What used to be called ‘the publishing year’ has pretty much dissolved into fifty-two weeks that look and sound the same. Books come out all year round now, even in January and August, which used to be as quiet and still as the grave. Key biographies by heavyweight authors these days make their appearance in spring, when the shops are crammed with Easter eggs. Look, for instance, at the timing of the publication of Hilary Spurling’s life of Matisse: the first volume came out in autumn 1998, but the second, The Conquest of Colour, was published in March this year, when there was still snow on the ground. In much the same way, Julian Barnes’s breakthrough book of 1984, Flaubert’s Parrot, was a muffler-wearing October title, while his latest novel, Arthur & George, arrived wearing its swimming trunks this July.