12 for '12: The Most Anticipated Books of the Year

Mark Medley, National Post
January 6, 2012

e’ve closed the book on 2011. If the crop of new releases due this year is any indication, 2012 will be even better. We’ve selected a dozen titles from the first six months of 2012 that are not to be missed.

Winning the Scotiabank Giller Prize gains one entry into an exclusive club. Only 16 living writers are members, which means it’s a rare occurrence when new books by two former winners are published only weeks apart.

Linden MacIntyre, who won the Giller in 2009 for The Bishop’s Man, returns with Why Men Lie (Random House Canada, March). The conclusion of a Cape Breton trilogy begun in 1999 with The Long Stretch, the new novel centres on Effie MacAskill Gillis, a twice-divorced woman scarred by love who meets someone who might just be the perfect man. Soon after, Vincent Lam, who won the Giller Prize in 2006 for Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, unveils his eagerly anticipated first novel, The Headmaster’s Wager (Doubleday Canada, April), about the rakish headmaster of an exclusive English school in Saigon, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

Another debut novel with buzz is Matt Lennox’s The Carpenter (HarperCollins Canada, February), the follow-up to this soldier-turned-scribe’s heralded short story collection Men of Salt, Men of Earth. The novel, described by the publisher as “a suspenseful, darkly humorous work with a touch of noir,” takes place in a small Ontario town where everyone is keeping secrets.

As with Lennox, the publication of Grace O’Connell’s Magnified World (Knopf Canada, May) marks the start of yet another promising career. A debut novel from a former nominee for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and one of Knopf’s New Faces of Fiction, Magnified World starts with a nod to Virginia Woolf, as a mother fills her pockets with stones and drowns herself in the Don River, leaving behind more questions than answers.

It seems like just yesterday that Steven Heighton was beginning his career; now he’s one of the stalwarts of Canadian literature. He returns to what is perhaps his strongest form with The Dead Are More Visible (Knopf Canada, May), his first collection of short stories since 1995’s sensational On earth as it is.

One of Canada’s bravest writers, Tamara Faith Berger, ends an eight-year absence with Maidenhead (Coach House Books, April), about a teenage girl who receives her sexual education from an older couple she meets while on vacation with her family in Florida. A novel sure to be provocative and profound. Equally as fearless is Emily Schultz, who follows up her breakout novel, Heaven is Small, with The Blondes (Doubleday Canada, May), about a mysterious virus turning the blond women of New York into bloodthirsty killers.

The hero of The Blondes sets out across America in search of a cure, but if Taras Grescoe’s latest book is any indication, she probably won’t want to take the bus. In Straphanger (HarperCollins Canada, April), the Montreal writer examines the revolution public transportation is undergoing around the world.

But forget buses and subways. Perhaps 2012 is the year of the horse. Besides the premiere of HBO’s Luck, which traces the intersecting lives of gamblers and trainers at a local track, we’ll see the publication of Kevin Chong’s long-awaited My Year of the Racehorse (Greystone, April), the Vancouver writer’s account of becoming part-owner of a thoroughbred. As well, the protagonist of Montreal-born,London-based David Szalay’s third novel, Spring (Graywolf, January), runs a dubious horse-racing-tips enterprise. He might be an unknown commodity in his country of birth, but The Daily Telegraph named Szalay one of the 20 best British novelists under 40.

Szalay isn’t the only expat Canadian with a new book. Emily St. John Mandel, a writer whose profile seems to grow with every book, unveils The Lola Quartet (McArthur and Co., May), about a disgraced journalist who returns to his Florida home only to discover he has a 10-year-old daughter. Finally, multidisciplinarian Leanne Shapton publishes a collection of illustrated autobiographical stories, Swimming Studies (Blue Rider, June), chronicling her time as a competitive swimmer.

And this is only the first half of 2012. Later this year we’ll get to read a new novel from Pasha Malla, Jian Ghomeshi’s memoirs and new books from the only two-time Giller Prize winners in history: M.G. Vassanji and Alice Munro. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not such a rare occurrence after all …

When 12 isn’t enough: Here’s a dozen foreign releases, too:

January: The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson; At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn February: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander; Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, by Geoff Dyer March: Religion for Atheists, by Alain de Botton; Arcadia, by Lauren Groff; When I Was a Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson; The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner; The Vanishers, by Heidi Julavits May: Canada, by Richard Ford; The Chemistry of Tears, by Peter Carey; In One Person, by John Irving.

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