bukes of the year


What I wrote at the time: “When my brilliant and beloved mother-in-law discovered to her astonishment that I hadn’t already read Pat Barker’s WW1 novels, she promptly gave me all three for my birthday. I started reading them on the flight back from Australia and about three sentences in, made myself slow down so that the experience of reading these books for the first time would last longer.”

What I think now: How could I have possibly missed these books for so long? I just started rereading Regeneration and am blown away afresh by its precision and compassion. Siegfried Sassoon and anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers face off over the War to End All War (spoiler: not so much). A great-souled, elegiac novel.

Cassandra at the Wedding

What I wrote at the time: “Why didn’t you all tell me about Cassandra at the Wedding? Which bit did you think I wouldn’t like?”

What I think now: Another great-souled and elegiac novel and one with a brilliant twist. Maybe the richest evocation of California I have read all year, with the stories of Alice Adams coming in a close second.

Our Horses in Egypt

What I wrote at the time: “…Our Horses In Egypt with its lovely breathless vernacular prose style rather like Mitford. I was especially pleased that author Rosalind Bulben credited the Anzacs with taking Damascus, and not that idiot Lawrence. Fighting words! But you know it’s true!”

What I think now: Well, obviously, horses, you know. But so many overlapping themes with the Regeneration novels; such gorgeous evocation of time and place and class; such a vivid and authentic voice. I must dig up everything else Rosalind Bulben has written.

Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment

What I wrote at the time: Nothin’.

What I think now: In a year when I read heaps of great graphic novels – Laika, Too Cool To Be Forgotten – this was really the best. Sunderland, in which I had never previously had the slightest interest, remains as alive and present to me now as David Simon’s Baltimore. The urge to capture one’s home town and preserve it in amber seems to me one of the most understandable neuroses in all writing.


What I wrote at the time: “It was very odd reading Melusine between and around the Pierce books. They share a lot of stock European fantasy tropes and themes, and there’s even some overlap in the namespace. Where Keladry’s values are basically decent and wholesome, though, the narrators of Melusine are a clever but socially inferior thief and a psychotic wizard. There is teh gaysex and it is all very dark. My opinion of Felix remained low throughout the (long) novel, but I did come to love Mildmay the thief.”

What I think now: Tamora who? I have come to love Felix as dearly as Mildmay and Mehitabel, and to more or less worship Sarah Monette. I borrowed the trilogy from the library and as soon as I had finished it, bought it and read it again. I’m a bit spellbound, trying to figure out how she pulls off what I can only describe as architectural thaumaturgy. I want me some of those 733t ski77z.

Victory of Eagles

What I wrote at the time: “Temeraire POV! Lawrence angst! Subversive dragon independence movements! Transportation! ALL SO VERY GOOD.”

What I think now: What she said.

Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil

What I wrote at the time: “Little thrills me more than cracking the spine of a new book about a Victorian liberal. Because I am an old coot.”

What I think now: I moved in with Rosebery for the duration. What an amazing place this was to live. Stormy, snobby Rosebery comes across as a more modern and human person than his better-known betes noire, Gladstone and Disraeli – more, indeed, like a less-driven Churchill, but with much sounder instincts for foreign policy.

Conclusions: My name is Miss Rach and I am a history-inhaling, Anglo-obsessive, high-realist addict.

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