Favourite Reads – 2012
Finbow is a resolutely straight-shooting biographer who treats his subject with complete candour, examining Ginsberg’s neuroses, his guilt over his mad mother, his suicidal tendencies, his petty jealousies and sexual perversities in relation to his work and how it shaped him as a poet. The biographer draws on secondary sources and first-hand knowledge with great proficiency and skill in order to evaluate Ginsberg’s place in American letters and beyond.
Reaktion Books | 239 pages| £10.95
Maupassant explores the dynamics of urban society through its relationship with politics and the press, power and sex. This book is a conscientiously observed and rendered tale of intrigue, liberated women and old-fashioned men, love, loyalty and social climbing. Written in the 1880s, the book records the social milieu of bourgeois capitalism under La Troisième République, mirroring the reality of its day in this sprightly and compelling tale.
Penguin Classics | 416 pages | £9.99
A uniquely relayed story of love, abandonment, pain and triumph of the will. Smart conveys the multifarious graduations of emotion with a sentience rarely matched, but she also has a tendency to fluctuate between disclosing too much and too little, between superbly lyrical prose and overlaboured writing, between aesthetic excellence and a propensity for the melodramatic. Overall, however, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is superb.
Flamingo | 112 pages | £5.59
A semi-philosophical study of the human condition devised to show us that man’s desire for solitude cannot be reconciled with his desire to live to the utmost degree of fulfilment. A tragic book in many ways but also a triumphant one, which reads like a bold rejection of philosophia Christiana and a homage to secularism, daringly rendering God obsolete.
OneSuch Press | 136 pages | £7.95
This wonderful critical study contains an array of insights about Berger the man, the artist, the “concerned citizen” and the “uneasy rider” aboard his Honda Blackbird. Merrifield documents the trajectory of Berger’s professional life with expertise, showing how the modernist novelist, who had given the English novel an art-house Continental twist, has evolved into a craftsman storyteller. In doing so, the biographer conjoins different aspects of Berger together, demystifying the seeming disparities and deriving new meaning from his art, his life and his politics.
Reaktion Books | 224 pages | £10.95
There really are no walls to Jonathan Meades’ Museum as this book contains everything from seventeenth century literary dicta to the demerits of the Theory of the Value of Ruins. Meades’ spellbinding enthusiasm, his acuity and his crafty prose in writing about social, political and religious issues – which he contemplates with wit and gravitas – are surpassed only by his uncompromising candour, which also extends to his personal life.
Unbound | 352 pages | £20
A compelling and moving book full of optimism where one might see none, relayed in a precise and engaging narrative driven by a rogue but very likable protagonist, who despite his trials, troubles and tribulations aims to see the good in all things. Baron’s extraordinary eye for period detail and his astute observational abilities, combined with his ostensible penchant for storytelling, make The Lowlife a highly enjoyable read.
Black Spring Press | 192 pages | £9.99
The Diaries offer a very candid look at Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s volatile married and professional lives; their travels, interests, passions and temperaments. The collection spanning from 1939 to 1983 comprises frank and spirited accounts of Burton’s carousing, his ambivalent feelings toward his own talent, his caustic impressions of the film industry and its personalities, his role as a doting father, his scholarly appetite for learning and avid interest in literature.
Yale Books | 704 pages | £25
A murder mystery with a seemingly straightforward plot, which is anything but straightforward. Robbe-Grillet spent his career experimenting with themes of repressed memory and nebulous identity, the ambiguous complexity of space and time and the intricate nature of truth. The Voyeur is an early example of his style and the erratic chronology, mystic symbolism, incantatory narrative, rounded repetitions and stylised deconstructions of plot that later came to define it. It is a truly new vision of the novel, depicting a familiar yet numinous universe, where a man by the name of Mathias may or may not be implicated in a murder.
Alma Classics | 178 pages| £7.99
White Noise is a valiant and veracious postmodernist depiction of “human dread” as well as of the horrors and ecstasies of life. DeLillo captures the state of modern family, the society of the spectacle and the notion of the future as the here-and-now with considerable deft. Not only that, he manages to create a neoteric social satire, funny, plangent, absurd, terrifying and skilfully evocative of modern-day life and all its ecstasies and encumbrances.
Picador | 400 pages| £7.99