Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Black and white and read all over - again!

Yes folks, there is no escaping the upcoming festivities. I'm knee-deep in unwritten Christmas cards, unopened online shopping orders and steely determination. One area where such determination may have wavered in 2016 is the need to read the huge pile of unread books gathering in the spare room. It's a feast without end. yet again, I will carry forward numerous tomes from one year to the next with the hope that they will sustain me on holidays, commutes into work or idle Sunday afternoons.

When it comes to reading, I don't tend to follow trends as such. Browsing the shelves of book shops, flicking through literary supplements and recommendations are what tend to steer me in every varying directions.

I always like it kick the year off with something fairly easy. Trudging through a James Joyce in January is never a good idea so I turned to Nick Hornby's Funny Girl. This was the seemingly simple tale of an unknown northern beauty queen who suddenly makes it big in a 1960s BBC sitcom. It's full of joy and optimism and delivers a 'fifty years later' chapter to round the story off well.

Three John Niven novels were devoured this year. Kill Your Friends is set against a backdrop of late nineties Britpop and the drug-fuelled excesses of the period. The humour is dark, morbid in places and yet still I laughed. Second up was The Sunshine Cruise Company, a sort of Carry On-style romp featuring OAP bank robbers. An odd premise yet strangely believable. There were more laughs courtesy of Straight White Male which served up the tears and giggles in equal measure.

It's always good to pick up a book that you've been meaning to read for years but never got around to. Step forward The Crow Road by Iain Banks. First published in 1993 and read by me twenty three years later, I initially found the dual narratives a little disconcerting. The Scottish names proved a little confusing to but I stuck with it and enjoyed Banks' examination of the deeper meaning of life. Quite funny in places too.

Not striking such a cheery note was Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. Set in an alternative world where Nazi Germany and Japan had won WW2, this proved to be an unsettling read. Presumably this was the intention but it was too troubling to be enjoyable.

Veteran writer Eric Ambler provided some of the most enjoyable reads of the year. The Light of Day was all thrills and spills set against a backdrop of Istanbul. As often with Ambler, the lead character was anything but heroic. Epitaph for a Spy also featured a flawed hero plus an ensemble of characters residing at a hotel in summer. Addictive stuff!

Linda Grant served up a more feisty lead character in When I Lived in Modern Times, the story of a young woman leaving the austerity of post-war London for a new life in the fledgling state of Israel. It turned out to be not quite the anticipated land of milk and honey.

Other books enjoyed during 2016 include:

Soho by Keith Waterhouse - great characters and lots of fun
Walk the Lines by Mark Mason - the London Underground on foot!
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh - a young girl gone sour
Joy by Jonathan Lee - why did a successful woman hurl herself from a balcony?
The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate - fear and loathing at a country manor
Memoirs of a Dipper by Nell Leyshon - the brutal life of a petty criminal
For the Love of Radio 4 by Caroline Hodgson - a jolly romp through the schedules

There we are then. Just some of my literary companions this year. Some were challenging, some were  just good fun but all were very welcome.