Jonathan Pinnock - Writer of Stuff

NO SOONER THE WORD THAN THE FICTION

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 6)

My Book is Sad

Take it Cool Cover with groovesMy book ‘Take It Cool’ is sad because no-one has reviewed it. Actually, that’s not strictly true, because the Herald really liked it and Family Tree Magazine made it their TOP CHOICE for September 2014. Even Songlines … well, let’s not go there, because I don’t think they got what I was trying to do. Several bloggers have also chipped in with some nice comments. Have a look here if you want to see more.

BUT there haven’t been any reviews at all on either Amazon or Goodreads. And that makes my book sad, because it makes it feel terribly unloved.

So, if you live in the UK, I’m offering to give away not ONE, not TWO but THREE copies of it. All you have to do is add a comment below↓, and I’ll put you into the draw.

THERE ARE, HOWEVER, STRINGS ATTACHED. If you are one of the lucky people who gets a free copy of this very entertaining book, your part of the bargain is that you have to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or preferably both) within the next month or so.

Deal?

Off you go, then!

My Year of Reading

Last year I read 95 books. I was a little disappointed at this, because I really wanted to break the 100 barrier. I suppose I could have got a bit closer by counting all four volumes of “Dancers at the End of Time” as separate items, or indeed breaking up Lydia Davis’ collected stories into their constituent volumes. But then I might have had to rule that some of the shorter pamphlets and Kindle Singles didn’t really count as proper books either. So I’ll stick with that 95, with a note to myself to do better in 2015.

The books are a mixture of random stuff I’d had lying around for years, stuff I bought specially, stuff that I happened on in charity shops and – this was a new feature for 2014 – set texts for my Creative Writing MA. I’ll leave you to guess which.

Here we go. No star ratings, because (a) I can’t be bothered rating every single one and (b) I find it very awkward when there are books by people I know in there. I mean, obviously everyone I know is worth at least 6 stars, but some are worth 7 or 8, if you see what I mean.

And yes, I know there are two Dan Browns in there, and probably his worst two as well. Humour me.

Armitage, Simon Book of Matches
Atwood, Margaret The Handmaid’s Tale
Barden, Jenny Mistress of the Sea
Barden, Jenny The Lost Duchess
Barrett, Colin Young Skins
Benson, Fiona Faber New Poets 1
Birnie, Clive Cutting Up The Economist
Boo, Katherine Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Bradley, Lloyd Sounds Like London: 100 Years of Black Music in the Capital
Briggs, Raymond Ethel & Ernest
Brown, Dan Deception Point
Brown, Dan The Lost Symbol
Bryson, Bill Notes From a Small Country (re-read)
Calvino, Italo The Complete Cosmicomics
Chabon, Michael (et al) The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist
Cleave, Chris Incendiary
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Hound of the Baskervilles
Cook, Lin (ed) Something Like Fire: Peter Cook Remembered
Cope, Wendy Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis
Coutts, Marion The Iceberg
Davis, Lydia The Collected Stories
Dickinson, Ash Slinky Espadrilles
Didion, Joan The Year of Magical Thinking
Duffy, Carol Ann The World’s Wife
Engel, Matthew Eleven Minutes Late
Fleming, Ian Diamonds are Forever
Fleming, Ian From Russia With Love
Fleming, Ian Dr No
Frost, Toby End of Empires
Gaffney, David More Sawn-Off Tales
Gebbie, Vanessa The Half-Life of Fathers
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins The Yellow Wallpaper
Gleick, James Faster
Gough, Julian CRASH! How I Lost a Hundred Billion and Found True Love
Gough, Julian BANG! The Great Somali Goat Bubble
Grant, Linda I Murdered My Library
Greer, Bonnie Entropy
Gudgion, Geoffrey Saxon’s Bane
Haynes, Steve (Ed) The Best British Fantasy 2013
Hilary, Sarah Someone Else’s Skin
Johnston, Jennifer This is Not a Novel
Johnston, Jennifer Grace and Truth
Karlinsky, Harry The Stonehenge Letters
Kellaway, Lucy Who Moved My Blackberry?
Kerridge, Richard Cold Blood
Kurkov, Andrey Death and the Penguin
Larkin, Philip The Whitsun Weddings
Larsson, Stieg The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Played with Fire
Larsson, Stieg The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Littler, Richard Discovering Scarfolk
Logan, Kirsty The Rental Heart
McBride, Eimear A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
MacDonald, Helen H is for Hawk
McEwan, Ian Atonement
McGough, Roger Melting into the Foreground
Malcolm, Janet The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Milligan, Spike The Essential Spike Milligan
Mitchell, David Ghostwritten
Moorcock, Michael The Dancers at the End of Time
Moore, Alison The Pre-War House and Other Stories
Powell, Dan Looking Out of Broken Windows
Powell, Gareth Ack-Ack Macaque
Priest, Christopher The Dream Archipelago
Pryor, Richard Pryor Convictions
Ridgway, Keith The Spectacular
Rohan, Ethel Out of Dublin
Ronson, Jon Them (re-read)
Rose, David Posthumous Stories
Royle, Nicholas (Ed) The Best British Short Stories 2013
Sage, Lorna Bad Blood
Schalansky, Judith Atlas of Remote Islands
Sedaris, David Me Talk Pretty One Day
Simpson, MJ Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
Smith, Ali The Accidental
Sobel, Dava Longitude
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro A Drifting Life
Thayil, Jeet Narcopolis
The Fiction Desk New Ghost Stories
Thompson, Ben Ban this Filth!
Thompson, Harry Tintin: Hergé & his Creation
Thorne, David I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs
Toibin, Colm The Testament of Mary
Tolkien, JRR Mr Bliss
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years
Turnbull, Bill The Bad Beekeepers Club
Vale, Brenda and Robert Architecture on the Carpet
Watson, Mark Hotel Alpha
Weaver, Dave Japanese Daisy Chain
Wilson, Anthony Riddance
Winchester, Simon The Surgeon of Crowthorne
Wodehouse, PG Joy in the Morning
Wodehouse, PG The Mating Season
Wodehouse, PG Ring for Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit

 

A few observations…

 

Series

I continued my journey through P.G.Wodehouse and continued to find it rewarding, with the exception of “Ring for Jeeves”, which was well below par, proving that you need both halves of the double act present to make the comedy work.

I’m still working manfully through the Bond books. They’re certainly improving, but not quite the classics I’d been hoping for.

I was very sad to get to the end of Adrian Mole and even sadder to know that there won’t be any more now.

 

Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected

This year’s prime contender has to be “The Handmaid’s Tale” – an absolutely terrific sustained piece of dystopian fiction.

“Making Tea for Kingsley Amis”, as well as a classic that I should have read by now,  was also easily the most entertaining poetry book I read this year. Which brings me on to…

 

Poetry

I read more poetry books than ever this year, and many of them had some excellent moments. Generally speaking, though, I must confess that I’m still struggling find the kind of stuff that really appeals to me. I always come away feeling a bit of a lightweight. Possibly because I am.

 

New discoveries

Biggest discovery of the year was Jennifer Johnston. I literally bought “This Is Not a Novel” for 50p, and then only because a charity shop was selling off books at two for a pound and I needed something to go with “Eleven Minutes Late” (God, I sound a cheapskate). I love her style: very spare, straightforward and not a single word out of place. I intend to read a lot more of her work in 2015.

I’m also looking forward to reading more Ali Smith. “The Accidental” was the first of hers I’d read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I could certainly read more of Colm Toibin, too.

I’d had the “Atlas of Remote Islands” lying around on a coffee table for several years and I’m so glad I got round to reading it. It’s one of the most evocative books I’ve ever read. It’s also a thing of beauty.

“The Silent Woman” was the biggest surprise. It was one of the MA set texts and I wasn’t looking forward to reading it at all, knowing little of either Hughes or Plath beyond the stuff that everyone knows, but it’s one of the most riveting non-fiction books I’ve ever read. A fascinating insight into a whole strange world of literary fandom and factionalism.

 

Anyone else out there read and enjoyed / hated any of my 95? I’d be fascinated to hear what you think.

 

[UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the best short story I read last year, by a country mile, was Simon Bestwick’s “Dermot”, in “The Best British Fantasy 2013″. Utterly chilling and morally challenging story, brilliantly told.]

When the Man from Del Monte Says Meh

Songlines Take It Cool reviewSo, do we start this with “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” (always a bit suspect, that one) or “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” (which doesn’t really stand up to close inspection, either)?

Oh well.

I got reviewed by Songlines magazine. I like Songlines. I’ve had a subscription to it since it first came out. So I was quite excited when I heard that they were going to review Take It Cool, although I was more than a little apprehensive. I had a vague feeling that the music press might be a little more picky than, say, Family Tree Magazine (pick of the month, remember – oh, that seems so long ago now).

The thing is, it’s not actually a bad review. It’s more of a meh review, and what’s really annoying is that I can’t complain about much of what the reviewer is saying (although I don’t quite understand that bit about “Jammin'”). The only thing that we strongly disagree on is whether or not the book was worth writing. Although that is, I guess, quite a fundamental difference of opinion. It’s Dennis I really feel sorry for – I feel like I’ve let him down somehow.

Still, the book has now had three print reviews, of which the first two (in the Scottish Herald and Family Tree Magazine – did I say it was their pick of the month?) were excellent. Two out of three ain’t bad, after all.

So I won’t be cancelling my subscription to Songlines. It is still an excellent magazine, even if they do get things ever so slightly wrong every now and then.

Our Book Reviews and Other Stuff

The lovely Maryom over at Our Book Reviews has given a definite thumbs up to TAKE IT COOL. This is what she says in her 4* review:

Having read Jonathan Pinnock’s fiction, I expected him to turn what could be a plodding piece of research into something interesting and fun – and he did!  The different threads are easily followed, and build an amusingly-told story that held the attention of a non-Pinnock with no interest in reggae.

Meanwhile, the excellent Dave Weaver has put up a post about TAKE IT COOL on his blog. Dave is a highly talented writer who has had three books published by Elsewhen Press, most recently THE BLACK HOLE BAR, which looks superb. I haven’t read that one yet, but I can say that JAPANESE DAISY CHAIN, his last one, was terrific: a short story sequence with a neat gimmick in which a minor character in each story becomes the main protagonist in the next one. Recommended. Here’s where you can buy it on Kindle.

This week, I had my most testing public appearance yet: the Allerton Women’s Institute. I think I got away with it, but I’m going to be more than usually paranoid about how people look at me in the village over the next few days. There’s nothing quite so unnerving as speaking for an hour in front of a bunch of people you know. Give me an audience of strangers any day.

Finally, for those of you who have already read TAKE IT COOL (which I guess means pretty much everyone reading this, right?), I’ve added a comprehensive picture gallery containing loads of images that didn’t make it into the book. So if you want to see what Dog-Face Phil really looked like, here’s where you need to go.

 

Ujima Radio and Another Ace Review for TAKE IT COOL

It’s been another exciting day in the world of TAKE IT COOL. First of all, I spent an hour (or slightly less than an hour, owing to a mix-up with the location of the front door of the studio) in the delightful company of DJ Cheryl Morgan and other guest Natalie Burns at Bristol’s Ujima Radio, talking about Dennis Pinnock and short stories and so on. You can listen to it again here (my bit starts at 22:17 minutes in). I don’t think I made too much of a hash of things, but your mileage may vary, as they say…

There’s been another review of TAKE IT COOL, this time in Family Tree magazine (available from all good newsagents, price £4.99). Here’s what they said, in a spread that took up nearly half a page:

Family Tree Sept review

As you may imagine, I’m pretty chuffed by this, and really pleased that – like the review in the Herald that I posted yesterday – they absolutely get it. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. It’s also nice to see that a small publisher like 2RP can still get stuff noticed, even without the massive marketing machinery of the big players.

And there’s more… I dropped in on the lovely Vanessa Gebbie’s blog yesterday to talk about the story behind the story of TAKE IT COOL. I love her comment about me refusing to be pigeonholed. I wish it were deliberate policy on my part, but it’s more a case of me not having a clue about what I’m doing…

TAKE IT COOL Hits the Broadsheets!

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 12.16.48One of the essential activities for a writer who has just had a book published is to Google their own name at regular intervals in combination with the name of their book to see if any new reviews have turned up. For a writer lurking in the lower levels of the food chain, this can be a depressingly futile thing to do, but occasionally things can turn up, such as this lovely piece from Scotland’s The Herald.

Apart from a minor inaccuracy in the very first clause (I was actually in my early 20s when I came across the single), it manages to convey the essence of the book far better than I ever could myself. And that is more than you could ever ask from a reviewer.

Last Friday I was interviewed about the book by the lovely Freya Morris. You can read what I said here. And the very wonderful Itz Caribbean website are running a competition where you can win a copy. Get in, I say.

What else has been going on? Oh yes, my entry for Thresholds Short Story Forum‘s recent feature writing competition, which failed to make the shortlist and was thus mentally consigned to the dustbin of oblivion, is going to be published in September there after all. Not only will this make me very happy, but it will also come as a massive surprise to the subject of the piece.

Finally, I had an acceptance the other day from the very classy-looking Ariadne’s Thread magazine for my poem “Parable”, which will appear in issue 13, later this year.

Getting Things Moving

In many ways, this is the worst time in the publishing cycle. The book’s been out for a week or so and you’re waiting for the reviews to start trickling in. If you’re sensible, you put everything to one side and get on with something else. If you are not sensible, you devote every waking hour to googling your name, the book’s name and the publisher’s name and every combination of the three, and wondering what else you can be doing to get the whole world to read the book.

I am not sensible.

On the plus side, I feel a lot more confident about TAKE IT COOL than I ever felt about either MRS DARCY or DOT DASH. Despite the fact that MRS DARCY made it as far as the W H Smith top 50 promotional racks for a few weeks, it was still fighting against a lot of negative feelings from some quarters. It arrived on the tail end of the Jane Austen plus zombies/sea monsters/whatever fad, and however much I tried to tell people that it was conceived a long time before all that and it wasn’t really one of those things AT ALL, no-one was listening. The first review, in the Gatehouse Gazette, was also pretty awful, which didn’t help, and no-one in the print media was sufficiently interested to review it at all.

As for DOT DASH, even though it did eventually get a nice four star review in the Independent on Sunday, I never felt entirely confident about it, mainly because I have a slightly semi-detached relationship with the short story world. This is largely because I have – as yet – no qualifications whatsoever to be writing anything approaching literature and also because I’m the bloke who wrote MRS DARCY VERSUS THE ALIENS.

But TAKE IT COOL comes with no baggage. It’s the first book I’ve written that I feel 100% comfortable about, and I really, really want it to succeed. I know my publisher is working as hard as I am (probably harder) but the truth is that – as with everything in publishing – no-one really knows what is going to happen.

It has, at least, started to get some nice reviews, starting with this from ace short story writer David Rose:

Any mention of reggae calls to mind the Conservative politician several decades ago who attempted to boost his street cred by talking about his love of it, but who scuppered all cred by pronouncing it ‘Reggie’. I did at least know how to pronounce it, but not much more. My point is that this book is not just for reggae buffs (if that is the term). It is intriguing, unusual and very, very funny. Apart from the main theme, there are riffs on the coolness – or otherwise – of the oboe, a cemetery in Portishead, and the graveyard of Stevenage. Even the secondary theme – the worrying possibility of ancestral involvement in the slave trade – while by no means flippant – still doesn’t dampen the wit. And there’s a happy ending (and who knows, maybe this book will do for Dennis what ‘Searching For Sugarman’ did for Rodriguez).

I honestly can’t think of a better, more off-beat summer read, with maybe ‘Total Reggae Summer Vibes’ in the background, and a long, cool drink. ‘Lovely stuff’.

It’s wonderful to hear that from someone who probably wouldn’t have picked up the book unless he happened to be a supporter of Two Ravens Press but absolutely gets it. So much so that he’s apparently ordered another copy for a friend. The momentum is beginning to build. We’re going to get this thing moving somehow.

Review: The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky

51V9ce7Dc3LJust over a year and a half ago, I reviewed a most unusual book by Harry Karlinsky entitled The Evolution of Inanimate Objects. After reading that one I was intrigued to see what he might come up with next – or indeed if it was a complete one-off.

The good news is that he has come up with something else, and the even better news is that it is just as bonkers. As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to get hold of a copy, but because by TBR pile was already overflowing, I held off buying for a while. But when Scott Pack, who runs The Friday Project, the book’s publisher, was offering free review copies, I could no longer avoid adding to the pile. But just to be sure I wasn’t really adding to it, I snuck it to the top.

The Stonehenge Letters is a similarly peculiar mix of fact and fiction as the first book. The premise is that Alfred Nobel, as a result of an unrequited relationship with the remarkable Florence Antrobus, wife of the heir to the estate that included Stonehenge, develops an obsession with the mystery surrounding the monument. This obsession develops to the point where Nobel secretly offers a further prize to existing laureates for the best solution to the mystery.

And then the fun starts, as various luminaries – from Theodore Roosevelt to Marie Curie – pitch in with their submissions, ranging from the highly plausible down to the frankly daft (Rudyard’s Kipling’s contribution is particularly feeble). Sigmund Freud also provides an entertaining commentary via footnotes.

This isn’t by any means a conventional novel at all: there’s no plot development to speak of, and no real conclusion at the end. But the whole confection is great fun as well as informative and oddly thought-provoking. I’m still pondering what a weird old fish Nobel was, and how extraordinary it is that the prizes named after him are still so highly thought of. Highly recommended.

Take It Cool Full Cover and First Review!

2RP Cover Complete TIC May 2014Take It Cool is now feeling a lot less exposed, because it now has a back cover as well as a front one. And apart from that picture of yours truly, it’s rather spiffy, is it not? All we need now is the book to come out and for loads of people to read it.

What? Someone has already? You’re kidding…

Many thanks to Pete Sutton for some very nice comments there.

Meanwhile, back in short story land, I had an acceptance yesterday from the people at the very excellent Unthology for a rather odd story of mine called “Hay. Pee. Ah. Wrist.” Not sure if it’s going to be Unthology 6 or Unthology 7, but either way it’s going to be extremely cool to join that list.

My Year of Reading

About this time a year ago (or perhaps a little while before that) it struck me that I wasn’t reading enough. My to-be-read pile was getting higher and higher and there were still loads of things out there that I felt I really ought to read in whatever time was left to me. So I started reading more, and according to my stats I managed to read 89 90 91 books last year. I didn’t keep very good records, so it’s entirely possible that one or two of those may have been read in 2012, but I think it’s close enough.

Here’s the full, completely un-star-rated, list:


Aldiss, Brian (ed) A Science Fiction Omnibus
Auslander, Shalom Hope: A Tragedy
Boyce, NP Veronica Britten
Bray, Carys Sweet Home
Brown, Dan Digital Fortress
Burroughs, Augusten Running with Scissors
Cain, Susan Quiet
Cameron, Ash Confessions of an Undercover Cop
Carter, Angela The Bloody Chamber
Casselle, Paul Blue Skies Over Dark Days
Chabon, Michael The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Child, Lee The Visitor
Conan Doyle, Arthur A Study in Scarlet
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Sign of Four
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Arthur The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists
Defoe, Gideon The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon
de Witt, Patrick The Sisters Brothers
d’Lacey, Joseph Blood Fugue
d’Lacey, Joseph Splinters
Fisher, Carrie Wishful Drinking
Fleming, Ian Casino Royale
Fleming, Ian Live and Let Die
Fleming, Ian Moonraker
Flynn, Gillian Gone Girl
Fox, Kate Watching the English
French, Mike Blue Friday
Frost, Toby A Game of Battleships
Garfield, Simon The Error World
Glashan, John John Glashan’s World
Govinden, Niven Graffiti My Soul
Grimwood, Terry Soul Masque
Hamid, Mohsin The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Harrod, Andy Living Room Stories
Harrod, Andy Tearing at Thoughts
Hartley, David Thresholds
Higgs, JMR The Brandy of the Damned
Hogart, Simon and Monk, Emily Don’t Tell Mum
Honoré, Carl In Praise of Slow
Horsley, Ross My First Dictionary
Hunt, Stephen The Court of the Air
Ishiguro, Kazuo When We Were Orphans
James, Christina In The Family
James, Clive The Dreaming Swimmer
Joyce, Laura Ellen The Museum of Atheism
Kane, Paul Creakers
Kerr, Calum Lost Property
King, Claire The Night Rainbow
Lanchester, John Capital
Larsen, Reif The Selected Works of T S Spivet
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird
Mahmutovic, Adnan How to Fare Well and Stay Fair
Marek, Adam The Stone Thrower
Mason, Amy The Islanders
McGregor, John This Isn’t the Sort of Thing that Happens to Someone Like You
McMillan, Ian Dad, the Donkey’s on Fire!
Okotie, Simon Whatever Happened to Harold Absalom?
Page, Ra (ed) Lemistry
Parikian, Lev Waving, Not Drowning
Parker, Matt The Exploding Boy
Pendragon, Arthur and Stone, CJ The Trials of Arthur
Ridgway, Keith Hawthorn & Child
Ronson, Jon Out of the Ordinary
Ronson, Jon Lost at Sea
Rowling, JK The Casual Vacancy
Royle, Nicholas (ed) Murmurations
Satrapi, Marianne Persepolis
Saunders, George Tenth of December
Schlosser, Eric Reefer Madness
Singh, Simon Fermat’s Last Theorem
Smyth, Richard Bum Fodder
Spiegelman, Art Maus
Stack, Steve 21st Century Dodos
Stack, Steve Christmas Dodos
Tarrant, Padrika The Knife Drawer
Taylor, Jonathan (ed) Overheard
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole: The Capuccino Years
Townsend, Sue Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction
Weaver, Dave Jacey’s Kingdom
Wener, Louise Goodnight, Steve McQueen
Wheen, Francis How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World
Williams, Tony All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten
Wodehouse, PG Carry On, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Very Good, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Thank You, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG Right Ho, Jeeves
Wodehouse, PG The Code of the Woosters

 

I don’t propose to make many recommendations (some of the people here are my friends, for heaven’s sake) but there are one or two things that are worth saying.

 

Series

Why, oh why, have I never read any of the Jeeves and Wooster books before? Utterly sublime. I think “The Code of the Woosters” may well be the funniest book I’ve ever read. I have most of the rest queued up, and I’m looking forward to continuing with them in 2014.

Gideon Defoe’s “Scientists! …” are wonderfully daft, and I’ve read all but one of them this year.

The Bond books are bloody weird, aren’t they? “Casino Royale” reads more like a cry for help than a spy novel. Still, they seem to be getting better, and I’m going to carry on for a while.

I’ve read most of the Holmes books before, in a fragmented way several decades ago, but it’s nice to read through them in sequence. They still hold up pretty well, although hasn’t “A Study in Scarlet” got an odd structure? Didn’t expect that at all. Suspect Conan Doyle hadn’t quite worked out his formula yet.

I hadn’t read an Adrian Mole book for years, although I’d picked up a copy of “The Prostrate Years” cheap a while back. I was just about to pick this one up when I realised I needed to catch up with the previous two. “The Capuccino Years” was a bit of a disappointment but “The Weapons of Mass Destruction” is a wonderful return to form, as is “The Prostrate Years”, which was my first book of 2014. They’re brilliantly balanced between humour and pathos, and it’s extraordinary how Townsend makes you care about a character who frankly needs a slap most of the time. I really do hope he’s OK.

 

Things I should have read aeons ago that turned out to be every bit as good as I expected

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, obviously. See also Jeeves and Wooster above.

 

Disappointments

Yes, there were a few. “Capital” was full of clichéd characters with implausible motivations. I really wanted to love “T S Spivet”, but it fell apart completely at the end. “Hope: A Tragedy” started so well and had such a brilliantly tasteless premise, but I got highly irritated by the main character by the time I’d finished. Maybe I was supposed to. And I really didn’t engage with “The Bloody Chamber”, I’m afraid. I really found it a struggle to wade through all those dialogue-free pages. I’ll try more Carter in 2014, though. I really want to like her work.

 

Nice surprises

“The Casual Vacancy” had me riveted. Yes, it takes a while to get going, and yes, some of the adult characters are a bit clichéd, but it’s the kids that carry the story and if there’s anyone who knows about how to write adolescent characters, it’s JKR. Lanchester, take note please. This is how to write a fat, state-of-the-nation novel.

The best thriller I read this year was “The Visitor”. Child has a very spare, uncluttered writing style. I like him a lot and will read more of him.

I loved “Hawthorn & Child”, despite seriously divided opinions among Twitter folk I follow. It’s kind of an anti-detective story. Go into it with no pre-conceptions about what a story should do and you’ll learn something. Then again, you may hate it.

“The Sisters Brothers” was pretty magnificent, too, so two scores to Granta Books there.

Oh, and George Saunders is a genius. I didn’t know this before, but I do now.

 

There are probably things I’ve failed to mention, but feel free to comment, put me right or laugh at my bizarre tastes.

[UPDATE: Just realised that with stupendous irony, I managed to leave out Susan Cain’s “Quiet” in my initial list. One of the most important books I read all year, which genuinely gave me a new perspective on life.]

[UPDATE #2: Also realised I forgot John Glashan. One of the greats of cartooning.]

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