It’s that time again: the seasonal book lists, “best books of 2010″, “what we read this year”.
So, immediately after signing off that previous post:
Some pretensions to literacy: just like Malcolm
the reality came back to haunt him.
He picked up the current issue of the Times Literary Supplement and started through its Books of the Year (just don’t forget those authoritative capitals). Some sixty-five eminent bods (it says here, and seems to tally), over seven pages, expiate on what turned each one on. There is repetition:
I very much enjoyed and admired Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto)
says A.S.Byatt. Jonathan Bate is more effusive:
Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (Chatto) is a beautiful piece of writing, mixing family memoir, cultural history, travel narrative and nuanced observation of miniature curiosities (his inherited collection of netsuke) in a style suggestive of Sebald without the gloom.
Among others, Michael Howard (no, not the political one) joins in and goes overboard for this as:
the book, not of the year, but of the decade.
Harrumph! Anyone for navel-gazing, however nuanced, and suspenders for Japanese pouches?
What really gave Malcolm the glooms, Sebaldian or not, was his growing recognition of seemingly how little he had read of such recent worth. He had missed out, among others, on Felipe Fernández-Armemesto’s choice:
the chef Fabio Picchi’s Senza vizi e senza sprechi (Monddadori) — a culinary memoir that makes most British celebrity cooks look like idiots.
Funny that: Malcolm hadn’t realised it needed Italian comparisons to demonstrate so self-evident a truism. Indeed, Malcolm had reached D for Richard Davenport-Hynes and F for Roy Foster before he found points of recognition.
Davenport-Hynes is boosting Graham Robb’s Parisians: An adventure history of Paris. Now, in Maclolm’s ‘umble opinion that really is a juicy read. It’s not just the information and the opinion it provides, there’s the entertainment value on top — delicious pastiche of literary periods and forms. It’s already out in paperback, and deserves to sell in truckloads.
Foster starts where he is best, on the island:
A disastrous year for the Irish economy, but a very good one for Irish poetry. Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain (Faber) was dazzling: full of three-word lines that light up like a flick of a switch, conveying a haunting preoccupation with the borderlands between this world and the next.
Why the past tense (“was dazzling”), Roy? Later on in this catalogue of wonders, Bernard O’Donoghue also gives Famous Shamus a nod. Somewhere between those two, G for Peter Green devotes his three paragraphs to Donna Leon and Commissario Brunetti’s latest Venetian outing (number nineteen, and Malcolm has every one, in sequence, on a garret shelf) in A Question of Belief. Amid all this pretentiousness and log-rolling, Green comes on like a boy scout’s simple good deed in an affected world:
… the stench of the canals in a broiling August carries its miasma of judicial corruption, homophobia (leading to murder), and red tape. Smooth-talking astrologers prey on elderly ladies. While his delightful family cools off on an Alpine vacation, Brunetti himself (reading Marcus Aurelius) is recalled to sweat out the murder investigation and what lies beneath its surface. Leon’s unique mixture of sadly cynical realpolitik and heartfelt moral compassion has never been shown to better effect. She is a truly fine novelist, period, and should be acclaimed as such.
Cheers to that, says Malcolm.
Leon’s spring annual is a treat to be anticipated. Malcolm will have it on pre-order.
Fiction seems in small regard among the stratospheric literati, with an exception for Peter Carey (that regular Booker-listee). Do these great minds at the TES not take time off for faux-simple joys such as Leon? If so, they might then extend to the likes of Philip Kerr and his Bernie Gunther in their diet. Why (excluding the obvious objection of being “popular”), as far as Malcolm can see, did le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor or C.J.Sansom’s Heartstone not make someone’s list?
Clearly, Malcolm knows little about art, but he knows what he likes.