Saturday, 16 December 2017

Advent, door 16

Everyone else is doing it. And - rather depressed by the number of books on other people's lists I haven't yet read - I thought today, for door 16 of the digital #Advent calendar, I'd have a go myself.

I've read a great many books this year, as those of you on Goodreads can attest. But not all of them - not many, in fact  - were 2017 publications. But a few are. And here, in no particular order, are the ones I liked best and have no hesitation recommending to anyone and everyone who enjoys reading.

First, Kamila Shamsie's Antigone-inspired tragedy, Home Fire. As a sometime schoolteacher I've done the government's so-called 'training' in how to spot radicalisation, though to call it training - indeed to distinguish it with any reference to education - is to take unpardonable liberties with the English language.

Suffice to say that, should you wish, you can gain a fully comprehensive understanding of the subject, as well as several days of reading pleasure, by reading 'Home Fire'. Maybe 'pleasure' isn't quite the right word. But it's one of those rare, life-enhancing books you won't regret reading. And - unlike so much literary fiction - it has a proper ending!

Home FireHome Fire by Kamila Shamsie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Having wasted a small amount of my time last term on the government’s online ‘prevent’ strategy for school teachers I can honestly say that reading this book will give you a greater insight into radicalism than the ridiculous primary school caricatures contained in the so-called training. That, and the satisfaction of some seriously life-enhancing reading makes this book well worth the time ‘borrowed’ from marking and preparation... and pathetic attempts at politically-motivated teacher training.

Next, another novel that takes Classical mythology as its starting point. Colm Tóibín's House of Names is based on the story of Oresteia, taking up the story of Agamemnon (though he doesn't last long) on his return from the Trojan War and the subsequent bloody and ruinous family score-settling that ensues. Knowing the story well I was a little unsure what could be added. After all, the original (as enshrined in the eponymous plays of Aeschylus) is gripping enough. But no, as Tóibín himself says, there is enough daylight to fashion an entirely new perspective and to forge a convincing and captivating narrative. Just a shame about the ending!

House of NamesHouse of Names by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A stimulating and inspiring read for all but the final few pages. This book does the impossible in making something so utterly original out of something so ancient and so known. And it does it with verve and energy and wit. But then, like the most spectacular of fireworks, it suddenly puffs out as if the author was distracted, lost interest or interrupted rather than allowed to finish.

Finally, there aren't many books you wish - as an author - you'd written yourself. Well, there are - nearly all of them in my case - but this is one that seemed so perfectly within reach and yet so well crafted I found myself desperately wishing I'd thought of it first. It's a nicely judged skit.

Dead Writers in RehabDead Writers in Rehab by Paul Bassett Davies
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are books you wish you'd written (in my case, most of them), some you wish had been re-written (well, I do) and there are others you wish you'd never started reading. This is a book I'd dearly love to have written. But I'd not have had the inspiration or the nerve or the virtuosity or ventriloquistic ability. Quite simply one of the most originally entertaining and well-written books I've read in a long time. Damn Paul for having written it before I had a chance to!

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