Friday, January 02, 2009

Review of the year part one

Review of 2008 part I – January to June

The year always starts with the best of intentions and in this case it began with the aim of at least matching last year’s levels of reading.

Of course that didn’t quite happen and the reason, part from the inevitable problems getting time to read consistently throughout the year, was because of the problem of getting bogged down with disappointment.

To illustrate the point the year started with The White Lioness by Henning Mankell that was bizarre. A book that not only stretched the boundaries of what was plausible but then suffered from feeling dated was not the greatest way to kick-off 2008.

That was followed with the William Golding sea-bound trilogy with Rites of Passage, Close Quarters and Fire Down Below weaving a spell of a voyage round the world in a boat that kept threatening to sink with a mixed bunch of passengers that also threatened and chose to do the same.

There were a couple of Ian McEwan’s to get stuck into with the Cement Garden feeling like a slightly more rounded experience compared to On Chesil Beach which seemed to run into the sand at the end.

Although it got a mixed ride on lit blogs I have top confess a liking for Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris and that book will no doubt come into its own this year as the cut backs start in earnest. The other ‘current’ books included Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday and another difficult experience getting through The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks.

Angela Carter provided some odd entertainment with Wise Children and that feeling of South America came flooding in with Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

But this year was one set to be dominated by trilogies and series with Golding being the first but then the 12 volume journey that is The Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell started and dominated a lot of reading this year.

Once the Powell books were started it did tend to dominate the reading with other books sneaked in between the volumes as breathers to provide a break and some alternative voices.

So as a result there was the chance to chime in with Powell’s build-up to London at war with some Muriel Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye and Girls of Slender Means. The war theme also continued with the Evelyn Waugh Sword of Honour trilogy. At times it was hard to remember exactly whose interpretation of the Second World War you were reading.

But as the summer approached there was the chance to get in the heavy tome that was Michael Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which proved that it is always worth battling through the first 100 pages with some books. There was also the opportunity to indulge, not for the last time in the year in some publishing hype and pick up Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks.

So far sort of so good but I won’t deny the Powell was starting to become a little bit of a burden and as he entered the war years, with three books on the Second World War, I was struggling with the first couple.

Second half to follow…

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