A Week in Books: 10 distinctive autumn reads

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The Independent Culture

Imagine a message sent to the retail trade by a respected literary publisher, a few months ahead of the always-decisive autumn period.

Imagine a message sent to the retail trade by a respected literary publisher, a few months ahead of the always-decisive autumn period. "Dear booksellers," this open letter runs, "Picador/Faber/Chatto will not be publishing any books in the second half of 2004... We're taking a break, and having a bit of a rest. Thanks for your support, and good luck with the autumn season." Unthinkable? It has happened in France, where the successful small publisher Viviane Hamy responded to the (by British standards) modest avalanche of 661 new novels due this season by withdrawing from the scrum. Brava, Mme Hamy.

No publisher on this side of the Channel seems to have mustered the same courage. So autumn's bandwagon rolls again, with a whole army of the leading titles in fiction released - as ever - on virtually the same day. Total marketing war will break out around 2 September, as Jonathan Coe ( The Closed Circle), AL Kennedy ( Paradise), David Lodge ( Author, Author), Frank Delaney ( Ireland), Henning Mankell ( Before the Frost), Kate Atkinson ( Case Histories), Tom Sharpe ( Wilt in Nowhere), Anita Desai ( The Zigzag Way), Matt Thorne ( Cherry) and even Julie Burchill ( Sugar Rush) clamour for your favour with new novels. A few days earlier, Alexander McCall Smith ( In the Company of Cheerful Ladies), Maeve Binchy ( Nights of Rain & Stars) and Margaret Drabble ( The Red Queen) will sneak in before the deluge.

Shortly after, Patricia Cornwell ( Trace), Roddy Doyle ( Oh Play that Thing), VS Naipaul ( Magic Seeds) and Ian Rankin ( Fleshmarket Close) will arrive on the field of battle, with Philip Roth ( The Plot against America) and Tom Wolfe ( I am Charlotte Simmons) crossing the Atlantic later for mopping-up operations. Meanwhile, Susanna Clarke's epic historical fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will - although a first novel - attract an enormous brouhaha. Exhausted? You will be.

Across the media, we will hear, read and see a great deal about most of these titles. To redress the balance a little, here is my subjective (and alphabetical) selection of 10 distinctive novels - all slated for publication soon - by somewhat less familiar names. Finding a few will guarantee you a trend-bucking, herd-scorning fictional autumn.

1. Frédéric Beigbeder, Windows on the World (Fourth Estate). September 11 seen, grippingly but controversially, from within the Twin Towers.

2. Irina Denezhkina, Give Me: songs for lovers (Chatto). Young Russia's passion and despair caught in fiery stories from a 23-year-old prodigy.

3. James Flint, The Book of Ash (Hamish Hamilton). Our nuclear past and present exposed in a bold British counterpart to DeLillo's Underworld.

4. Paul Golding, Senseless (Picador). A second novel of desire and death in the Excessive Eighties by a virtuoso stylist - gay, gruesome and glamorous.

5. Gail Jones, Sixty Lights (Harvill). Photography gives a focus to this gem-like, lyrical portrait of a girl's growing-up in 1860s Australia and India.

6. Natsuo Kirino, Out (Vintage). A feminist revenge plot meets social critique and hardcore horror in a startling Japanese mix of satire and sensation.

7. John Murray, Murphy's Favourite Channels (Flambard). Cumbria's comic wizard frames mad multi-channel TV against the grim events of 2001.

8. Tiffany Murray, Happy Accidents (Fourth Estate). Woody Allen visits Cold Comfort Farm in this black comedy of an Anglo-American rural childhood.

9. Peter Rushforth, Pinkerton's Sister (Scribner). Huge, brilliant, demanding life-in-a-day portrayal of New York family secrets and lies 100 years ago.

10. MG Vassanji, The in-between world of Vikram Lall (Canongate). Asian lives in Kenya and Canada thread through a moving saga of loss and change.