It’s six months into 2015 and I’m still heading letters 2014, at least I would be if I were writing them. It’s a well known fact that anyone reading a book is easily 20% more attractive and this seems timely to review the novels I’ve read so far this year. If I can remember them.
Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn is the easiest to recall because I’m still reading it. It won the PG Wodehouse prize, ironically beating Sebastian Faulk’s writing ‘as’ PG Wodehouse, with Jeeves & the Wedding Bells, which presumably involved him taking Pekinese for walks, drafting 1000 daily words in pencil and eating cucumber sandwiches. In fact Lost for Words satirises how literature prizes are obsessed with ‘gritty reality’, which should mean the Haynes Ford Escort manual, as opposed to heroine addicts in Glasgow sink estates and marriage collapses in Primrose Hill, habitually wins award ceremonies. There are so many novels involving incest, hostages and murder that it’s little wonder people feel unsafe in their own homes, and in the company of their families.
Of course some people appear to think that books went out with iPods and cameras that no one can phone you on. Books are like a long-term relationship, in that they enable the ability to be in two places at once, which is particularly confusing when you’re reading in a car. They are pure, luxurious escapism. I know protagonists of Mindfulness would argue otherwise, but it is incomprehensible why commuters prefer staring at fellow passengers like death row inmates eyeballing final alarm clocks than immersing in a good story.
Anyway, the books piled, I mean filed, at my bedside, would appear to be the result of a blindfolded bookshop dash. I’m better at buying books than reading them; which will please writers not entirely pleased with their work. To be honest, bed is literally the last place I read these days; a library installed on my car dashboard would see more action. They say ‘never judge a book by a cover’; at least people who aren’t book cover designers and publishing house marketing departments. But it’s hard not to. There’s little else to judge books on. I’ve certainly been doing a good job of it; all the covers are great. One’s even got Sean Penn on it; a still from the film of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s book: The Gunman. The movie actually got so few stars in reviews that the filmmakers wondered if the shift/8 buttons were broken on all its reviewers’ laptops. I’ve not read it yet.
There’s also Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, which is a book in search of a 2nd home. I mean actually a 2nd home, in Dorset, where you have time to dawdle, and read books about the history of walking without it challenging your ability to hold down a job. It unfurls, if a book is able to unfurl, and with the urgency of a hearse; I only wish I had the time to indulge it.
I also remember Joël Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair because I finished it last week, and it took me so long that I’m still checking I have it with me when I leave the house along with keys and wallet. It’s good. I mean I couldn’t put it down. At least that’s what I want to say. In fact, it is so thick that I frequently wanted to put it down, and reading in bed ran the risk of concussion if I dropped it on my face, but despite the annoyingly bland lead character, and need of an edit, it remains an impulse buy that proved to be as entertaining as the bonsai scissors and a cake stand.
Good books are easier to report on, and there’s few better than E.O. Higgins’ captivating Conversations with Spirits, which channels Conan Doyle, James Mill and Jeremy Bentham’s hot-housing a child prodigy. It leaves our protagonist Trelawney Hart steeped in mathematics and logic, and better versed in holding a glass of port than a conversation. The fact it includes the Society of Psychical Research, as does my own novel, was not a problem once I had a lie down and my meds kicked in. It reads like an old penny thriller, and Broadstairs in Kent can thank their increase in visitors to Higgins’ description of the charming Victorian seaside town.
With The Way Inn, Will Wiles perfectly captures the dominance of sterile hotel chains, which have somehow leaped past mankind in the evolutionary chain. Neil Double is a “conference surrogate” – someone who’s set himself up to go to conferences on behalf of others. He collects the tote bags, attends the seminars, shakes hands and drinks the warm prosecco at parties. It doesn’t give too much away by saying this novel is akin to Alice in Wonderland, only with small sachets of sugar, the hum of distant hoovers and room service in place of mad hatters and crazy Queens. It’s amazing, and the sort of head-fuck only matched by TV remotes.
The last book I can recall is The Farm by Tom Rob Smith. It’s the most atmospheric build up to nothing I’ve enjoyed in a long time. It was well written and captured rural Sweden with the sort of accuracy that negates the need to visit. Sweden’s tourist board will be less pleased than that of Broadstairs.