I was just looking through the list of books I have read this year, and realised to my dismay that I am lagging somewhat: 116 down and only a week to go to make it to 120. Not that I have a particular target, but I usually hit 120 and it seems a bit odd to miss it this year with all that train time.
Meanwhile, in between frantically reading slim paperbacks, in no particular order, here are my favourite books from the year so far:
The Barsetshire Chronicles – Anthony Trollope. Ok, so technically I didn’t read all of them this year, just most of them. I’ve enjoyed these so much, though. Trollope creates such great, memorable characters and then allows them perfectly ordinary failings and joys.
The Raj Quartet – Paul Scott – I embarked on these with something of a sense of duty, which was swiftly replaced with genuine interest. Fascinating stuff. Generally I consider Blighty’s imperialist adventures as unjustifiable and rather embarrassing displays of arrogance. Scott is certainly not on the side of the English, or the Indians, or of anyone in particular. He creates far more complicated a tale, from multiple, overlapping, conflicting or complementing perspectives. Where Forster’s A Passage to India gives the sense of India as a place of muddle and confusion, Scott’s quartet adds depth to that impression.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – David Wroblewski – about which so much has been written that it’s impossible for anyone to be in ignorance. Am pleased to hear that he is writing a prequel.
The Quincunx – Charles Palliser – A romping, rollicking page turner in which one wonders how many coincidences and misfortunes can befall one person. Marvellous Victorian detail and plot complexity.
The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway – I still can’t classify this book and that is one of the things I loved about it. It was funny, sad, romantic, violent, surprising, with a twist that I didn’t see coming. Harkaway is at work on his second novel, and if I could preorder it now, I would.
Mistress of the Art of Death – Ariana Franklin. Another one I was dubious about but it really had me gripped. And although I had guessed the murderer, the ending still had real tension. I always think period novels are difficult and I’m not in a position to know how accurate this was, but it felt right. I think the author had a thorough conception of the world she was writing about, so it rang true.
Happiest discoveries (with acknowledgments)
Donna Leon – thank you, Eva at A Striped Armchair
Barbara Pym – ta very much, Litlove
Elizabeth Taylor – can’t exactly remember, but suspect this might Litlove too
Nahguib Mahfouz – thanks, Zoesmom’s mom
Tana French – thank you, Raych
Raspberry awards (it’s my blog and I’ll snark if I want to)
The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley – look, I know this is some kind of classic, all right? But really, so dull, so pretentious, so faux mystical, when in fact it’s the Arthurian version of a sex and shopping novel. Which would be ok but stop pretending to be meaningful. Gar.
Black and White and Dead All Over – John Darnton. I can’t even be bothered to revisit my extreme irritation with this book.
Without any question, hands down winner of the worst book I read this year
Any Given Doomsday – Lori Handeland. Oh, this was so spectacularly, mind-blowingly terrible in all possible ways. Badly written, terrible plot, unconvincing characters and not even good soft porn.
Book where I wanted to move in with the characters
The Likeness – Tana French. But only when they were all golden and perfect and happy, not when their little Eden crumbled at its foundations and their world gradually imploded. I do want their house, though.