A year in books

Paris, 18th arr
Paris, 18th arr

It’s been a good year in books. This time around I tried to read more recent works, by the living writers, and a bit more in French. Here are the books that stand out (the mehs and the good-enoughs I’m leaving out), in order of appearance:

January

Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck and Other Stories (a remarkable feat: stories of loss, death, lack and failure written in sentences packed with wit and verve)

Oscar Wilde, The Decay in Lying: An Observation (the olden goldie on life imitating art–rather than the other way round–is available online in its entirety)

February

Christine Angot, La Petite Foule (moving through a crowd of characters–perhaps types?–living in today’s Paris. Some are given chapter-length space and a ‘story’, others a Lydia Davis-esque sketch. Fun and good gossip.)

March

Jim Crace, Being Dead. (Unique. A novel that starts with the death of the two protagonists.)

April

Lydia Goehr,  The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (a classic for a reason)

Susan Lanser, The Sexuality of History (will become a classic. Interview with Dr L. here)

Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter (still my favourite Ferrante. I’ve read 1 and 2 of the Neapolitan Series, and had enough of it for now)

May

Mathias Enard, Zone (something of a modern mercenary, a man working for the darkest recess of the French secret service recollecting his life and the last twenty years of wars in Europe, Middle East and Northern Africa while on a slow train ride to Rome)

E.M. Forster, Howards End (finally read it. Now think about it almost daily. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.)

June

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (What is the post-biological family? How to love? How to mother? A memoir)

J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (Told in the form of essays and conference presentations by a world renown (fictitious) writer Elizabeth Costello, who recurs in Coetzee’s novels–in the more straightforwardly narrative Slow Man for ex, one of my favourites from last year. Unlike anything else.)

July

Virginie Despentes, Mordre au travers (Short stories. Brutal, in the best possible way.)

August

Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex I (This is Despentes doing the full-blown social novel for the very first time, and how. It’s set in Paris’s ‘creative classes’ circles, covering the powerful and the margins and the ecosystem in between. A joy.)

September

Keith Ridgway, Animals (Extraordinary. No description can do it justice. A line from it has been my Twitter bio for most of this year.)

Lidia Yuknavitch, The Small Backs of Children (Believe the hype. The last chapter in particular locks it as a work of dark, dark brilliance.)

October

Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex II (In the second volume, the ragtag precariat seems to be forming itself as a group connected by a growing solidarity? Could this be a French Indignados novel? We will tune in for Vol III.)

Laurent Binet,  La septième function du language. (Well, I liked this one so much that I had to interview the author and tell the Angloworld about it. Here’s our conversation.)

November

Hugo Wilcken, Reflection (Another one that defies categorization. Loving somebody, even if they’re not part of your life any longer, also means counting on their gaze upon your life. What if that central person dies? And your life starts dissolving without the reliance on that remote gaze? A gorgeous, devastating work under the guise of a noir thriller set in 1940s NYC.)

Miranda July, The First Bad Man (Seriously, get this one. If I start describing it, I’ll spoil its many wild turns.  Exploring what it means to love and what it means to mother in the age of neoliberalism, unfettered personal choice, and the ongoing redefinition of gender.)

Misha Glouberman, Sheila Heti, The Chairs are Where the People Go. (This is a delight: full of wit, sensibleness and Torontoniana.)

December

Zadie Smith, N-W (finally read it. Did not regret it.)

Rachel Cusk, Outline (we dip into the consciousness of a handful of characters who cross paths during a summer writing course in Athens. Like in VW’s The Waves, they’re not distinguished by degrees of intelligence–it’s one of those consciousness-is-one novels–but by experience and the account each gives of her/himself. While the speakers are articulate about their many failures and self-deceptions, the writer too is candid on the deception that is narration and the failure that is the novel-writing.)

Patricia Highsmith, Carol (Mrs. Robichek, a side character. The East-European old lady who works in the hell that is that department store full-time, not seasonally like the narrator. Mrs. Robichek, who has always been poor, and will always be poor. Who invites the narrator over for a meagre dinner after work. Mrs Robichek–not Carol and not Terese–is what’s been haunting me.)

May 2016 be good to the readers, dear reader.

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