Friday, 22 December 2017

Fully booked

Well, not exactly a vintage year for blog postings, this being the first. It's been that kind of twelve months. No random jottings about foreign visits (torrential rain in Puerto Rico, norovirus in Malta), the joys of Eurovision (a well-deseved and long-awaited victory for Portugal some 400 years after their debut) and meanderings about the state of Coronation Street can be found on the rather wonderful blog site. I did meet Jenny Bradley and Pat Phelan though so all is well with my cobbled world.

Amongst all of this frippery though is the constant stream of reading material that passes through my life. There it is, stuffed into a work bag, accompanying me on the journey to and from the City. It accompanies me on train trips to the north and flights across the world. Wherever you are, you always know where you are with a book.

There were one or two stand-out reads for me during 2017. Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North was deep and beautiful. Also up there was David Lodge's rollocking The British Museum is Falling Down, where academia and contraception collide in 1960s Britain.

Eric Ambler's anti-heroes were out in force yet again. A usual, the exotic backdrops helped the action along in Cause for Alarm and The Mask of Dimitrios. There was similar tales of derring-do from Patricia Highsmith and her classic murder novel Strangers on a Train. It was never going to end well.

Some books can leave you with a sense of disquiet and unease. Step forward Len Deighton's SS-GB, the story of what might have happened had the Nazis won the Second World War. Equally unnerving was Mark Haddon's collection of stories in The Pier Falls, most of which proved enjoyable and uncomfortable in equal measure.

I always feel dejected when a book fails to reach expectations. Luckily these were few and far between in 2017. The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark was a thankfully short read. Likewise, I was happy to turn the final page on William S. Burrough's 1985 offering, Queer, a joyless romp through Mexico with a selection of self-hating gay men. Not good.

The ladies of Tilling provided distraction in E.F. Benson's Lucia Rising and Guy Fraser-Sampson's faithful, if unofficial, end to the series, Au Reservoir. Laughs aplenty too in Bruno Vincent's re-imagining of Enid Blyton's Famous Five, including Five on Brexit Island and Five Give Up the Booze.

Other notable page-tuners this year included:

  • A Film By Spencer Ludwig by David Flusfeder - an intergenerational road trip
  • A Raging Calm by Stan Barstow - eeh it's grim up north and then some . . .
  • South of Broad by Pat Conroy - soapy yet enjoyable trip around Charleston
  • The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler - fear and resignation in 1930s Vienna
  • Enemies: A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer - life after the concentration camps

Plus, given the season, a fantastic collection of short stories from the likes of Ian Rankin and Val McDermid in Murder Under the Christmas Tree. Santa's coming for you!

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