I don't normally write end-of-year summaries but this time - it's December 31st 2014 as I write - I decided I'd list the books I've read this year, with brief comments. I log them as I go, so I know the list is accurate, though it's nothing special:

CARRY ME DOWN, M.J. Hyland, 2006 a compelling, darkening account of a mentally sick boy
THE SHADOW LINE, Joseph Conrad, 1917 one of his seafaring novels; it's short but, like the sea, it deepens as you head through it
SAVE ME THE WALTZ, Zelda Fitzgerald, 1932 I thought the first half was awful, but found the second half taut and affecting; its descriptions of a dancer's milieu of hard practicing were intense, almost harrowing, and fully convincing
TENDER IS THE NIGHT [revised version], F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1948 read for the first time since the 1960s, and read this time to compare to the Zelda novel; it seemed pallid after hers
A SHORT HISTORY OF TRACTORS IN UKRAINIAN, Marina Lewycka, 2005 highly enjoyable, warm and shrewdly done
THE PLEASURES OF MEN, Kate Williams, 2012 incompetent, clumsy, shabby
GREAT HOUSE, Nicole Krauss, 2010 a terrific writer, but it has a disappointing non-ending
NARROW DOG TO CARCASSONNE, Terry Darlington, 2005 it starts out being irritating, by straining for chumminess, but it converted me and I soon found it funny, quirky and clever
NORTHANGER ABBEY, Jane Austen, 1803?, a sparky, funny start, but it fizzles out
FINISHING TOUCHES, Augustus John, 1964 the last dregs of memoir; cheery pompous windbaggery from an age long over by the time it was published; it claims a rebel's no-nonsense briskness but reeks of the sententious establishment that Mandy Rice-Davies had punctured at the Stephen Ward trial the previous year
ONE STEP TOO FAR, Tina Seskis, 2013 unputdownable phony crap
COLD EYE OF HEAVEN, Christine Dwyer Hickey, 2011 an absolutely wonderful novel: find it and read it
SENSE & SENSIBILITY, Jane Austen, 1811 a pleasure to re-rea but unsatisfying afterwards
PROPERTY, Valerie Martin, 2003 dodgy Deep South gothic, with plot and a surprise angle but oddly blank writing
THE ROAD HOME, Rose Tremain, 2007 substantial, styleless, humane
A DELICATE TRUTH, John le Carré, 2013 a curate’s egg but highly page-turnable
A DEBATABLE LAND, Candia McWilliam, 1994 poetic soup; pointless in the end
PLAINSONG, Kent Haruf, 1999 a touching, modest novel of American small-town elegaic simplicity
ANNA KARENINA, Leo Tolstoy, 1877 another re-read; absorbing as story, as history and as novelcraft, but much of the last 25% is weighed down by his dodgy philosophising
THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD, Agatha Christie, 1951 one long, silly special-plead
THE CHILD IN TIME, Ian McEwan, 1987 beautifully, skilfully written; absorbing
A MAN FROM THE NORTH, Arnold Bennett, 1898 admirable novel from much-underrated author; desolate ending
THE DRIVER’S SEAT, Muriel Spark, 1970 apparently her own favourite novel; I found it the daftest fiction possible, as if written by an alien
THE BIG KILL, Mickey Spillane, 1951 crass, moralistic, riddled with coyness pretending to be bluntness, and a predictable villain’s identity; but it evokes a highly atmospheric noir city and is an uncanny period piece
THE HOTEL, Elizabeth Bowen, 1927 thrilled to have found her: a great writer
THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS, Erskine Childers, 1903 compellingly written if detail-clogged; highly distinctive; with a curiously bathetic climax
RESENTMENT, Gary Indiana, 1997 unique (though at first it reminded me of Last Exit to Brooklyn), beautifully written, huge, sustained, vivid, sordid, humane: a really extraordinary novel
THE PRIVATE PATIENT, P.D. James, 2008 badly written, tiresome, dull, inept.

1 comment:

  1. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    An impressive and stimulating list, with commendably forthright comments. Interesting to see your enthusiasm for The Cold Eye of Heaven, which I too only came across this year. (I thought the book so good, however, that I suspect anything else I read of hers won’t match up.) Ukrainian tractors indeed... Save Me The Waltz isn’t a Leonard Cohen song but ought to have been. Still haven’t read Anna Karenina – maybe this year.
    Talking of Leonard Cohen, his biography by Sylvie Simmons I found absorbing simply because I knew very little about his life, but the style is flawed and she has very little of interest to say about his actual work. Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest was good, but – as always – his ostentatious flair often grated. Having sworn to try not to read any more books about Dylan I’ve just succumbed to The Dylanologists, which has its moments (but not enough of them). Clive James’s Poetry Notebook is magnificent – no other word for it. How’s this for a flavour: at the end of an essay on Ezra Pound, he says ‘I could scarcely catch my breath when he talked about poetry as if it were the most exciting thing in the world, which indeed it is’.