As I’ve turned to 2018’s A Century of Books, I thought I should tidy up some of the books I finished in December – a clean house, and all that. I read an unusually high (for me) number in December – eleven – and wrote or podcasted about quite a few of them. But here are the five I missed…
Men and Wives (1931) by Ivy Compton-Burnett
I made my book group read Ivy Compton-Burnett! The truth about her reception will come out on Wednesday… I’m assuming it’ll be largely negative, but hopefully it might spark off something in at least one future ICB addict. Here’s the rub, though. I chose one I hadn’t read, because I wanted to read more, and Men and Wives is definitely the worst ICB I’ve read yet. The sprawling cast and curious moral questions are there (this time with a murder/suicide plot woven through it), but it’s much less funny and not quirky enough to seem deliberately heightened, in the way she usually is.
Their Brilliant Careers (2016) by Ryan O’Neill
I read a new novel! Well, new-ish – it was published in Australia in 2016, and is going to be published in the UK this year. I got a review copy after Scott Pack (the publisher) offered them on Twitter, saying how brilliant it was. It takes the form of 16 biographies of famed Australian novelists, none of which really exist. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what the point of it was. All the reviews say it’s hilarious, but I could only manage the occasional smile. But I suspect the fault is with me – too experimental for me to cope with, I think.
Mystery in White (1937) by J Jefferson Farjeon
I finally read the British Library Crime Classics book that was their first big success, and launched their beautiful books into thousands of homes. It has a brilliant set up – people leaving a train caught in the snow come across a house that has been recently abandoned. The unfolding plot doesn’t really live up to the premise, but it was a very entertaining Christmas read nonetheless.
Identically Different (2013) by Tim Spector
My friend lent me this book, which is all about genes and epigenetics, using case studies of twins to explain many different cases of what genes do and don’t do. It boils down to ‘epigenetics mean that two people with the same genes won’t inevitably have the same [insert condition/predisposition/etc here]’, but it was really interesting to read.
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens
Martin Jarvis read this to me, in audiobook form, and it accompanied me on many commutes. He did a great job at bringing out all the characters, and – though I definitely preferred the English scenes to the French ones – the book would be worth it for the exchange between Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher alone, which was Dickens at his most hilarious.