The year of bicycle steak

Robert Winder looks ahead to the books of 1995
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The Independent Culture
So the novel's dead, is it? In the coming months the bookshops will be full of new works by, among others, John Banville, William Boyd, Pat Conroy, Robertson Davies, Anita Desai, Pete Dexter, Victoria Glendinning, William Golding, Gabriel Garcia M arquez, Patricia Highsmith, Nick Hornby, Kazuo Ishiguro, Milan Kundera, Hilary Mantel, Arthur Miller, Ben Okri, Jayne Anne Phillips, E Annie Proulx, Carol Shields, Jane Smiley, Adam Thorpe, Anne Tyler and John Updike. And these are only the best-known na mes. There might be new ones to conjure with, if new works by Hanan al Shaykh, Jane Hamilton and Aidan Higgins are as good as they sound.

A high proportion of the new novels in 1995 are the author's finest work to date, several are "destined" to become classics and a surprising number are "sure" to be bestsellers. At the blockbuster end of things, there are quite a few maelstroms of nail-biting suspense, lots of naked savagery and greed, and the odd downward spiral into obsession and revenge; shattering denouements are, as always, ten a penny. So far as mayhem and murder are concerned, things are getting refined. Reg Gadney's When We Are Safest ("the thriller of 1995") features "a killer of unparalleled skill and savagery". Even slaughter, in these Tarantino days, is primarily an aesthetic matter, with considerations of connoisseurship gaining the upper hand. The torturer in Andrew Klavan's Suicide has a "psychopathic ingenuity which brings tears to Billy's eyes" - and they sound like tears of wincing admiration.

The catalogues are so full of people coming to sticky ends that even innocuous titles sound highly charged. Take Adventures of a Chemist Collector - it sounds destined to be a classic bestseller: presumably it describes a brutal murder-rapist whose horrifying skill with a bunsen burner and pipette brings tears to everybody's eyes. But it turns out to be a life of Alfred Bader, the chemical engineer and art collector, whose removal from the board of his company is sure to enchant chemists of all ages.

There'll be a stack of film books to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first screening. But the noisisest celebrations will be over the 50th birthday of the end of the war in Europe, and the anniversary of Hiroshima. There will be pictorial albumsand memoirs, but also some distinctive works. In The Doppelgangers Hugh Thomas will tell "the truth" about what happened in Hitler's bunker in Berlin that day; Martin Gilbert will narrate the final hours in The Day the War Ended - if his previous recordis anything to go by, this will only be one of several fat volumes on the subject. And David Reynolds has wittily subtitled his account of life in wartime Britain, Rich Revelations, "the American Occupation of Britain 1942-5".

There will be a throng of biographies: Isaiah Berlin, Disraeli, Tom Paine, Angus Wilson, Carlyle, Marie Curie, Robert Lowell, Louis MacNeice, Cyril Connolly, Kingsley Amis, Brian Lara, Noel Coward, Katherine Hepburn, Wagner, two on Robert Graves, and several on Purcell (it's his 300th deathday).

Biography stocks remain high, partly perhaps because they so resemble bulky cradle-to-grave novels. But the growing taste for memoirs threatens to trounce even the life support machine. Maybe biography has become too trick-turning and self-conscious these days - all that imaginary chit-chat and freely indulged speculation, all that off-the-peg character assassination. The present rage for authenticity seems to demand the full horse's mouth story, even if this does turn out to be an illusion sustained byteams of ghost writers and editors.

At any rate, next year will see the confessions of Mikhail Gorbachev, Mrs Thatcher, Shimon Peres, Anthony Powell, Placido Domingo and - "in their own long-awaited words'' - Torvill and Dean. Gorbachev's memoir is a "unique publishing event", and certainly some publishing events seem anything but unique. The new year will bring lots of books about Tuscany and Oxford and Marilyn Monroe (with hitherto unpublished photographs!), and frequent visits to the left bank in Paris.

Allister Sparks has a bold story to tell in Tomorrow is Another Country, an account of the long, secret negotiations between de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. And Tony Parker has interviewed American lifers, and no doubt captured their idioms with affectionate precision. But the wildest stories are set in the future. Nano! by Ed Regis could easily manage without its exclamation mark: the summary is quite avid enough. "At some point in the not-so-distant future,'' we are promised, all homes will have their own nano-robot-chef. "You'll open the door, shovel in some waste materials - grass clippings, old bicycle tyres and the like - then close the door again and fiddle with the controls. Some hours later, out will roll a piece of fresh prime beef." It seems anawful waste. Surely by then our nano taste buds will have evolved so furiously that we'll like nothing better than a chunky grass-and-inner tube sandwich - er, on ciabatta, please.

Richard Dawkins has written a hymn to the barely-plumbed wonders of DNA in The Rivers of Eden, but the prize for the most grandiose title goes to Peter Ward for The End of Evolution. Blimey! The end of history and physics were all well and good, but these look like mere bagatelles beside the forces that will "finish off the Age of Mammals." If nothing else, the title is Weidenfeld and Nicolson's finest work to date, surely destined to become a classic.

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