There were several books which had a profound impact on me this year. I was utterly swept along by how much wisdom and pleasure there is to be found within the pages of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you were ever a literature student, or were ever young, or in love, then I am sure you would also experience great moments of recognition. Similarly, I can’t see how anyone alive today in what is left of the British Empire won’t find some echo of things they have thought or felt about their own existence in Jeremy Paxman’s wonderful Empire. Another true delight was The Calligrapher by Edward Docx, which weaves a contemporary love story, and mystery, around John Donne’s poetry. By turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, Docx achieves the very difficult task of making you completely empathise with, and even cheer on, characters who are behaving appallingly.
In January, it seemed unlikely to me that I would find anything this year to please me more than these first two books had. Then, in March, I went to the Oxford Literary Festival and had the great privilege of attending a reading by the best-selling Turkish author, Elif Shafak. I can’t think when a reading has affected as much as when Elif Shafak read from the opening of Honour. Her voice is heartbreaking, wise, funny, piercing, soothing and galvanizing all at the same time. My advice is don’t read the opening of this book unless you have the time to sit down and give yourself over to it completely.
I’ve included Amazon links for other titles I particularly enjoyed and would heartily recommend.
The marriage plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The secret scripture by Sebastien Barry
The chemistry of tears By Peter Carey
Every contact leaves a trace by Elanor Dymott
Honour by Elif Shafak
Alys, always by Harriet Evans
Love story by Erich Segal
Truth commissioner by David Park
The driver’s seat by Muriel Spark
The forgotten waltz By Anne Enright
The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The last weekend by Blake Morrison
Henry & June by Anais Nin
The bride stripped bare by Nikki Gemmell
The Calligrapher by Edward Docx
Sweet tooth by Ian McEwan
The Dinner by Herman Koch
The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach
Murder in the Rue Morgue
All the Little Animals by Walker Hamilton
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Empire: What ruling the world did to the British by Jeremy Paxman
The Missing ink by Philip Hensher
18 minutes by Peter Bregman
Giving Up The Ghost by Hilary Mantel
The Gift of Fear By Gavin de Becker
BACK UP GENERATOR
Many years ago, I fell into the habit of holding off on books I was dying to read, so that I would always have some guaranteed delight up my sleeve. I buy the book, and keep it close, just in case (pestilence, war, famine, death, unplanned rail journeys North of Milton Keynes, etc). Of course, I desperately want to read it. But I don’t. Not until I know I have not just another absolute certainty in my possession. My current ’emergency read’ is Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd. I mention it purely because it is so conspicuous by its absence on this year’s list.
LOOKING AHEAD TO NEXT YEAR
What was your book of 2012? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2013? I’d love to know.