At thsi time of year newspapers and magazines are full of pithy comments recommending various books of the year. This is not pithy but here are a few that I’ve particularly enjoyed this year.
My favourite new British fiction was The Damned Utd by David Peace, the story of Brian Clough’s time in charge of Leeds United. A powerful voice that brings an era alive. Brilliant and ostensibly about football by a man that scrupulously avoids the literati by living in Japan, it somehow failed to be shortlisted for any literary prizes. I also thought James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack, about a minister who meets the devil (gross over-simplifcation) maintained an impressive range of fiction which has included previous Saltire winning novel Joseph Knight.
Crime fiction. Aside from Ian Rankin’s latest which maintains the high standard since Resurrection Men after a slight dip, I rather enjoyed Benjamin Black (JOhn Banville) and Christine Falls – a 1950s set thriller. based in ireland and the US Banville seems to have enjoyed himself writing it, and produces his most successful narrative since The Book of Evidence. banville claims to have been based by Simenon and you can see shades of the Simenon of The Stain in the Snow, The Blue Room, and The little man from Archangel. Unlike his recent work there is a story although it is coupled with Banville’s wonderful use of language, and full characterisation. Apparently there are to be more Black novels. I hope they maintain the standard.
For SF(ish) stuff I read Lance Parkin’s Warlords of Utopia in the Faction Paradox series by mad Norwegian press. The series will end with the next novel Kelly Hales Erasing Sherlock but Warlords surpasses the standard of the earlier novels in the series. In the week BBC4 brodcast a show about parallel universes Warlords is set in a mutliverse where universes where the Nazis didn’t lose the Second World War are at war with those where the Roman Empire didn’t fall. Originally a Doctor Who proposal the end product is a character piece, written in first person narrative from the perspective of one fo the romans. Intimate, yet set against an audacious backdrop it’s worth a look. I aslo read Roadside Picnic for the first time at the start of the year and have not yet been able to pick up anything else by the Strugatskys. Any suggestions on that front gratefully received.
My least successful acquisition of the year was Danielewski’s new novel which looks beautiful but has defied enjoyment on account of the poor prose. It did not have the visceral impact of House of Leaves and sits guiltily on my bedside table.
Favourite rereads of the year Robin Jenkin’s Lunderston Tales, a collection of short stories about a small west coast Scottish town (Oban) which is deceptively light and rather witty, and Steve Erickson’s Amnesiascope – which is set in post quake LA and features a novelist and movie reviewer who reviews a fictitious film, The Death of Marat, which takes on a life of its own – among other things.