fed into the cultural bloodstream. Read this one. Or else watch the 5-part BBC2 series the author presents. Or, better still, both.

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