2016 is nearing its end, and about time. We need a rest. As a friend noted not so long ago, news cycles became five-minute affairs. It was hard to finish a cup of coffee without a monumental something or other beginning or ending.
So I needed the respite of a good book more than ever. But I don’t know how writers and critics can discipline themselves and choose just three or four favourites. I seem to have so many, and all for different reasons.
Some, but not all, include Emma Cline’s The Girls. I’ve got a signed hardback on a side table and months after finishing it, I still open a page at random and marvel at her writing…”the nothing jump of soda in my throat…”
There was Sweet Caress, by William Boyd, one of my favourite authors. I had to ration my reading time on that one, because I didn’t want it to end. Ditto Exposure by Helen Dunmore, although I confess that I cheated a bit. I gave up the rationing approach altogether with Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. Self discipline has never been my strong point.
So then there were glorious uninterrupted hours with The Gustav Sonata, by Rose Tremain and Nutmeg, by Ian McEwan. Both were short novels, with many ideas to contemplate. Much, much longer was A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. Fifty pages in, I stopped wondering how she managed to write something so wonderful in just 18 months and started to set an early morning alarm so I could get a chapter or two in before the day began. I should have adopted this approach with Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, so engrossing that I missed my bus the other day.
My list could go on and on – Robert Harris’ Conclave, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and so many others. But then there would be no room for the novels I find myself reading pretty much every year – The Great Gatsby, and always something by Edith Wharton, John Le Carre, Paul Theroux and Elizabeth Jane Howard.
And there is always a novel that someone recommends, that I’ve never heard of, and love immediately. This year, it was The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd, a Scottish writer who died in 1998. It’s set in Japan in the early 1900s and it’s exquisite. Read it and see for yourself.