When I looked back at this year’s reading, I realised it’s been all about the structure. That kind of surprises me, because along with not understanding poetry and most modern art, I don’t generally like novels that mess about with a good, linear narrative. But, in fact, several of this year’s favourites have done just that. Next thing you know, I’ll be reading books set in India or during the American Civil War… no, that’s just crazy talk.
Total books read
110 – so, a slow year, mainly due to the amount of time that went into watching The Wire rather than reading. (Don’t worry, I’ve stopped that nonsense now, there isn’t time for reading and TV and work.) Scanning down the list, it seems the usual mix of contemporary fiction, classic fiction and re-reads, but we all know by now that I read in a narrow range, so I’m not even going to angst about the lack of foreign fiction or poetry. I’m resigned to my semi-literate state.
Discoveries of the year
Patrick Gale – I’ve read three of his novels this year, and been so impressed by all of them. He writes tightly, but without Maugham’s slightly chilling precision, and I’ve really enjoyed the way that the stories build up like jigsaw puzzles. One piece at a time, it’s as they spread out before the reader that you begin to see the shape. He even gets away with leaving the puzzle incomplete. Of the three, The Whole Day Through was my favourite.
Adam Mars-Jones – By whom I read Pilcrow and Cedilla. Mars-Jones writes in incredible detail about the minutiae of his hero, John Cromer’s, life. It could be excruciatingly dull but in fact is completely fascinating. My reaction to both books has been to feel as though I’m reading compelling autobiography, not fiction.
Rediscovery of the year
Patrick O’Brian – I am loving getting my latest installment through the post every month and getting properly reacquainted with Jack and Stephen. (And That Bitch, Diana). I’m on vol 6, so this series will see me through into 2014. At which point, I’ll have to set up another deal with Blackwell’s to get something else posted to me.
Favourites of the year
I’m sure several of these will show up on just about everyone’s ‘That was jolly good’ list, but whatever:
- Bring up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel. In particular, Mantel’s ability shines when you read something by a considerably lesser historical novelist and realise how much lies in the ability to leave stuff out.
- Gone, Girl – Gillian Flynn. Two unreliable narrators, one of whom is a psychopath? His story, her diary, her story, multi-layering from different perspectives. Well played, Ms Flynn.
- Every Contact Leaves a Trace – Elanor Dymott. Was one of my top books of the first half of the year. Beautiful wife is murdered, husband investigates, secrets are discovered. So looping a narrative, yet tracked and all neatly tied up in a bow at the end.
- Sword of Honour Trilogy – Evelyn Waugh. Which, after one false start, was unputdownable.
- Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson. Mistress of the art of memoir.
Unfavourites of the year
The Mystery of the Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell. Which was doubly disappointing because it’s classic crime and I was so hoping for another classic fest. But ugh.
The Forrests – Emily Perkins. I’d really rated Novel about My Wife, so I had high hopes, but I couldn’t get on with this at all, and abandoned it unfinished.
The Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness. Bought in a moment of weakness because it was half price, and I’d forgotten my misgivings about the first in the series. They came back in full force. Harkness should read Mantel, and then probably give up her historical settings in despair.
Forgotten Book of the Year
Palladian – Elizabeth Taylor. Don’t recall a damn thing. Which makes me think it’s on the ‘miss’ side of the Taylor list. Anyone?
Plans for 2013
Hmm, I’m not big on planning ahead with what I’m going to read, because anything I put on the list immediately becomes the book above all that I do not want to read. On the other hand… Proust isn’t going to wait around forever, is he? Then, a woman can always make time for more Trollope, but now that I’ve finished the Pallisers, I’m not sure where to go next (paging Mr W, paging Mr W). Oh, and I definitely have three Persephone books en route, which I will try to space out like particularly delicious chocolates. Rather than gulping them down in one sitting, I’ll save them for when I need them.
Recommendations are always welcome, y’all! What am I missing out on?