Saving the Best for Last


This is not the time of year to strike out alone into the snow ( assuming any falls. The weather here on Xmas Day was balmy / barmy) foraging for new discussion topics. Accordingly, I’ll snuggle down with the well-worn refrain of how crap 2016 was. I started this yesterday with the deaths of George Michael and Liz Smith recent news items; since then Richard Adams and Carrie Fisher have pegged it and of course there’s still time for more. As one social media wag said, Keith Richards must be counting the sleeps until 2017. Interestingly, though, the sleb mortality rate has apparently not been unduly high: it’s more that us baby boomers perceive it to be. As for Brexit and Trump, just the words themselves are ugly enough to warrant no further mention.

But what about books, I hear you cry! I read about 70 novels this year ( not many considering that for two separate months I was confined to barracks and did little except read and whinge ) My two discoveries of the year were Melissa Harrison and Jenny Eclair: with the latter I was initially sceptical that a good comedian could / should make a good novelist but she proved me wrong, in the same way that some time ago Ben Elton did. Can there be any stronger proof that God doesn’t exist when s/he gives some people multiple talents and others none? As for Harrison, she writes beautifully and lyrically about the natural world without ever compromising her hard-hitting stories about how we humans use and misuse it. My two most memorable books would probably have to be Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life ( little in title only ) and Eileen by Ottesa Moshfegh. ‘Memorable’ isn’t a synonym for ‘like’ but the fact that they remain etched in my mind must say something about them.

Despite several strong contenders the prize for Most Underwhelming Novel I’d have to award to Get Carter by Ted Lewis. Because he was a local lad ( indeed there’s a house on our street with a blue plaque celebrating the fact that he once lived there) I was hoping for some kind of bonding to take place while reading. Instead I became rapidly disengaged: it was boys’ stuff with a lot of tough guys and victimised women– though I should probably read more of his work before pontificating in case I incur the wrath of Neighbourhood Literary Watch. Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman was an interesting curiosity read and two novels – How to Measure a Cow and The Battle for Christabel – by one of my all time favourite writers Margaret Forster were lovely books, albeit now feeling a tad dated. (Incidentally Forster was another casualty of 2016.)

But by far my favourite read of the year, and indeed my most recent, is Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place. I was setting myself up for a fall by anticipating this book so eagerly but not one of its 480+ pages disappointed. If I say that This Must be the Place is about the disintegration of a marriage that comes nowhere near doing justice to the scope of a novel which is brilliantly and complexly structured without ever losing its emotional core. I won’t attempt to summarise – but at heart I guess the message is that although we all fuck up our lives in our own unique ways love ( not just romantic love but love of all kinds ) will always see us through.

On that note, a very Happy New Year to all my readers!


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