Year in review 2014: Reading ahead in the literary world

Tales of heroism and loss will continue to win an audience in the year to come.
The Great War will continue to inspire readers and authors alike in 2015. Hulton Archive / Getty Images
The Great War will continue to inspire readers and authors alike in 2015. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

This year, the centenary of the First World War was the dominant theme in books, inspiring novelists and historians alike. Next year that conflict will continue to provide grist for the publishing mill.

Following her successful biography of Siegfried Sassoon, Jean Moorcroft Wilson illuminates more life and work in Edward Thomas: From Adlestrop to Arras. One war novel that deserves mention is Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm, a book that slid into obscurity after it was burnt by the Nazis. With luck this new publication will restore its reputation.

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We get a different kind of centenary and a different kind of war book with Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari – 2015 marks a century since drugs were banned in the United States. This book by the former Independent journalist comes with praise from Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky and promises to “challenge and change” our perceptions.

Next year is also the centenary of Saul Bellow’s birth. Two notable books commemorate the literary giant: There Is Simply too Much to Think About, his collected non-fiction, and the first instalment of Zachary Leader’s major biography, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915-1964. Arriving on the 50th anniversary of its subject’s death, Robert Crawford’s Young Eliot explores the early years of T S Eliot right up to the publication of The Waste Land.

Reader interest in the Second World War shows no sign of diminishing. Acclaimed historian Richard J Evans returns to his bailiwick with The Third Reich in History and Memory, and Nikolaus Wachsmann’s KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps looks set to be a grim but definitive study.

The year will see the welcome comebacks of several big names. Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance is his first novel in 15 years, while Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is his first in 10 years. Tom McCarthy continues to plough his own furrow with Satin Island, Anne Enright and Anne Tyler focus their gimlet eyes on family in, respectively, The Green Road and A Spool of Blue Thread, and Raja Alem’s The Dove’s Necklace, winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, gets its American release. With Flood of Fire, Amitav Ghosh delivers the final part in his Ibis Trilogy and Karl Ove Knausgaard serves up the fourth chapter in his My Struggle cycle. We will also see new books by a clutch of Nobel laureates: Mario Vargas Llosa takes us back to his native Peru in The Discreet Hero, Toni Morrison traces the lasting effects of childhood trauma in God Help the Child, and J M Coetzee’s The Good Story is a series of meditations on fiction and psychotherapy.

For now, publishers are remaining tight-lipped about their autumn/winter catalogues but news has already leaked of two heavyweight September titles: Purity, another multi-generational epic from Jonathan Franzen, and Adam Sisman’s long-awaited biography of the elusive John le Carré.

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM

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