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Saturday 22 December 2007
My Books of the Year
My favourite novel this year was Rosalind Belben's Our Horses in Egypt. It has a unique voice; Belben is a strikingly original writer. As soon I began reading I thought, "this is the real thing." And, with regard to modern novels, the "real thing" seems very thin on the ground these days.
The only other fiction I really rated (Vila-Matas, such a favourite with contributors to the Books of the Year symposium, has yet to be read!) was Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declares and Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. David Peace's Tokyo Year Zero also deserves mention: with a singular style, which admittedly sometimes masks a lack of substance, he tells a haunting story of a policeman investigating some dreadful murders in post-war Japan. Or perhaps we are simply hearing the ravings of a mad man?
Charlotte Mandell's translation of A Voice From Elsewhere was a treat. We'd seen some of these essays before but a second translation as limpid as these was certainly to be welcomed.
The thesis of Peter Brooks' Henry James Goes To Paris was countered by some critics, but I was convinced. James went to Paris in the mid-1870s, moved amongst the Modernists but didn't, at the time, quite understand just exactly what it was that they were trying to do. Nonetheless he knew what he had seen and read and heard was vitally important. Slowly, it -- early Modernism and its new techniques, its new ways of looking at the world -- worked its way into his writing and the novel would never be quite the same again.
The Emergence of Memory edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz brought together some thoughful essays on Sebald and some illuminating interviews with the man. I consumed it in one or two sittings reminded again of what a loss to literature his untimely death was.
Ironically, my fear for How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is that people won't actually read the damn thing! They'll assume from the title that this is a bluffer's guide to getting away with it at dinner parties. But Pierre Bayard's psychoanalytically-inspired book is both funny and very insightful. The author does two things: he subverts the supposed presence of reading by reminding us how much we forget and misremember; and he reminds us that the small island of books we have read will always be surrounded by a great wide ocean of unread titles. This non-reading, this absence, structures our reading and needs our awareness and investigation. His tongue is often in his cheek, but don't let his comedy blind you to what an important and useful essay this is.
Currently, I'm reading Tim Parks' The Fighter. When you read Josipovici's literary essays you learn how to think differently, how to read differently, as you walk with him through the texts he is discusssing. Not so with Parks: his insights are more mundane, his synopses over long, his range narrower, but he is a passionate and clever critic nonetheless and I'm thoroughly enjoying what he has to say about Beckett, Bernhard, Cioran and Dostoyevesky et al.
Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: personal, rsb
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