January Reads

Now that we’re through the mayhem of Christmas and New Year, you, like us, might be feeling in sore need of some quiet time curled up with a book. We’re lucky enough to have the inside track on the new year’s best book releases from Colin Midson of Bookshaped PR, who curates Port Eliot’s literary programme. Here’s his edit of the best books to keep you wilfully distracted this January.

First, some escapist fiction of the first order: Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill (which won every debut novel prize of note) transports you back to New York in the year 1746 and tells a dizzying, picaresque tale that never looses its footing or its sense of mischief. Cunningly plotted and vividly told, it’s a book to retreat into on cold winter nights and cannot help but put a smile on your face.

AI seems to have become a cultural obsession of late. At the beginning of last year I binge watched Sky’s Westworld – the reworking of the Michael Crichton’s 70s classic into pure boxset gold – and then this autumn brought us the long awaited Bladerunner sequel. But perhaps the future of AI will be more prosaic? Paul Kitcatt’s debut novel We Care for You paints an unsettling picture of our near future in which robots are tasked with caring for the elderly. There are the usual robotic AI existential crises but, when cast against the setting of a care home, there is an added piquancy: could a robotic carer really be better at a job that we normally consider requires the human touch? And more uncomfortable still, might we end up treating a believable synthetic human being more respectfully than a decrepit parent? It’s chilling and oddly moving too.

One of my hot tips for 2018 is Peach by Emma Glass, a debut novel with plaudits including this year’s MAN Booker winner, George Saunders. It’s a short novel, and the story – such that there is one – comes second to the writing itself, which is spare, visceral and utterly compelling. Despite the disturbing events experienced by the teenage narrator, you may read it in one sitting. I’ve a feeling it will be one of the books of the year.

The Devil’s Highway by Gregory Normanton is also published in January. Its narrative spans three timeframes but each plays out along a stretch of Roman road in the Surrey hills: the first tells the story of a young boy drawn into the events of a tribal uprising in the final years of Roman Britain; the second, a contemporary story, throws together a former soldier suffering from PTSD and a young girl and her father campaigning for the preservation of the heath; the final strand is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape and is infused with a Riddley Walker-esque voice. Norminton marshals these three plotlines with a light touch, each time-period bringing to bear on themes of violence, redemption, love and community.

This year I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into Viv Groskop’s latest – The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature. She is surely the only person in the world who could make the subject funny. And living in Cornwall and not surfing is something that always makes me feel guilty so I’m hoping that The Secret Surfer, Iain Gately’s account of his middle-aged quest for the perfect tube is something that will get me out into the waves at last.