2015: The Mid-Year Report

on Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Six months. Seventy books. Not a single one of them bought online.

After a thrilling start with SM Hulse's immensely powerful debut, Black River, and John Williams's classic, Stoner, my reading year took a quick and disappointing turn for the uninteresting. Book after book failed to impress. Sure, there were some halfway decent ones in there, but nothing that had me licking my chops in delight. What's worse there were some terrible let downs. Kazuo Ishiguro came a cropper with his Game of Thrones meets Camelot (or is that Spamalot?) meets I-can't-remember-I-just-nodded-off, The Sleeping Giant. Andrew O'Hagan had me excited for The Illuminations but it turned out to be a fair-to-middling war pastoral with not a great deal of... well... illumination. Ditto David Vann, whose latest offering, Aquarium, was pretty good but lacked the delicious malice of his previous works. Even Milan Kundera failed to fire me up, with The Festival of Insignificance very much living up to its name. Sure, the premise was smart and the execution somewhat playful but, at best, the book might have made a good essay or short story.

Thankfully, a few books from years gone by kept me going. Agota Kristoff's staggering trilogy - The Notebook, The Proof and The Third Lie - left my jaw dragging painfully along the floor. All three are excellent books but I'd have to say that The Notebook has now taken its place in the upper echelons of my Favourite Books of All TimeTM. Max Blecher floated up from the Hungarian depths with his previously hard-to-find-in-English masterpiece Adventures in Immediate Irreality while two more recent works - both tragic, both excellent - took a dump on my whimpering soul. So thanks Miriam Toews (All My Puny Sorrows, 2014) and Aki Ollikainen (White Hunger, 2012).

Things picked up again in April with the release of AS Patrić's astonishing debut, Black Rock White City, a perfectly crafted, sometimes disturbing, sometimes heartwarming, always beautiful novel about the Australian immigrant experience. Surely it will go down as a classic of the genre. Daša Drndić didn't disappoint with her intellectual circus of a book, Leica Format. I still marvel at how her mind operates. Then there was Kent Haruf. Alas, it took me until the poor guy died to read him but what a gorgeous little gem of a novel Our Souls at Night turned out to be. I can't think of a more perfect parting gift from any author. In terms of excellent debuts, Hulse and Patrić were joined by Chigozi Obioma and his book The Fishermen, a forerunner not only in the new explosion of world-conquering African literature but, I'd have to guess, in the race for this year's Booker Prize. Then there was Kamel Daoud's interrogation of Albert Camus in The Mersault Investigation. Not only a complex conversation with the universally loved classic, it was also a brilliant existential work in its own right.

Come December I might find myself embroiled in some internal battle after all. Patrić and Drndić are leading the pack for sure but I'm also currently enjoying the latest Jesse Ball as well as two new novels from the Litnerd's Litnerd, Enrique Vila-Matas. A whole bunch of excellent writers have books slated for release over the coming months (Harper Lee, William T. Vollamnn, David Mitchell) and there are a fair few I just haven't had a chance to read (Hanya Yanagihara, Mark Z. Danielewski, Jim Shepard) so it may well be a tight race yet. May my heart be as full as my wallet will be empty!


Post a Comment