A Look Ahead

I’m not quite ready to do my annual year-end post as the year isn’t over and there’s more novel reading to be done! But I have been unwrapping all kinds of goodies which I will be reading and reviewing in 2011. A few years ago we decided that opening all the Christmas presents in one frenzied morning meant the individual presents were not fully appreciated and the let-down from the anticipation was unduly severe. So we started a brand new tradition (it’s important to launch these every so often!) of opening one present a day starting from the first day the kids are off school. I must say, I highly recommend this system! Everyone has something new to read or wear or watch or play with every day–and two, on Christmas day, plus stockings. It does mean, though, that I don’t yet know quite all the new books I’ve got (I can see some more distinctly book-shaped parcels still under the tree). So far, here’s my haul:

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. I opened this one a bit early, as its card (accidentally?) said ‘Happy Birthday’–which was in March. I wrote about it already, here. I enjoyed it so much I thought I’d take another look at the film adaptation; I’ve rewatched about the first hour and I find myself often wondering why they didn’t stick closer to the book.

Hilary Mantel, Fludd. I was so impressed with Wolf Hall that I immediately began working through Mantel’s back catalogue, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black, and The Giant O’Brien. One of these will certainly feature on my ‘best reads of 2010’ list, but you’ll have to check back to see which one! Fludd looks enticing.

Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog. I’ve started this one already. Atkinson is a great storyteller whose Jackson Brodie novels stretch, or evade, genre categories such as ‘detective fiction’ or ‘crime fiction.’ They are strongly character-driven, and they have a persistent interest in the ways people get tangled up in their own pasts, and their own erratic impulses.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Seriously, how likely is it that there would be two books featuring characters named ‘Pettigrew’ on my list? This one looks like just the kind of book I’ll enjoy. I wish the publishers didn’t feel the need to fill several entire pages at the beginning with endorsements from every conceivable source, though: it makes them look anxious! And the selection is so ‘something for everybody,’ from O magazine to the New York Times. I guess it’s perverse to find this kind of effusion offputting. Certainly it won’t actually put me off the book!

Christina Stead, The Man Who Loved Children. I first read about this in Elizabeth Hardwick’s A View of My Own, and since then I seem to have noticed a number of allusions to it elsewhere, all of which–but Hardwick’s essay especially–piqued my interest.

Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind. I thought White Teeth was OK–really good in parts, strained or excessive in others–and I disliked On Beauty intensely. On the other hand, I often really enjoy Zadie Smith’s essays, including one she wrote some time ago on Middlemarch, so I’m looking forward to reading this collection.

4 thoughts on “A Look Ahead

  1. Annie December 28, 2010 / 2:41 pm

    Do read Hilary Mantel’s memoir ‘Giving up the Ghost’. She wrote it just before ‘Beyond Black’ and I think it throws some very interesting side lights onto that particular novel. I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ and can’t wait for the sequel.
    I’ve tried to track down the Smith essay on ‘Middlemarch’ as I’ve just started a re-read, but unfortunately the copyright has expired. I probably overlooked it at the time as, like you, I really disliked ‘On Beauty’.

  2. Rohan Maitzen December 28, 2010 / 5:14 pm

    Thanks very much for the suggestion, Annie! I am a bit nervous about the sequel, that even Mantel won’t be able to match what she did in Wolf Hall–but then, I wouldn’t have thought Wolf Hall was altogether possible itself, given what usually passes for historical fiction.

    Thanks also for the tip that the Guardian link no longer calls up the piece. I found this link to what seems to be the same essay via Zadie Smith’s website:


    There’s an essay on Middlemarch in Changing My Mind too but I don’t know yet if it is the same (different title, certainly) or a revised version, or something else altogether. Soon!

  3. Baker's Daughter December 29, 2010 / 7:13 am

    Oh – The Man Who Loved Children – one of my all-time favourites! I’m so glad it finally seems to be getting the atttention it deserves (though I can’t help feeling as if it’s no longer quite so much ‘my’ special book). I hope you enjoy it!

  4. Dorothy W. December 29, 2010 / 9:48 pm

    I was really excited to finally get the Zadie Smith essay collection. I think I’m going to like her essayistic voice a lot. I’m feeling I should try Kate Atkinson again, because I didn’t really get into Case Histories, and yet I’ve heard so many good things about her. Maybe I’m just missing something!

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