Byline: DAVID SEXTON
FOR some time, publishers and booksellers maintained that the trade was more or less immune to the credit crunch.
Christmas disabused them of that comforting delusion. Sales were down year-on-year, not just in volume but even more so in price, with the average discount on bestsellers reaching 41 per cent this year, as opposed to 35 per cent last year. That left little profit margin, especially since there were no titles to set the market alight no single must-read novel, no original novelty item of the Eats, Shoots & Leaves variety, not even a dominant thriller such as the DV Code.
Many readers feel that publishers began to behave cynically in the fat years, lazily buying up ghosted celebrity autobiographies and formulaic misery memoirs, while giving little backing to the writers who aren't one-hit wonders but deserve long-term support and would repay it. Will there now be a new concentration on finding substantial and worthwhile books? Let's hope so. Consumers no longer want to waste money on trivia.
In the hard months ahead, if they do buy, they are going to want solid value, in books as in every other field.
For now, the lists look pretty strong, having doubtless all been commissioned pre-crunch, although we'll once more have to wait until the autumn for most of the heavyweights. There's a lot of promising fiction coming up, certainly more than in the year just passed.
Cape has announced yet another Philip Roth novel, for next September, titled The Humbling and hopes also to publish a new one by Thomas Pynchon in August, Inherent Vice, apparently not yet delivered by the great mystery man, but said to be "noir, set in the Sixties".
Other big-name novelists lined up for the autumn include John Irving (Last Night in Twisted River, Bloomsbury), Margaret Atwood (The Year of the Flood, Bloomsbury, "an epic of Biblical proportions... Adam One is leader of the God's Gardeners"), and, intriguingly, Audrey Niffenegger, the author of The Time-Traveller's Wife. Her new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry (Cape, September) is about identical twins who move into a house overlooking Highgate Cemetery.
Bound to cause a lot of controversy is Beginners by Raymond Carver, which Cape publishes in October. It's Carver's original manuscript of his second short story collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which was savagely cut down into a minimalist style by his then editor Gordon Lish and in that format became the most influential short story collection of its time.
From younger British writers, there's the second novel by Richard Milward called Ten Storey Love Song (Faber, February), druggy filth in a Middlesbrough tower block, the second from Adam Thirlwell, The Escape (Cape, September), said to be "a wonderfully Nabokovian story of a 78-year-old man involved with two women in a spa town in Central Europe", and the second from Nick Laird, Glover's Mistake (April), about a man in his twenties who begins an affair with an American woman in her forties, which ends up catastrophically involving his flatmate and friend.
In May, there's a new collection of short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro to look forward to (Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Faber) and in August another set, Love and Summer, from the great veteran William Trevor (Penguin).
Nick Hornby's new novel, Juliet, Naked (Viking, September), is, mirabile dictu, set not in north London this time but on the Lincolnshire coast and in America. It's about an Eighties rock star who has gone into Salingeresque isolation when the release of a stripped-down version of his most famous record leads to a long-distance relationship with the partner of a fan.
Martin Amis's next novel The Pregnant Widow (Cape, September) can best be explained by the author himself, who continues to entertain, recently predicting civil war breaking out between the old and the young. …