It has been quiet, on the deal-making front, at this year’s London Book Fair. With no single title emerging as the big book of the fair, and gossip still focused on recent reports about the $65 million advance the Obamas landed from Penguin Random House, a number of works have been the subject of chatter. That many of these titles are novels bolsters theories some insiders shared with PW, before the fair, that publishers feel readers want escapism right now. The thinking? People want relief from the divisive political events that have recently rocked the world, be it Donald J. Trump’s surprise presidential victory in the U.S., or the Brexit vote in the U.K.
Among the novels people are talking about is The Lido by Libby Page. The book, which, as of this writing, has not yet sold in the U.S., was acquired in the U.K. in an overnight preempt, for six figures, by Clare Hey at Orion. (Agent Robert Caskie, at Caskie Mushens, represents the author.) Set in Brixton, the novel follows the unlikely friendship that forms between an adrift 26-year-old and an 86-year-old widow who come together to fight the closure of their community pool. (“Lido” is a popular British term for a swimming pool.) The author, who lives in London, writes for The Guardian. (In addition to the U.K. sale, as of press time, preempts had been closed in Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.)
Another book on publishers’ radar is the debut novel Immigrant, Montana. A pitch letter which PW secured from agent David Higham, who represents the book, says it follows a man named Kailash who grows up in India in the 1960s before, as a young adult, emigrating to the U.S. The pitch letter said the novel “navigates the shift in cultural experience as Kailash opens himself up to the new world.” The book is being compared to Teju Cole’s Open City and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station.
Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth has been touted as another notable book at this year’s fair. It was acquired in a two-book, six-figure preempt in the U.K. by Scribner’s Rowan Cope, and bought in the U.S. by Knopf’s Robin Desser. (Suzanne Gluck at William Morris Endeavor handled the U.S. sale, while WME’s Elizabeth Sheinkman handled the U.K. one.) About two sisters who disappear on the remote Russian peninsula of Kamchatka, the book, as Sheinkman’s office explained, delves into the lives of 12 women back in the girls’ rural Russian town whose lives "hold the clues to the crime.” The separate stories about these women collide, the agency said, in “one of the most isolated, secretive, and naturally magnificent places in the world.” The 29-year-old author is a Pushcart nominee and recent Yaddo resident who spent a year in Kamchatka on a Fulbright grant.
Selling in a preempt to Emily Bell at MCD/FSG, the new experimental imprint launched last year at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is another buzzed-about novel: Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State. Kiesling is an editor at The Millions who’s represented by Claudia Ballard at William Morris Endeavor; her book follows a young mother living in the Bay Area who, frustrated by various aspects of her life, runs off with her young daughter to a rural part of northern California. There, Bell explained, “she meets all kinds of characters, including members of the State of Jefferson secessionist movement.”
Although fiction seems to be the hot ticket at this year’s fair, a few nonfiction titles have bubbled to the top of conversations. One of them is Calling Bullshit. Written by two academics at the University of Washington—biology professor Carl Bergstrom and assistant professor at the Information School, Jevin West—the book grew out of a class the pair created titled ‘Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.’ After the website for the class drew an unusually high click-through rate, the professors decided to write a book on the topic. Agent Max Brockman at Brockman, Inc., who represents the author, said their book "will help people learn to navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argumentation.” At press time, U.S. rights had sold to Random House’s Will Murphy in a six-figure preempt.