House of Meetings, by Martin Amis, would make a suspensful, gripping read if you are the sort of person who gets excited at the thought of staring at a brick wall for ten years (but only if we promise him that the brick wall won't move first); and it would possibly make an appropriate gift for somebody hospitalised because of chronic paranoid schizophrenia. For the rest of us, it is an overwhelmingly tedious work by one of the most overblown windbags of literature. Set in a 18th century Russian garret in 1927 France, Amis labouriously describes a day in the night of four Russian triplets who spend their evenings playing in a string quartet and their afternoons working for the Italian mafia. Time and again, Amis builds the prose up to heights of banality and meaninglessness that literature has previously not been capable of. Amis breaks new ground in the boredom stakes, culminating in his penultimate chapter, 2771 Ways of Considering An American Skunk, which sadly delivers on what it promises, focusing especially on the olfactory peculiarities of this creature (there's even a scratch-and-sniff about two-thirds through). Give this one a miss.
Helen Garner's critically acclaimed masterwork, Joe Cinque's Consolation, has an interesting title. Sadly, the title is all it has. For the rest of the book, Garner has chosen to indulge in the idiosyncratic, and dare we say, idiotic project of repeating the title again and again on each page. Sometimes, for purported aesthetic effect, Garner will rearrange the words or place the apostrophe in different places. This goes on for 371 pages, and then the book ends. Frankly, if I never hear of this dog of a book again, it will be too soon.
American master Phillip Roth came out this year with the eagerly awaited work Everyman, and in my opinion, the book should have stayed eagerly awaited. It is a risible work, chosing to focus as it does on what the cover blurb describes as 'the touching relationship between a teenage boy and a fox terrier in the Pyrenees mountains.' Why, at this stage in his life, that phlegm-filled old bastard Roth should start writing Lassie stories is beyond me, probably beyond his psychiatrist, and just possibly beyond the moon as well. I won't be eagerly awaiting his next work, I can tell you that. I will be anticipating the bloody thing in horror and disgust.
The Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehmann, is great! Who would have guessed, with a title like that, that the work was going to be a pacy detective thriller set in the seedy downtown area of San Francisco city? There are thrills, chills, spills, and just a couple of lewd scenes involving Jills, on every page! I think we have found a new Raymond Chandler in this author (or editor - whatever) - one to watch!
Disappointments in a generally depressing year: Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, a rambling discussion of fashions worn by the French peasantry in the year 1343. I wish Nemirovsky would quit rambling and just get lost. The Sea, by John Banville, rather perplexingly sets in the first chapter it's task: to discover 1001 words that rhyme with sea. Rather depressingly, it delivers. Peter Carey's Theft is a quixotic tale of three autistic homosexuals chained to a bedhead in a room in a small American town (None of them speak the other's language, and cannibalism is involved.) It's an odd work that I think would have made an interesting short story, but is rather lacking in motivation, one feels.
Worst book of the year? After pondering the issue for long seconds (oh, ALL right then, milliseconds), I feel that I am going to have to award this dubious accolade to Paul Davies, whose bizarre work The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is The Universe Just Right For Life should have remained, not only unpublished, but burnt into ashes, and trampled into the ground, or even better yet, unthought of. Never have I read such a lewd, lascivious, disgustingly vile and pornographic work under the guise of 'Quantum Physics'. On every page, one finds something new to be shocked and affronted at: threesomes are common, as are foursomes, fivesomes, and twelvesomes. Lists of seemingly surreal sexual activities are given at great length, and often repeated on the next page; presumably this author gets 'off' on what he is writing. There is licking, stroking, biting, kissing, sniffing, sucking, chewing, four person press ups, buggery, dutch sex, and sex by any other means possible. Why, oh why, did this once gentle quantum physicist turn to writing pornographic literature? I really, really don't know. But it is certainly a disgraceful joke to try and pass this off as just another work in 'Quantum Science'. I am shocked and appalled. Really, there has been nothing this year worth reading at all, and bizarelly, the way the book market is at the moment, I expect things to get worse next year. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and lie down and put a wet towel across my head for five hours. No, make that a swimming pool ...
Have a happy new year, everyone. Please feel free to go ahead and post reviews of books that you haven't read in the comments. Go on! What else are they for?