Have a very wonderful Christmas! I’m going to leave you for two or three days with my Books of 2012.
I always have great fun compiling my favourite reads of the year, and this year was actually somewhat easier than usual. There were plenty of excellent books (albeit also more duds than usual) but ten stood out immediately as really exceptional. But then I added another three, because I couldn’t face leaving them out. Even as it is, some really great books aren’t making the grade.
My usual rules apply – an author can only feature once, and re-reads aren’t included. And, of course, these aren’t just books that were published in 2012. Because I believe I only read one book published in 2012. (It was very good, incidentally – Shrinking Violet by my friend Karina Lickorish Quinn.) And I love making lists, so these are in order. None of that ‘in no particular order’ for me! Clicking on the book title will take you to my original review.
13. The House in Paris (1935) by Elizabeth Bowen
If the whole novel had taken place in the Parisian house, without the half of the novel devoted to flashback, this would have been further up my list – but, still, it’s an amazing reassessment of Bowen on my part. Thanks to Darlene for making me try Bowen again! An understated and beautiful chance meeting of two children on one day in Paris.
12. At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945) by Elizabeth Taylor
I don’t love Taylor quite as much as some, but this novel about a woman and her husband stationed in the absent Mrs. Lippincote’s house, during WW1, is both her first novel and my favourite. Very subtle, moving, and often witty.
11. Three Men on the Bummel (1900) by Jerome K. Jerome
I think I actually prefer this sequel to Three Men on a Boat – all of the same silliness and hilarity, and even less of an ability to stick to the point. Gloriously funny stuff.
10. All the Books of My Life (1956) by Sheila Kaye-Smith
2012 was a great year for reading autobiographies, and although I’ve read none of Kaye-Smith’s rural novels, I loved her account of her life, told through the books she cherished at different periods. Filled with great anecdotes, it is her love of books which comes across most strongly – and strikes a chord with me!
9. The Only Problem (1984) by Muriel Spark
Of all the Spark novels I’ve read this year, none have come up to the high standard of my favourite (Loitering With Intent), but this eccentric, brilliant novel was the strongest contender. Who but Spark would combine someone researching the Book of Job with a terrorist organisation? Mad, but madness dealt in calm doses. Utterly Sparkian.
8. Art in Nature (1978) by Tove Jansson
Any newly-translated (thank you Thomas Teal) Jansson book is a shoo-in for my Best Reads of the year. This short story collection is no different – Jansson can turn her eye to anything, but of especial interest to her here are the ideas of artists and creativity.
7. More Women Than Men (1933) by Ivy Compton-Burnett
My favourite ICB novel yet, this is set in a girls’ school, rather than her usual sprawling families. None of the girls get a line, but the in-fighting of the teachers, an unwanted wedding, and a peculiar death all come together to make a very amusing, very Ivy novel.
6. Ashcombe (1949) by Cecil Beaton
A really gorgeously beautiful account of Beaton’s fifteen-year lease of Ashcombe house. His eccentric redecorations, his love for the countryside, and his amusing waggish friends come together to make this an absolute gem of a book – not without sadness, as WW2 rears its ugly head towards the end of his stay.
5. Raising Demons (1957) by Shirley Jackson
The sequel to Jackson’s Life Among the Savages is just as uproariously funny – difficult to believe the Gothic-horror-type novelist, best known for one of the most unsettling stories ever, also wrote delightful, hilarious accounts of being a busy wife and mother. Get hold of these by any means possible.
4. I. Compton-Burnett: A Memoir (1972) by Cicely Greig
Any perspective on my beloved Dame Ivy is welcome, but that of her typist (and friend) is unique. Greig writes understandingly, without rose-coloured glasses, but also as a fan of her writing – it’s a great combination of personal memoir and literary appreciation.
3. Look Back With Love (1974) by Dodie Smith
Oh, how spoilt I was with memoirs this year! A rich, enchanting account of Smith’s wide family and happy childhood – including the inspiration for some of her writing, and hilarious accounts of her early attempts at acting. Everything interests her avidly. Just delightful – and, even better, three more autobiographical volumes to read later!
2. Blue Remembered Hills (1983) by Rosemary Sutcliff
The best memoir I read this year, and another triumph from Slightly Foxed. I haven’t read any of Sutcliff’s novels (and, given my distaste for historical fiction, I’m not especially keen to) but her autobiography is, like Smith’s, a total delight. Despite a very difficult relationship with her mother, and living in and out of hospital through her childhood, there is nothing melancholy or self-pitying here. Just an absolute joy to read.
1. Guard Your Daughters (1953) by Diana Tutton
I was only a couple of pages into this heavenly book when I knew it would be my book of the year. Morgan narrates the bizarre life of her isolated family of sisters. It certainly owes a debt to I Capture the Castle, but is perhaps even better – the most charming, lively, lovable, and eccentric family imaginable, I couldn’t believe how good it was, while I was reading. Others have been quite lukewarm, but causing a mini-revival for this glorious novel has been one of my proudest blogging moments.
And that list again:
13. The House in Paris – Elizabeth Bowen
12. At Mrs. Lippincote’s – Elizabeth Taylor
11. Three Men on the Bummel – Jerome K. Jerome
10. All the Books of My Life – Sheila Kaye-Smith
9. The Only Problem – Muriel Spark
8. Art in Nature – Tove Jansson
7. More Women Than Men – Ivy Compton-Burnett
6. Ashcombe – Cecil Beaton
5. Raising Demons – Shirley Jackson
4. I. Compton-Burnett: A Memoir – Cicely Greig
3. Look Back With Love – Dodie Smith
2. Blue Remembered Hills – Rosemary Sutcliff
1. Guard Your Daughters – Diana Tutton
If you’ve created your own list, do pop a link in the comments. Happy Christmas, one and all!