Familiar Faces, Fresh Creations: The New Books of 2019

By Carole Reedy

This month most of the articles in The Eye relate to the theme “spiritual journeys.” Though I’m not entirely certain what a spiritual journey entails, I do know that, for readers, cracking the spine of a new book is the first step in an odyssey that can take us to clandestine places of the mind.

If so far this year, your reading choices haven’t satisfied you (and you’re all caught up on 2018’s masterpieces), the following books to be published this year may be your ticket to gratification, spiritual and intellectual. Many of our favorite writers are represented.

Consider this a brief selection of 2019 adventures, listed by publication date. There are no reviews yet, so the information is derived from individual publishers and the steadily reliable Kirkus Reviews, the bible of the publishing industry.

February 5: Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Man Booker Prize winner for A Brief History of Seven Killings, James’ new venture combines fantasy, African mythology, and history. The ambitious saga will be a trilogy called Dark Star, with Black Leopard, Red Wolf the first in the series. Kirkus Reviews predicts “this will be one of the most talked about and influential adventure epics.”

February 12: Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli

Luiselli has entertained us with her amusing yet intelligent The Story of My Teeth. She also delicately related a brief description of her work as a translator in New York for Central American child refugees in Tell Me How It Ends. Those of us who find her writing compelling and important eagerly await her latest work, which is a much longer novel about a family journey across America. Luiselli is an up-and-coming young writer to watch. 

March 12: Spring, by Ali Smith

This is the next installment of the Seasonal Quartet, a series of stand-alone novels, separate but connected. The first two, already published, were Winter and Autumn.  Both received kudos. Smith’s novel How to Be Both was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It won the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize, the novel award in the 2014 Costa Book Awards, and the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I personally found it unreadable. 

March 26: Kaddish.com, by Nathan Englander

In Englander’s third novel, the premise is that a son, an atheist in an Orthodox Jewish family, refuses to sit daily Kaddish for his dead father. The aftermath of the decision makes for a comic novel reminiscent of Philip Roth. That’s recommendation enough for me!  The satire, of course, deals with the hypocrisy of the religious and secular worlds. Englander has won numerous prestigious awards, for his short stories especially, but also for his novels.

April 2: A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, by Ann Beattie

After writing for decades for The New Yorker (known in the industry for publishing the best of the best), Beattie should be crowned the Queen of the Short Story. This novel is Beattie’s 21st book. Its focus is on the main character, Ben, who attends the Bailey Academy, a school for smart kids who “screw up,” and his subsequent life experiences.  Kirkus Reviews reminds us that “obvious is one thing Beattie never is. Her elegantly sculpted tale is both wrenchingly sad and ultimately enigmatic.”

April 16: Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Irish women are certainly in the forefront of publishing news, what with Anna Burns stunning us with her brilliant novel Milkman, in which both style and language grab readers from the first sentence and plunge us into the protagonist’s world of paradoxes, politics, insecurity, and tradition. 

Less than 30 years old, Rooney has already established herself as one of the most visible and talked about novelists in the Western world.  Her history as the best debater in Europe while at Trinity College may have provided her with the necessary resilience it takes to be a serious novelist. Rooney has just won the honor of being the youngest recipient ever of the Costa Novel Award (The Costa Prize competition is open only to British and Irish writers).  She will now be among five winning writers in their fields (poetry, novel, biography, first novel, and children’s book) vying for the Costa Prize for best book of the year.  

Rooney was recently the subject of a long profile in The New Yorker (January 14, 2019). Her debut novel in 2017, Conversations with Friends, was also the subject of a New Yorker article (July 31, 2017) in which it was called “a bracing study of ideas and even smarter about people.”  Normal People has already been published in the United Kingdom.

April 16: Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan

Each McEwan novel is delightfully unique in style, subject matter, and characterization and always lies at the center of controversy.  His last novel, Nutshell, a retelling of Hamlet’s agony, was narrated by an unborn child. This time McEwan takes us to an alternative 1980s London and an Alan Turing discovery.  If nothing else, curiosity attracts us to McEwan.  Two of McEwan’s novels are making a debut on the big screen this year, The Children’s Act and On Chesil Beach.

July 16: The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead was the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his last novel, The Underground Railroad, which took us through the US Deep South as slaves escaped to freedom in the North. This latest by Whitehead is also based in reality, this time focusing on a young black man in a 1960s reformatory.  

August 16: Berta Isla, by Javier Marías

Many of us have been awaiting Marías’ latest novel – the English version. Even we who speak and read Spanish every day can find novels challenging, making us eager for the translation. Also, Marías has one of the best translators in the business, Margaret Jull Costa. In addition to novels, Marías writes weekly for El País, the popular Spanish newspaper. Recently, a variety of his essays were published in a book entitled Between Eternities: And Other Writings, to rave reviews, a common response any time Marías takes pen to paper. The style of these essays is quite different from the novels, much lighter and often quite humorous but always observant and penetrating.  Marías is brilliant in thought and diversion no matter what the genre and is one of the foremost authors of the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Guardian’s subtitle for the Berta Isla is “A couple’s marriage is threatened by the husband’s work for the secret service in a thought-provoking spin on the spy thriller,” going on to describe it as “mixing marital intrigue with a history lesson of late 20th-century conflict.”   

 August 20: Coventry:  Essays, by Rachel Cusk

We know Cusk for her well-received recent trilogy of novels that include Outline, Transit, and Kudos. Coventry, however, is a series of essays that are part memoir in addition to cultural and literary criticism. There are pieces about gender politics and writers such as D.H. Lawrence. 

September 3: Olive Again, by Elizabeth Strout 

Oh, what a breath of fresh air knowing that after ten years Olive Kitteridge will be returning to us!  Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Olive Kitteridge. Everyone I know read Olive’s story, and no one was less than delighted with Strout’s creation. No doubt the protagonist Olive and her second marriage will put Strout on the best seller lists again.

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