Monday, 27 December 2010

I read some books this year

Of those books, these were the ones I most enjoyed.

Adam Thirlwell, The Delighted States (aka Miss Herbert)

An absorbing, unusual treatise on translation and the notion of literary style. Mr Sterne (the other, more successful one) features prominently.

Dan Rhodes, Little Hands Clapping

Rhodes takes his charming, darkly humourous style to a new level in this contemporary fairy tale. As in Rhodes' earlier book, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, the narrative is fragmented into smaller, short-story-esque pieces, but whereas the average "novel in stories" is loose and often unsatisfying, Little Hands Clapping is cohesive and develops a genuine momentum. It is also frequently hilarious.

Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan

I read this as a teenager and enjoyed it; reading it this year I couldn't help wondering what, exactly, my sixteen-year-old self got out of it. My thirty-one-year-old self loved the hell out of its meandering narrative, the absurd yet strangely endearing characters, the dense - oh, so dense! - prose. I usually struggle with weighty, Dickensian prose (exhibit A: Dickens) but not once did I feel frustrated or bored by this book. Truly a reading experience unlike any other.

JG Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur

Like The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Siege of Krishnapur is a historical novel that offers an unashamedly wry, modern perspective on its subject, in this case the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. It was interesting to read this after reading Titus Groan, because Farrell creates a world as vivid and bizarre as Peake's, the difference being that Farrell's world is based on historical fact. Witty, satirical, and full of tragic action, The Siege of Krishnapur is one of the best historical novels I have read.

John Williams, Stoner

William Stoner, scion of dirt-poor Missouri farmers, attends university to study for an agriculture degree, but finds himself drawn to literature and embarks upon an academic career. Stuff happens. More stuff, slightly more interesting than the other stuff, happens. The end.

Flip synopsis aside, Stoner is a quiet masterpiece. In plain, albeit occasionally fussy prose, Williams charts the life and times of his everyman protagonist and I couldn't help but be drawn in.
The relatively minor upheavals of his life take on great significance - as do, I suppose, the minor upheavals of all of our lives.

Josephine Rowe, How a Moth Becomes a Boat

Sweet, poetic short stories, infused with melancholy.

Thomas Bernhard, The Loser

Bernhard was one of my finds of the year. The Loser, like all of Bernhard's work, is in the form of an extended monologue, without paragraph breaks, in which the narrator tells his story and/or vents his spleen. Sounds like hard work, but if you give in to Bernhard's idiosyncrasies it is utterly gripping.

Tony O'Neill, Sick City

Pure pulp as far as story and characters go, but amazingly well written, funny, shocking. Manages to provide outlandish satire of Hollywood and the therapy industry while refusing to varnish - or, for that matter, to condemn - the sheer scummy awfulness of life as a drug-user.

Willy Vlautin, Lean On Pete

A beautiful story about a lost, lonely young man and the horse he befriends.

Patrik Ourednik, Europeana

Playful, disturbing, ironic catalogue of 20th C European horrors and banalities.

Grace Krilanovich, The Orange Eats Creeps

I read this book but I feel like I never finished it. How often does that happen? This thing is still gnawing at me, and I know I will return to it. Fucking surreal grunge/vampire/teenage hobo novel that will blow your bits off.

Marcy Dermansky, Bad Marie

Read this in two breathless sittings. Dermansky channels the cool brilliance of Patricia Highsmith.

Samuel Beckett, Molloy

My first Beckett. Brilliant, and not nearly as difficult as I expected.

Rachel B Glaser, Pee On Water

I read a fair bit of American "indie" fiction this year. There's a lot of good stuff, a lot more bad stuff (to be expected, cf. Sturgeon's Law), and the occasional slice of greatness. Rachel Glaser's stories are "odd' and "offbeat" in the accepted manner, but they feel more thought out and necessary than most. Apart from anything else, Glaser can write like a muthatrucker.

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

Funny and sad graphic novel about the author's relationship with her closeted gay father. A lot better than that description indicates.

Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed

When it comes to unearthing the absurdities and idiocies of recent political history, Mr Wheen knows his beans. Strange Days Indeed focuses on the Seventies in all their paranoid glory. Eye-opening and always entertaining.

David Finkel, The Good Soldiers

An embedded account of US soldiers in Iraq, written with style and a sure narrative sense. Not exactly cheery reading, but hard to put down.


Helen said...

Isn't Titus Groan the goods? And Gormenghast is better. And Titus Alone is perhaps not the best of the three, but even weirder, and spins you off on a new direction.

Tim said...

I had read it as a teenager, but as is often the way I got a lot more out of it the second time through. I really want to read Gormenghast, it sounds marvelous.