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New books for a new year

New books for a new year

After what seems an interminable wait, the RSC productions of Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker winning duo Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (adapted by Mike Poulton) are now up and running (and plotting, burning, beheading) at Stratford-upon-Avon. They have already garnered a clutch of four- and five-star reviews in the newspapers so, although the production runs until March, the availability of tickets is, inevitably,  shorter than the life expectancy of Henry VIII’s wives. According to an insider, the rave reception makes it almost certain that the plays will transfer to the West End when their current run finished. Mantel herself still won’t commit herself as to whether she thinks Thomas Cromwell was a hero or villain. She leaves the question to others: “Was he a statesman or a thug? An icy pragmatist, or an optimist with faith in a better world? ”, she recently wrote, “The evidence is patchy, the defendant inscrutable, and the jury still out.” That sort of diplomacy would have kept her head on her shoulders at Henry's court, for a little while at least.

The coming year will see new books from a host of Man Booker alumni. Among the most eagerly anticipated titles appearing in the first few months of 2014 are Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas (longlisted 2010), The Thing About December by Donal Ryan (MB longlisted last year), Early Levy by Deborah Levy (shortlisted 2012), Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (shortlisted 2010), and Can’t and Won’t by the 2013 Man Booker International Prize winner Lydia Davis. By coincidence two of the prize’s perennial bridesmaids, Sarah Waters and Colm Tóibín – each shortlisted three times – both have new novels out in October (The Paying Guest and Nora Webster). Meanwhile, Natalie Haynes, one of last year’s MB judges, is proof that existing on a binge diet of fiction is no cure for writing the stuff. Her debut novel The Amber Fury will be published in March. She knows what to expect.

While you are marking your diary it might be worth putting a cross against April 3rd. The reigning Man Booker queen Eleanor Catton is over from New Zealand and will be appearing in London as part of the 2014 Australia and New Zealand Festival. What's more she will be in conversation with Robert Macfarlane, the chair of the 2013 Man Booker judges. Further details and ticketing information can be found here. The festival comes with a letter of introduction from Thomas Keneally (MB winner in 1982 with Schindler's Ark): “Dear England, We’re sending you a big present: our writers, film and music makers. It’s about time we got round to startling you, and the moment approaches.”

Catton will also be appearing at the Glasgow literary festival as part of her tour of the UK. She’ll be speaking at events on the 8th and 9th April, more details of the festival can be found here.

We should learn from Elizabeth Jane Howard, the distinguished novelist, Booker Prize judge (1974) and former wife of Kingsley Amis (Booker Prize – as it then was – winner in 1986) who died just over a week ago. The foul weather we've been suffering should not be something to moan about, but quite the opposite. In Mr Wrong she noted that “A rainy day is like a lovely gift – you can sleep late and not feel guilty.”