Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Books 09

I read a lot of good and great books this year but for the purposes of this list I'm limiting myself to nine titles. Why the hell not.

* The best comic I read in 2009 was Black Hole by Charles Burns. The story is a bit ropey and some of the characters a bit dopey - think about it, you'll see what I did there - but this story of a virus attacking a bunch of small-town teens is atmospheric and scary and black, really black.

* Tom McCarthy's second novel Men In Space is actually his first novel, written before but published after Remainder. The fragmented narrative follows a group of young artists and art-world associates/hangers-on in post-Communist Central Europe. Maybe not as outright brilliant as Remainder but still hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking in a way that most lit fiction just isn't, ie. Men In Space actually provokes thought.

* The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is brilliant.

* I reviewed China Mieville's The City & The City here so you can go there to read what I had to say.

* I also reviewed Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire. One of the best prose works I have ever read.

* Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler is an amazing artefact: an odd-shaped paperback that looks as if it's been recovered from the bottom of a dam. The stories and bits of text inside fight for space with streaks of visceral material; effluvia of the apocalypse. Scorch Atlas describes a putrid, dying world in such vivid sickening prose that it gave me nightmares. I'm frightened of this book, it's that fucking good.

* The other nightmare-inducing book I read in 09 was The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. It is horrific and informative and written with skill and passion.

* Rather more cheerful: True Grit by Charles Portis is a short, almost perfect novel. Any lingering associations with John Wayne vanish immediately once Mattie Ross, the novel's determined, vengeful, shrewd protagonist, begins her narration. It is one of the finest first-person narratives I have ever read, utterly absorbing and believable. The story is simple, and simply told, with great characters and a lot of humour. I can understand the Coen's interest in this book and I suspect they'll do right by it.

* Jonathan Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant, a bio of the English writer B.S. Johnson, is enthralling. Johnson's life is interesting in itself, but Coe's insights into Johnson's art, his attitudes and his aesthetic make this as much a study of the work as of the man. I'd like to write more about my response to this book, but frankly it's a bit personal and we've only just met. Perhaps some other time. It is, in any case, an astonishing book.

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