Three coming-of-age short stories, written in a style that oozes Hemingway. My favourite is the central story in the collection, which follows two brothers, who are each given a horse as a gift from their father. The animals send the two men on completely different paths: one brother rides into the town, escaping his family and his usual day-to-day life in favour of freedom. The other brother works hard at a local stable to give his horse the best care possible. Grossi’s male characters are underpinned by some wonderfully sensitive writing that makes this book a standout set of short stories.
No. 25. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (Vintage 2002)
Dark, tough and in places very funny – this novel about a boy who survives having his head run over by a mail van (in the first few pages) reminded me of John Irving’s, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. After the accident, Edgar finds himself the adored centre of attention in a hospital ward of grumpy old men, but life outside the walls of hospital proves much trickier…
No. 26. Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin (Faber & Faber, 2002)
I read this novel in preparation for Russian Night at Mr B’s and I’ve got to say it’s not really the kind of book that I would choose myself. Set in the era of the great space race in Russia, the story is narrated by a boy who dreams of being an astronaut. Omon successfully enrols in an air force academy where he is trained for space exploration. What ultimately comes across is how the Soviets exploited the dreams of young men in order to present “heroes” to the rest of the world. Political, edgy and dark.
No. 27. Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones (John Murray, 2010)
I was really excited about this new novel, which I read a proof of in October last year. The story of an African lady who we come to know as “Ines” is at initially pieced together from various accounts of passers by and acquaintances who encounter the young woman at differing points during her tale. The story is thus coloured by the array of personalities and how their relationship with Ines effects their telling of her narrative. In the second and third parts of the book narration falls more reliably to only two people. At times I found the structure of the book enigmatic and clever, but for me it did teeter on seeming contrived. This is a really fascinating story but I wasn’t ultimately convinced by the way it was told.
No. 28. Wildtrack and Other Stories by Rose Tremain (Full Circle Editions, 2010)
For me, this book boasts a winning combination: Rose Tremain’s smooth, dark prose coupled with some great albeit rather creepy paintings by Jeffrey Fisher, a fantastic Independent publisher and a setting of East Anglia (my homeland!) The stories in this collection are wonderfully unnerving and sparse feeling, following on perfectly from Tremain’s eerie thriller “Trespass”. The title story “Wildtrack”, which appears last in the collection is my favourite. It follows a boy who grows up unable to hear, before an operation repairs his ears. He then becomes fascinated by a rich world of sound, recording noises for radio plays. This is a beautifully produced book in every possible sense.
No.29. The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago (Harvill Secker, 2010)
Set in 15th century Portugal an elephant must travel by foot (how else would you transport an elephant in 15th century Portugal?!) from Lisbon to Vienna to be received as gift bythe Archduke Maximilian from the King of Portugal. Solomon (the elephant) takes with him a convoy of carers and protectors, a particularly opinionated bunch of travellers, all of whom seem to want to have a say in they way that their pack should travel. I love Jose Saramago’s witty and reflective style of comedy and this (based on a true story) is really exceptional.
No. 30. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Little Brown, 2011)
Due to be published in March this year, I can’t wait to start selling this fictional biography of Ernest Hemingway told from the perspective of his first wife Hadley. From the opening pages describing smoky, jazz era Paris, where the Hemingways set up house I was totally enthralled by McLain’s wonderfully evocative writing and ability to portray such a well-known literary figure with both poise and originality. “The Paris Wife” is an unashamedly romantic tale of a woman who devoted herself to her husband and his career, despite the strain this placed on her own desires. Rich with travel and literati, the Hemingways flee to Spain to watch bullfights, ski in Austria and mingle with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. This is undoubtedly one of the best books that I read last year.
No. 31. Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin
The quirky story of Tepper, a man who delights in finding a fantastic parking space in New York and then enjoys sitting in that space and reading his paper, much to the outrage of the numerous drivers passing by in desperate search for a prime car parking spot! A very strange novel to end my reading year on, but a very funny one!
So… 31 books, which means I failed… quite epically in fact! Oh dear!
So moving on swiftly… next year’s reading challenge will be…