Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"It is a new dawn, is it not?" As the Blair decade grinds to its end, the literary verdict will begin to arrive on the premier's rhetorical question as the sun rose after his first triumph. And the majority vote will answer: "Sorry, Tony, it was not." The first half of 2007 will see an unusually broad span of writers reflect on the Britain of the Blair era, especially in fiction. Sometimes, the drive to connect personal and national histories will be explicit, as with Blake Morrison's multi-stranded saga South of the River (Chatto & Windus, April), Sebastian Faulks's rogue's progress, Engleby (Hutchinson, May), and Adam Thorpe's satirical romance, Between Each Breath (Cape, May).

Thorpe sets the fashions and follies of Blairland against the struggles of characters from the former Soviet bloc. Britain is also placed under quizzical Eastern European eyes by Rose Tremain's migrant hero in The Road Home (Chatto, June), by Marina Lewycka's Ukrainian summer labourers in Two Caravans (Fig Tree, March), and by James Hopkin's Polish historian in Winter under Water (Picador, January). From rather further east, the Chinese Xiaolu Guo - writing in English - braids language, love and loss in her migrant's tale, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Chatto, February).

Two novelists whose genre-busting talent re-configures British culture are Nicola Barker, whose Darklands (Fourth Estate, May) yokes Ashford drug-dealers and medieval jesters, and Rupert Thomson, who in Death of a Murderer (Bloomsbury, April) invokes the explosively iconic Myra Hindley. As usual, literary top brass will return to the Second World War for stories to illuminate the present: in AL Kennedy's RAF bomber's tale, Day (Cape, April), in Justin Cartwright's coupling of Oxford idealists and anti-Nazi dissidents, The Song Before it is Sung (Bloomsbury, February), and in war-themed first novels from gifted authors with Welsh roots: Peter Ho Davies's The Welsh Girl (Sceptre, April), and Owen Sheers's Resistance (Faber, June).

Moving from fiction to fact, political shifts will be charted in biographies of David Cameron by Bruce Anderson (Arcadia, January) and Francis Elliot and James Hanning (Fourth Estate, April). Nick Cohen delivers a scathing report on radical alternatives in What's Left? (Fourth Estate, February), to which the long, brave life recounted in Kenneth O Morgan's Michael Foot (Macmillan, March) will make its own reply. Freed from the camera's nightly embrace, Andrew Marr has found time to take in the bigger social picture in his History of Modern Britain (Macmillan, April).

That history can often best be summarised via memoirs, and this spring offers a rich bunch: from Michèle Roberts's rebel chronicles in Paper Houses (Virago, June) and John Lanchester's account of exile and silence in Family Romance (Faber, April) to Martin Rowson's evocative Stuff (Cape, April) and Sarfraz Manzoor's Luton-Asian Greetings from Bury Park (Bloomsbury, June).

One of Blair's parting nods to history has been his apology for the British slave trade, and its 1807 abolition brings in an anniversary cargo of books. Two outstanding historians offer original takes on slave systems: James Walvin's The Trader, The Owner, the Slave (Cape, March), and Linda Colley's The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh (HarperPress, May). William Hague's biography of Wilberforce (Harper Press, June) will make most noise, coming from a shadow Foreign Secretary who began the project when any future non-New Labour rule seemed a fantasy. Hague has leapt back into the limelight, but there was no second dawn for John Major, who has written a history of the early days of cricket: More than a Game (Harper Press, May). How distant the shattered Tory wickets of 2 May 1997 feel today.

Comments