Fiction often helped to provide consolation – direction, even – during an unsettled 2016, so it will be fascinating to see what sort of influence this year’s crop of new novels will have. We round up some of most notable and eagerly awaited books due out this year.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The British-Pakistani comeback
The year certainly begins in topical fashion with the latest book from UK-based Pakistani author Nadeem Aslam, who regularly investigates political, social and cultural issues in tales of incredible beauty and thoughtfulness.
In The Golden Legend (due to be published on January 12), he finds a sweet spot between romance, terrorism, migration and sectarian violence in Pakistan. It is undoubtedly the first must-read book of the year.
And it is just the start of what is shaping up to be a good year for British-Pakistani writing.
Hanif Kureishi returns (May 4) with The Nothing, a darkly comic novella about a man in his 80s, his younger Muslim wife and a con-man who comes to stay in their flat. It sounds like he enjoyed writing the book – he has characterised it as "maximum fun and maximum tragedy".
Reluctant Fundamentalist author Mohsin Hamid will also return, with Exit West (March), in which a couple flee a ravaged city as part of a mass migration.
The first novel in seven years from a true literary heavyweight arrives this month. Paul Auster returns with 4 3 2 1 on January 31 – and it is a huge undertaking. Born in 1947, Archibald Isaac Ferguson's life is chronicled in a series of separate fictional entities.
As Auster puts it: “Four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives”.
With Auster turning 70, and a stage adaptation of his 1985 thriller City of Glass due to debut in the UK before an international tour, the New Yorker will certainly be back in the limelight.
As will Arundhati Roy. It has taken 20 years, but the follow-up to her Booker Prize-winning, The God of Small Things, finally arrives this year (date to be confirmed). Plot details for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness are sparse, but her publishers are unsurprisingly delighted with some "extraordinary characters and writing".
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
From established novelists to the eagerly awaited debuts. Mind you, George Saunders is hardly a newcomer – the 57-year-old American is one of the English language’s very best short-story writers.
But Lincoln in the Bardo (March 9) is his first novel, in which he takes the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln's son at the dawn of the civil war in strange and fantastical directions over the course of a single night.
Talking of the American civil war, it will be fascinating to see how United States-based Egyptian Omar El Akkad navigates his futuristic chronicle of one family caught in the middle of a bitter battle for the US in 2074. American War (September) is certainly one of the more intriguing debuts to look forward to.
For all its contemporary resonances, however, El Akkad is unlikely to outsell Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (May 2). The goodwill from the phenomenon that is The Girl on the Train will undoubtedly power this "addictive novel of psychological suspense about the slipperiness of the truth, and a family drowning in secrets".
Elizabeth Strout is also likely to capitalise on the runaway success of My Name is Lucy Barton with Anything is Possible (May 7), in which Barton returns to imagine the small-town stories of the people of Amgash, Illinois.
But the biggest bestseller of them all is likely be the much-delayed Winds of Winter, the sixth instalment in George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, which inspired the HBO TV hit, Game of Thrones. That is, if he finally manages to finish writing it this year, so still no release date for this one.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru
It is not quite in the realms of white walkers and direwolves, but there is also a fantastical element to Hari Kunzru's latest, White Tears (April 6). Intriguingly couched as a ghostly literary horror story with a blues backing track, two ambitious young musicians descend into a dark underworld in this tale of "lost innocence and historical guilt".
Brooklyn author Colm Tóibín also dives into mysterious waters with his modern take on the Greek myth of Clytemnestra, House of Names (May), in which he attempts to unravel the motivations behind one of ancient literature's most lustful villains.
Great American novels
A similar juxtaposition of ugliness and beauty comes with A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates (February). This might well be this year's Great American Novel, a highly-charged account of two linked families whose "destinies are defined by their warring convictions" after a doctor is killed. Oates tackles plenty of hot issues in this look at the rifts in American society.
Before then, a novel that had the American literati purring last year gets a worldwide release. The New York Times called Nathan Hill's The Nix: A Novel (January 26) "hugely entertaining and unfailingly smart". Although the story of a college professor reunited with his mother after she commits an absurd crime will undeniably be an acquired taste (its 620 pages are full of digressions), it is likely to be a major talking point by the end of the year – and a JJ Abrams-produced television adaptation is already in the works, with Meryl Streep on board.
Embrace at Brooklyn Bridge by Ezzedine C Fishere
Middle East fiction
It should be an interesting year for Arabic novels in translation, too. It is certainly a busy-looking spring, with three books previously listed for the International Prize For Arabic Fiction being published in English: Ezzedine C Fishere's Embrace at Brooklyn Bridge (April) has the suitably international flavour the title suggests; Sinan Antoon's The Baghdad Eucharist (April) is a love story set in the Iraqi capital over the course of one day; and Suslov's Daughter, by Habib Abdulrab Sarori (March), takes in a huge sweep of Yemeni history.
Given that it won the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Medal For Literature in 2015, we're also looking forward to Hassan Daoud's meditative No Road to Paradise (April).
Staying in the region, it will be interesting to appraise two books from western authors who have chosen to study the Middle East. Former Marine Elliot Ackerman's Dark at the Crossing (January 17) is set on the border between Turkey and Syria, and is about an idealist trying to fight with the Free Syrian Army.
The same day, Emily Robbins publishes her debut A Word for Love: A Novel, which is set in Syria and focuses on a young American transformed by her experiences there.