It’s not easy picking just a few books to mention at the end of the year. I have a list of all those read (107) and with any luck, I’ll get another couple finished before the end of the year. On the down side, I meant to read more crime fiction but was Shanghaied. On the positive side, I finished reading Zola’s 20-volume Rougon-Macquart series this year. I started back in 2007 and took it slowly reading a novel every couple of months.
Looking back over all the 2010 titles read, I can see that I’ve re-read quite a few old favourites including:
A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov –one of my favourite novels.
The Black Sheep by Balzac. A reminder, once again of exactly how nasty, cruel and petty people can be. This is one of my all-time favourite Balzac novels, and this year I was driven back to it.
The Merry-Go-Round by Maugham. One of my favourite Maugham novels.
Anyway, here are the new-to-me-favourite-2010 books :
Three Crimes by Simenon. Ok so I’m crazy about Simenon. Before reading this book, ask yourself this question: How many people do you know who are murderers? I’m hoping that you say NONE. Simenon knew two. Three Crimes is not selected for this year’s list due to its artistry (it’s certainly not the best thing ever written by Simenon), but for its insight into the author’s experiences, his psychological make-up and his fascination with crime. It’s autobiographical but doesn’t read that way, and I still argue that the THREE crimes includes the mysterious death of Simenon’s acquaintance (and not the four murders committed by the two murderers Simenon knew). If you want to understand Simenon and his work, this book is a must. It’ll blow you out of your socks.
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter. This is the post WWII tale of the hard-luck Jack Levitt, an unwanted teenager who grifts his way through life until he ends up, inevitably, in a reform school. Powerless, friendless and mired in relentless poverty, this is just the beginning of Jack’s slide downwards through the ‘justice system’. Yet in spite of all the bad things that happen to Jack, this hard-boiled novel somehow escapes the throes of depression and maintains a hint of optimism. A stunning book.
Money by Zola. I had to include at least one Zola for the year. I chewed over the question of whether or not Debacle is the superior novel, and came to the conclusion that I have no idea. I preferred the character-driven Money, however, of the two, and that explains my selection. Money is the eighteenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series, and it’s the story of how Aristide Saccard sets out to swindle the country. Great stuff here–Saccard’s insanely obsessive drive to control the financial markets of Paris, and the greed of the herd willing to follow Saccard over the precipice into catastrophe.
Alien Hearts by Maupassant. Maupassant takes his cynical view of relationships to another level in Alien Hearts. This psychologically complex story explores the relationship between a man and a woman as they pass through all the stages of love–or at least the sort of love that they are capable of.
A Funny Old Year by Alan Brownjohn. This British novel is the story of a retired professor who has had a long-standing affair with the wife of a colleague. The colleague dies, and then the professor is in the embarrassing position of having to marry his mistress. Sensing his reluctance, she sets up a pact. They will live separately for a year and see whether or not they can do without each other or whether they want to commit to marriage. Not a lot happens here, but it’s an excellent tale.
The Doctor’s Wife by Brian Moore. The Doctor’s Wife is the story of a woman who ends up going on what is ostensibly her second honeymoon without her husband. This triggers a chain of events and brings on some long-overdue analysis of a stifling marriage. I’m still pondering why this book is so powerful. Moore is highly recommended by John Self at Asylum. I meant to read another Moore novel in 2010 and didn’t. I’ll have to correct that in 2011.
Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean. Another novel by Dean was reviewed and recommended by Tom at A Common Reader. Becoming Strangers is the story of man who’s dying of cancer and his appallingly selfish wife who are given tickets for a Caribbean holiday. Funny, poignant, bittersweet,and all too human.
Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Do you ever have fantasies of saying exactly what you think at work? If so, then Post Office is for you. Bring your work frustrations but leave your tired old PC notions behind when you pick up Bukowski’s book and read about Henry Chinaski and his ‘shackjob.’ Hilarious. Thanks to Max at Pechorin’s Journal for this one. Sometimes you just need a laugh.
Notes from Underground by Dostoevsky. A hilariously funny ramble by a nutcase. Yes, it’s that “dialectic of isolated consciousness” again. It’s pathetic, sad, nasty and mean.
On another note: I’m a contributor for Mostly Fiction where I review new books (or reprints) that are provided by publishers for review. Here’s a mention of a few wonderful titles I read for Mostly Fiction:
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth. A great first novel about a nutcase who moves into the neighbourhood.
The Alternative Hero by Tim Thornton–a first novel about a man who tracks down the reclusive rock star he worshipped in his misspent youth. Lots of 80s nostalgia.
Evening’s Empire by Bill Flanagan–a novel that spans about 40 years in the life of a rock star manager. Loads of nostalgia for rock fans and those with a weakness for books about the music biz.
In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut–A hard one to classify, but Kevin loved it too. This is a three-part novella which tells the story of three journeys. I’ve yet to review this one, but it’s really incredible in its seemingly simple take on travel, relationships, avoidance and commitments.
Concrete by Thomas Bernhard–reminded me a great deal of Dostoevsky’s rambling narrator in Notes from Underground.
Anyway, a lot of good books and it wasn’t easy to narrow it down to a handful. New York Review Classics appeared on my list twice, so I’ll be scrutinizing their titles in 2011 (and buying the Manchette).
On a final note, one of the best things about blogging is exchanging ideas with like-minded readers who can nudge me towards books I may not have discovered on my own, so thanks to all the readers & commentors for the past year. And Book Around the Corner, I have Novel with Cocaine right here in front of me….