October is shaping up to be a hell of a month for big literary fiction: there's The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides's first novel since Middlesex, coming October 11, and 1Q84, Haruki Murakami's epic, which sold a zillion or so copies in Japan in a few hours, coming in English on October 25. I'm really looking forward to the Eugenides (though--true confession--I still haven't read most of Middlesex), and though I've yet to get onto Murakami's wavelength despite a couple of tries, 1Q84 is the kind of ambitious, intrigue-shrouded project that makes me want to read or at least buy it (with just the sort of dreamily cryptic alphanumeric title that whets my appetite further).
But the October novel I'm most excited about is Alan Hollinghurst's new one, The Stranger's Child, which releases in the States on the same day as The Marriage Plot but [gnashing of teeth] will be available in the UK well ahead of that, just a few days from now. Even if the early reviews from the UK weren't fairly (if not incandescently) glowing, I'd have it at the top of my list, since Hollinghurst is really about as good as it gets these days, at least based on the two of his books I've loved, The Folding Star and The Line of Beauty (I know, I still haven't read The Swimming-Pool Library), which are elegant and intense, surprising and ambitious. When the Guardian (in the most ambivalent of those reviews above) says, "Hollinghurst has a strong, perhaps unassailable claim to be the best English novelist working today," I have to agree myself, although I doubt he'd be the first name that came to the tongue of most readers (Zadie? Mitchell? Ishiguro? McEwan? Peace? Mieville? Waters?).
And so the anticipation begins (the subject of the book, a family story of England across the past century, is almost beside the point). And a reader (at least this reader) can in the meantime idly focus attention on one of the first parts of the book to present itself, the cover--or, rather, covers. I've put the US and UK jackets at the top of the page. What do you think?
I really have nothing against the UK cover--I rather like its near-abstraction that also evokes class distinctions and the social drama of the country house (also The Shining and, vaguely, a swastika)--but the cover that makes me hungry to hold it is the US one, from Knopf. In part it's just the pretty, vibrant pastels, and the stronger, less familiar display font, but mostly it's the painted man, whose features are smudged out in a way that recalls the more layered and geometric (and to my mind less appealing) facial obscuring that, for instance, Knopf designer Peter Mendelsund likes to work with (I don't know if he did this one too).
Is it a painting I should know? I don't, but I love the active artist's hand that it evokes: the smudges don't look unfinished, but rather smeared into obscurity by the painter out of dissatisfaction with his own ability (or out of hostility toward his subject). That's a story, in its vague intimations, that I want to read!