This is the list of books I read last year, with brief comments:

SWANN’S WAY, Marcel Proust, 1913 heavy going; acute; far too wordy; unique
THE CORRECTIONS, Jonathan Franzen, 2001 intelligent, funny, dark, cheering, depressing, fresh, humane
BOB DYLAN DREAM: My Life With Bob, Roy Kelly, 2015 touching, beautiful, intelligent memoir of an ordinary life roughly contemporary with mine & Dylan’s
EMOTIONALLY WEIRD, Kate Atkinson, 2000 sometimes very funny, sometimes too silly (improbability not counteracted by enough comic success), but the main character is likeable & it’s the only postmodern novel I’ve read that works, so that it ends up clever rather than irritatingly clever-clever
VANITY FAIR:A Novel Without a Hero, William Makepeace Thackeray, 1847-8
fascinating in its mix of modernity - pioneering C19 realism & an anti-heroine yet using C18 literary devices (which have a touch of postmodernism, we’d feel now); a sweeping satire on money, the class system and snobbery (a word he coined)... BUT! he’s not as deep or heartfelt as Dickens and his characters are mostly less vivid
DOWNHILL ALL THE WAY, Leonard Woolf, 1967 upper/upper-middle class man of letters and politics, Virginia’s husband, writing this in his 80s; clear and conscientious prose from a very fair-minded man acutely aware of both others’ even greater privilege and the great majority’s lack of it; a real socialist with servants
FUGITIVE PIECES, Anne Michaels, 1997 irksomely opaque start but opens into one of the most articulately heartfelt, intelligent, beautiful & distinctive of books
THE THUNDERBOLT KID, The Life & Times of, Bill Bryson, 2003 auto-Bryson with clunky research padding out a very superficial account of his upbringing
THE LIE, Helen Dunmore, 2014 moving and vivid on rural Cornwall life in 1920 & on the horrors of WWI trench warfare and its afterlife in the narrator’s mind; an intelligent novel yet comfortingly English & traditional
THE INVENTION OF WINGS, Sue Monk Kidd, 2014 potboiler with a heart, but with none of the originality of "The Secret Life of Bees"
FLUSH, Virginia Woolf, 1933 rather good: her language is very alive and without showiness
SLANG OF HANDS, Bernhard Widder, 2009 Austrian poems about northern UK; ok
JOY IN THE MORNING, Betty Smith, 1963 sister of the more famous “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”; had to give up on it. Too cute, sprightly, implausible & 1950s-sordid: all virginity & sweet-little-woman & manly cigarettes & plucky struggle
THE JOKE, Milan Kundera, 1967 [1992 translation] gloom-inducing portrait of mid-C20 Czechoslovakia & by extension general Eastern European gloom; it may linger, but it was sententious, with terrible attitudes to women, and mostly a pain in the arse to read
THE MOONSTONE, Wilkie Collins, 1868 seldom resorts to dodgy melodrama and overall a work of near-genius; pioneering detective novel, and for the first half, very funny thanks to a captivating narrator figure, old servant Betteredge
NOBODY MOVE, Denis Johnson, 2009 an indifferent contemporary Chandler, or perhaps a pale imitation of Cormac McCarthy
ANGEL, Elizabeth Taylor, 1957 quiet, superior page-turner about the power of vanity & self-deception, spanning a lifetime; it deepens into pathos as it goes
THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, George Eliot, 1860 tremendous, and so substantial. Early on, its pastorality (if that’s a word) strongly prefigures Hardy; but Maggie Tulliver the child and Maggie the adult seem too much like different people, which is its real flaw
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, Virginia Woolf, 1927 lapidary, powerful modernism yet with strongly drawn characters and their vivid interaction (with the Chapter17 dinner party as fine as any I know in literature); lively, intensive prose, great clarity and wit. A triumph
KNOTS AND CROSSES, Ian Rankin, 1987 first Rebus novel; surprisingly badly written; every character a cliché with a quirk; less than thrilling story; pallid suspense
EARTH, Emile Zola, 1887 good C19 solidity, vivid characters & uncompromising portrait of wretched French peasant life, in which degradation cheats just desserts
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, Cormac McCarthy, 2005 addictive, violent, very modern; sometimes so stripped-down you can't work out what's happening; but always saved by its brilliant dialogue
A SEASON IN SINJI, J.L. Carr, 1967 a very English & appealing personality well rendered, but lacking either some essential depth or else some rapier thrust of asperity
CIRCLES IN A FOREST, Dalene Matthee, 1984 it took me 100 pages to like this, the first of her four "forest novels" (too much on poor-noble-Afrikaans-woodcutters) but it became an intensely detailed imaginative achievement and thoroughly absorbing story
MURDER ON A SUMMER'S DAY, Frances Brody, 2013 a 1924 setting allows for massive snobbery & conveniently primitive evidence standards, but it's also a setting that recalls the English atmosphere still prevalent in my 1950s childhood, and it's a satisfyingly lengthy read & a satisfyingly Christiesque trad detective story
BERTOLT BRECHT: A Literary Life, Stephen Parker, 2014 encyclopaedic uber-detail, and using newly available post-Cold War archives, sewn into a readable, attentive narrative... but I had to give it up on realising, after long immersion in his adolescent tics, maladies & hypochondria, that I still have absolutely no interest in Brecht or his work
DYING IN THE WOOL, Frances Brody, 2009 the first in the series (I was given a set as a present); very readable but an arch, over-confident heroine-narrator sorting out shorthand characters
CHARLES DARWIN: VOYAGING, Janet Browne, 1995 The first of her 2-volume biography. I've never read a better non-fiction book in my life (except, possibly, 'The Road To Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination' by John Livingston Lowes, 1927, about Coleridge & his notebooks)
GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn, 2012 Exceptionally sharp-minded (in a very American way), electrifying page-turner, dazzlingly well plotted; a let-down ending, though not everyone will think so
MOBY-DICK, Herman Melville, 1851 lively start, then tediously garrulous for several hundred pages; a hard, grim voyage for this reader, which surprised and disappointed him
CHARLES DARWIN: THE POWER OF PLACE, Janet Browne, 2002 The second volume: a book I'm so grateful to have read and sorry to have finished
FLIGHT BEHAVIOUR, Barbara Kingsolver, 2012 Terrific; strong, convincingly detailed and sympathetic portrait of today's deprived, Appalachian rural life
SIGNS FOR LOST CHILDREN, Sarah Moss, 2015 half the book extremely gruelling, the other half boring; a powerful writer but with such talent, why do this? And the story's resolution isn't one, because the man in it never exists
MIKE AND PSMITH, P G Wodehouse, 1953 light jollity there's no point objecting to on political/class-snobbery grounds; a much needed balm after "Signs for Lost Children"
THE DOG: A LADYBIRD BOOK, 2016 even funnier: perfect Christmas trivia


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