Sunday, 3 January 2010

Review of 2009

I really should have done this before the year changed, but I ran out of time, and therefore the first few days of 2010 see me thinking of the past year and the things I have read.

My change of job back in March and catapult into full time work meant that my reading time was cut dramatically. In 2008 I was able to read at least 87 books, whilst 2009 only saw a total of 47. Never mind - I can't complain about it too much, seeing as the main reason for the difference is a job I love!

So - what books fell into my waiting hands and proved themselves to be the ones that will stick with me for some time?

In no particular order (other than the alphabetical lay out of my records) here are my top ten.

1. The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry: It's taken me a while to read this one, having bought it in 2008, during my Booker madness, that never actually led anywhere! I'd tried 'A Long Long Way' and couldn't get into it, and was therefore wary of starting this. A friend spoke of it so highly during one meeting that I went home and started it immediately. And I was lost. It's a beautiful novel, told by two people who seem to hold half a puzzle each and only in tying the two together, can the full picture be seen. As I read, I kept thinking about the reliability of the narrator, and how it could be reconciled, and then I got to the denouement, and all such thoughts flitted out of my head and I was left simply moved and marvelling at the ability of this writer.

2. Captivated - Piers Dudgeon: I've been unable to find the right words to talk about this book, although I have tried a couple of times to write a full length blog piece. I think because it's focus on J.M. Barrie and his influence on the Llewellyn Davies boys and the Du Maurier family as a whole is quite disturbing, and takes so much away from the age old myth of Peter Pan, that I am loath to write about it, lest I destroy too many childhood memories. It's worth reading though, for this other view of a writer who is so tied to the English imagination. It stays with you, as does the final line, a quote from D.H. Lawrence: 'J.M. Barrie has a fatal touch for those he loves. They die.'

3. The Last Queen - C.W. Gortner: Whilst much attention has been given to Katherine of Aragon
and the failure of her marriage in historical fiction, her siblings have been relegated to the sidelines. This novel follows the fortunes of Juana, Katherine's elder sister, who became Queen of Castille and was thought mad for much of her life. It is an excellent portrayal of those times, depicting the danger a queen can fall to, when ruled by men.

4. Letters from Constance - Mary Hocking: This VMC is the tale of two women's lives, told through the letters of Constance, who sees herself as a failure when compared to her high powered friend, with the perfect house and perfect family. Of course, it all falls apart, but the way in which the novel progresses through the letters of a single person is a great way to carry a novel.

5. Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill: I've already written about this one, but it deserves another mention, even though I know it's divided the book loving public in half. I just feel it delivers on every single level, from the wonderful cover, right through to the satisfaction gained from reading it. In a world gone mad from consumerism, it certainly seems to have left its mark, as people (including Simon from stuck-in-a-book) have declared their intentions of reading only those things they already have, and limiting their book buying output. I think the reason I love it so much, if because, I can see myself in it. Both who I am now, and who I hope to become is weaved into those pages.

6. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini: I saw 'The Kite Runner' and wasn't very impressed, so I probably would have never picked this up if it weren't for book club. I loved it. Perhaps because it was the feminine perspective, or perhaps because it felt like it had a wider scope. If I didn't have so many books unread, I'd go and read it again. Perhaps I will!

7. The Rose of Sebastopol - Katharine McMahon: This is a tale of two Victorian women, set against the backdrop of the Crimean war. The era has always fascinated me, but I know little of it, aside from the usual Florence Nightingale links. This book goes beyond that and manages to combine the strength of the age with the frailty of those in love. It reads like a mystery as well as a saga that might not have been far from the minds of those writing in the actual era.

8. Never Let me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro: I've had an on/off love affair with Ishiguro for many years. I adored 'The Remains of the Day' and didn't get 'When we Were Orphans', although I think I may have been to young to understand it. This was another book club read, and whilst the unusual subject matter took a little getting used to, it's an intruiging novel, which casts many questions once it's read. I'm looking forward to the film due out later this year, staring Carey Mulligan.

9. Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers - Antonia Quirke: This book is mad. Part memoir, part film review, part extended gush about various male actors, it is a study of a woman (Antonia Quirke) who has spent her life watching film and being absorbed by them. What struck me was how much I indentified it, having spent quite a bit of my childhood watching old films and wishing I was as witty as Katharine Hepburn, and had Cary Grant promising me love forever. It's a great way to write about ones' life - film being such a big part of it nowadays. It's the perfect book to cheer those winter days and give inspiration for the odd holiday romance ....

10. Flush - Virgina Woolf: There ought to be more books about the pets of famous people, although Virginia Woolf is probably the only writer who can do the style justice. I bought this in the Persephone edition, so it has the wonderful grey binding, and gorgeous purple end papers, which add such a lot to the experience of reading. The book itself is fascinating in the way it tells the familiar story through the eyes of a dog so devoted to his mistress, and so distrustful of the man who would be his master.

So - that's my year in terms of books, and it's been hard to make one or two decisions. I've got some interesting reads planned for this year, although whether I get to them remains to be seen! Happy new year everyone, may 2010 be the year of the book for you all!


harriet said...

Interesting list. I too loved The Secret Scripture but thought A Long Long Way was even better -- maybe you should give it another go. I've picked up The Rose of Sebastopol many times in bookshops and put it down again -- next time I see it I will actually try reading it!

Peta said...

I bought Howard's End is on the Landing after seeing it in Simon from stuck in a book's top reads from 2009 and look forward to forming my opinion as I've only seen good things written about it!

StuckInABook said...

Interesting list, including some of my favourites and least favourites from the past year! HEiotL obviously one of my faves, but I was so underwhelmed by the Ishiguro...

StuckInABook said...

p.s. I have your Christmas presents ready for when you want to meet up...

galant said...

Rose of Sebastopol is excellent (do try Katharine's other books, all quality fiction); and glad you've mentioned Letters from Constance, which is one of my all-time favourite reads. I have ordered Howard's End is on the Landing as so many people have recommended this. My favourite reads of 2009 were the late Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time.
Margaret P

Hannah Stoneham said...

What an interesting and inspiring list. I especially agree with the inclusion of Flush - what i found so wonderful about this book was how amazingly funny it is - I could hardly stop laughing - it shows Woolf at her hilarious best I think. I am enjoying reading your posts! I was at St Hilda's myself a few years ago so you are making me nostalgic. Hannah

Maroussia said...

It will be great to watch Peter Pan, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.