Big Issue Vendor

Writes of spring: the best upcoming reads of 2018

It won't always be cold and dark... The Big Issue's books editor Jane Graham and our reviewer Doug Johnstone sniff out the best titles emerging soon

Travelling in a Strange Land
David Park, out March, Bloomsbury, £16.99


Every reader has their favourites in this new golden age of Irish poetry and prose, and many intoxicating new voices have come to the fire in just the last couple of years. For me though, relative veteran David Park, whose first novel was published in 1992, remains one of the strongest and truest observers of life, and especially the peculiarities of life in Northern Ireland. Belfast-born Park is politically astute, most edifying when writing about attempting peace in a polarised society (there aren’t many fictions bolder on the subject than his 2008 novel The Truth Commissioner). But he is even more compelling on his favourite subject, the delicate balance which ties, and taunts, fathers and sons. This touching story of a ruminating father’s solitary journey to Scotland to bring home his sick son for Christmas is one of his best yet. It has all of Park’s magic, melancholy and tenderness, and is, in more than ways than one, an absolute dream. JG

The Melody
Jim Crace, out February, Picador, £16.99

Crace has been writing interesting, thoughtful novels since the early 1980s; his 2013 Harvest was shortlisted for the Man Booker. Each new publication brings high expectations, and The Melody is an ambitious, powerful work which won’t disappoint his growing band of enthusiasts. Through the story of onetime music man Alfred Busi, now a lonely widower menaced by the increasingly threatening outside world, Crace makes the case for compassion and communication as a response to what looks, on the face of it, to be a daunting future dominated by encroaching foreign bodies. Musical themes swoop through the pages like a literary Pied Piper, providing an enchanting soundtrack to grief-struck Busi’s myth-like tale. JG

Don’t Skip Out On Me
Willy Vlautin, out January 25, Faber, £14.99


Willy Vlautin is the poet laureate of the downtrodden and disenfranchised underclass of American society, detailing with real empathy and insight the daily struggle of his characters in modern society. Two of his four novels to date have been made into movies, with the forthcoming Lean on Pete creating a real buzz on the festival circuit. This fifth novel is just as touching and hardbitten as his previous work, telling the story of Horace Hopper, a young farm hand in rural Nevada who leaves the farm and heads for the city to try to fulfill his dream to be a professional boxer. Brutal and tender in equal measure, this is exemplary storytelling. DJ

David Chariandy, out March, Bloomsbury, £14.99

Brother is Canadian writer Chariandy’s first novel to be published in the UK, and boy, does it pack a punch. It is the story of Micheal and Francis, two brothers of Trinidadian immigrants who have grown up in the rough-hewn outskirts of Toronto. Their fatherless childhood has been testing and toughening; but while they struggle with poverty and the innate suspicions of unhelpful authorities, they’re smart, ambitious boys and they have big plans for the future. While the trajectory of their lives might not catch the reader entirely unawares, Chariandy paints his characters with such clarity and sensitivity, it is impossible not to feel every disappointment and frustration with them. This is an evocative study of brotherhood, belonging, masculinity and race, powerful and believable enough to provoke sorrow and anger. I can’t wait to see what the young Chariandy does next. JG


The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

Laura Lippman, out February, Faber, £20.13

Veteran crime writer Laura Lippman has over 20 novels under her belt, but she constantly takes risks and surprises her readers, delivering new twists on familiar storylines. This latest standalone book sees her paying homage to the great James M Cain, having a lot of fun with the classic femme fatale trope and bringing it bang up to date. One day Polly Costello, on a beach holiday with her husband and daughter, simply walks away, starting a new life and a new identity with a new man, Adam. One of the strengths of Lippman’s writing is her fully rounded and believable characters, but she never loses sight of the need for a gripping plot either. DJ


The Immortalists
Chloe Benjamin, out March, Tinder Press, £16.99

The young American writer of The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, says her novel was inspired by her demons; the challenge of living with constant uncertainty, the “unbelievable absurd paradox” of getting up every day without knowing for sure that we’ll make it to the end. Fellow neurotics and catastrophists will understand this psychological tussle completely, and will gobble up this enthralling story like sausage-starved puppies in a butcher’s shop. Four siblings are given the dates of their death by a local fortune teller. Each responds to the news of their destiny, and the impossibility of knowing if it has any credence, quite differently; some with enthusiasm for pursuing romantic dreams, some with a passionate commitment to making a mark, and some with a search into the possibility of scientific answers. The reader will spend half of her time desperate to know what is going to happen, and the other half wondering what she would do in the same circumstances. A captivating idea, executed with wit, care, and enormous charm. JG

From Here to Eternity
Caitlin Doughty, out January 25, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99


Alternative funeral director Doughty made her name with her Ask a Mortician web series, and she built on her obvious charm with a brilliant bestselling memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. That book was a fascinating plea to change our attitudes to death and the funeral business, and this book is an extension of that idea, as Doughty travels the world examining how other cultures deal with death. From Indonesia to Mexico and all points in between, Doughty talks to a wide array of professionals, handling the topic with curiosity, frankness and no small amount of humour, along the way arguing that conventional Western attitudes to death are far from the healthiest around. DJ

The Valley at the Centre of the World
Malachy Tallack, out May, Canongate, £14.99

Young Shetlandic author Malachy Tallack has already proven himself to be a thoughtful and very diverse writer. His first book, Sixty Degrees North, was a terrific combination of memoir and travel writing, and his follow-up was The Un-Discovered Islands, a lusciously illustrated guide to fictional islands through the years. This third book is his first foray into fiction, a thoughtful novel set on Shetland and dealing with the constant rural tension between local tradition and the vital energy that fresh blood brings to remote places. Tallack’s previous work has demonstrated keen insight into the human condition, and this novel will surely delve just as deep. DJ

Sweet Days of Discipline
Fleur Jaeggy, translator Tim Parks, out February, And Other Stories, £8.99


Swiss-born Fleur Jaeggy is something of an offbeat legend in European literature, and, due to her unique, askance and often disarming view of the world, a favourite of The Big Issue’s. This early short novel – written, like all of her books, in Italian – was first published in Italy in 1989, and was hailed as a masterpiece by the Jaeggy fan club which spring up in its wake. It is ostensibly a coming-of-age tale, about life in a Swiss boarding school, complete with the drudgery of homework and girl crushes. But nothing is simple or sweet in Jaeggy’s world, and in a manner which is comparable with David Lynch, or perhaps more appropriately, Muriel Spark (though less dependent on dialogue), she imbues her fictional environment with a nagging tension and unease throughout. This is Jaeggy’s genius; she provides an innocuous orchard setting, then hands us a magnifying glass to see the cockroaches creeping in the undergrowth. And we are transfixed. JG

The Killing of Butterfly Joe
Rhidian Brook, out March, Picador, £14.99

Rhidian Brook caused a flutter with his 2013 novel The Aftermath – a moving and nuanced portrait of life in a politically and psychologically complex post-Hitler Germany (the movie is out this year). The Killing of Butterfly Joe is more of an adventure story – a wild-eyed road trip across America, filled with colourful characters, crazy anecdotes, sparky dialogue and a lot of information about butterflies (all of it fascinating; Brook once had a job selling butterflies in glass cases and the brief-lifed little fellows clearly got under his skin). But though this is a faster, ostensibly bigger tale than The Aftermath (perhaps with a more evident beckoning to film-makers), Brook’s writing remains as considered and enchanting as ever. And it’s funny too, which is always a wonderful thing. JG

The Fighter
Michael Farris Smith, out March, No Exit, £9.99

This young American author has already won a handful of awards and been compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. Last year’s Desperation Road was one of my favourite books of 2017, a tough but lyrical exploration of loss and redemption. This latest offering promises to be similarly uncompromising, telling the story of Jack Boucher, a former bare-knuckle fighter fallen on hard times, struggling with pain and memory loss as he tries to bail out his ailing mother and
himself from a build-up of debts. Smith’s fiction is full of hard people in tough situations, but his obvious love of language and innately rhythmic prose lift his stories to a higher level. DJ

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