|how do we look, chaps?|
Then 'Life' by Keith Richards (with James Fox, I suspect not that one), excellent on the music and a fluent, entertaining read. Worth reading again, which I will. Something I note in passing here is that Keef was on heroin for quite a long time, and that that drug, unlike alcohol, does not destroy memory, so he remembers everything, it seems. I noted too that he has not only had relationships with some beautiful and interesting women (in whose number I do NOT include Marianne Faithfull, whom I consider a tedious charlatan, and who is incidentally from Reading) but appears to have been kind to them, and to his children too, apart from the names he chose for them. Good for you, Keef.
A GREAT highlight of the year was re-reading (after more than 40 years) Huckleberry Finn, out of copyright and available free as an e-book. Too many delights to list, but a great many linguistic ones in his rendering of the more or less extinct Missouri vernacular, in such phrases as "humbug talky-talk" for women praising each other's cooking. The social mores described, in which idle men set fire to a stray dog for fun, and no-one is shocked, are shocking in a way that I do not believe Twain intended, but which can hardly be found depicted anywhere else, would probably have shocked no-one before about the 1980s. No apology for the number of "shocks" there. On slavery I doubt that anything better has been written. And yet it is not a tract. Nor, probably, did it change thinking on slavery. That had already happened. I noted at the time that 'The Catcher In The Rye' owes a lot to this book. I meant to check whether this aperçu is a given in American literary criticism. But I didn't get round to it.
I did re-read 'Howard's End' by E.M. Forster in 2011, for the nth time, but only this time did I observe that most great English novels, most not-so-great ones, and just about all my favourites, are about money. That's it. Money. And houses, but that is money too. I went straight from there (or almost) to re-read 'Of Human Bondage' by Somerset Maugham, another gay male English writer of the first half of the twentieth century (why do you chaps not have proper first names?), and also about money. In a compelling and wonderful way. Why are gay men so good at writing about women's bodies? I wondered at the time, and did not note, and yes I knew that Maugham was married for many years. So was Oscar Wilde. Those were the times.
In between all this I read '5 Days To Power' by my successor as MP for Reading East Rob Wilson, about the formation of the 2010 coalition government in the UK. Well, interesting. Sort of. I imagine I betray my ignorance and lack of education by revealing here that it was from this book that I learned the phrase "confidence and supply" which I had never knowingly heard before. Though I was a Blair Babe and have never been in opposition, nor been defeated at an election, so what indeed would I know about coalitions, or opposition. Whatever.
By April I was reading, some years after it was published, 'Arthur and George' by Julian Barnes, which was different from his usual in that it draws you straight in. It deals with England, and indeed Scotland too, and is about money. And houses. And, of course, railway journeys. In a nineteenth-century sort of way. Recommended.
I'm restricting myself to the fiction I read in 2011, you will be pleased to know, and not all of that either.
Herta Muller, Germanophone Romanian writer who won the Nobel Prize, two short books, sorry to say I read them in English translation, but glad to say the translations were there. 'The Appointment', published in Germany in 1997 and in English translation in the USA in 2001. A chilling story of human lives in a totalitarian state. Solzhenitsyn did this too, as not many others have, but at much greater length, and with less humanity. I have lived both in the Soviet Union and in its post-communist self (in Latvia in 2006, fifteen years after the end of communism) and I recognised the Romania of this book, everything the same, the endless tram journeys to stops where everything was the same, eternally and for ever.
My book of the first half of the year was 'Norwegian Wood' by Haruki Marukami, translated wonderfully into English by Jay Rubin. You might have seen the film by now. I haven't, yet. Great sadness. What it is to be young. An image of depression I will never forget. "...her eyes were absolutely flat. I had never seen them that way before. It was as if they had been painted on cardboard.". And, of course, a quite spectacular misunderstanding of the song. Rubin is correct to translate the title as "Norwegian Wood", because the song title is what the writer meant, but what the writer wrote was 'Noruwei no Mori' which I would translate as "A Wood in Norway" - "mori" in Japanese means "wood" in the sense of a bunch of trees growing in the ground close to each other. But hey, what do I know. However, here is the Wikipedia (for what that's worth) on the song title in Japanese, which does seem to bear me out.
The original Japanese title Noruwei no Mori, is the standard Japanese translation of the title of The Beatles song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The song is often mentioned in the novel, and is the favourite song of the character Naoko. Mori in the Japanese title translates into English as wood in the sense of "forest", not the material "wood", even though the song lyrics clearly refer to the latter. Forest settings and imagery are significantly present in the novel.
And finally, as some might say, for the first half of 2011 I would recommend 'Germania' by Simon Winder. A work of non-fiction, the only one for this post, which is none the less the author's take on today's Germany, with fascinating and sometimes very funny observations. Did you know there was an Elector, or possibly a Margrave, who married a Spanish princess called Joanna the Mad?
Oh and Northanger Abbey. On reading which I got the point of Jane Austen. Sort of. For the first time. Thanks Jonny. And yes, I know it is a piss-take.