Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Books of the Year: 2017

I have written elsewhere about my children's books of the year, and have been reviewing more children's books than usual this year; most of my reading has been to do with the children's literature course I've been teaching, and I have enjoyed revisiting Lewis Carroll, J M Barrie, C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien, J K Rowling and others, and developing and tracing connections between them.

Here, then, are my three fiction choices for 2017:

Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe

A compelling, sensitive novel about the disappearance of a schoolgirl. Both intelligent, emotionally charged and gripping, Thorpe surely ranks as one of our best novelists. 

House of Names by Colm Toibin

Though it is difficult to turn the marbled horrors of Greek Tragedy into fiction, Toibin makes a good stab at it with this, in which Euripidean uncertainty treats the story of Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Orestes, with shades of the Troubles in the background.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's light touch imbues these icy, strange stories with new life, smooth and wry.

A book I managed to finish this year (all 1,000 pages or so of it) was Robert Tombs's magnificent The English and their History: a book which anyone with an interest in history or the way things have unfolded should read, all told in lucid, flowing prose. I've also been enjoying the Penguin Monarchs series, with a lively biography of Queen Victoria by Jane Ridley, and Tom Holland's evocative account of Athelstan. I look forward to more of these this year. 

I also recommend Bruno Bettelheim's study of fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, which has provided meat for much debate; and Patrick Leigh Fermor's account of his walk across Europe, A Time of Gifts, a book I have been meaning to read for years, and which I finished on New Year's eve, sitting before a fire, and about to set out on a journey.

Those of you who pay attention to my Books of the Year will remember that I have been reading Pepys for about ten years: I am still reading Pepys, though I have now got beyond the Great Fire. It's an excellent companion in the small hours: not much can be wrong with a world in which Pepys can be pleased with buying a new coat, or eating a particularly fine pie.

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