As 2020 is upon us, here is a brief look at some of the titles I reviewed in 2019. I would like to wish everyone a Happy – and not at all volatile – New Year.
January I looked at Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant:
“Are national memories related to individual memories and if not how do they differ? What is the relationship between national memory and national identity – the latter subject now being acutely foregrounded by political events since 2016 both in Europe and in the US. And yet if warnings of the dangers of nationalism are never far from the surface of Ishiguro’s work, the past two years have shown us that those warnings are not being heeded. The ground beneath us is shaking as the giant stirs.”
“Perhaps Jesus made me a painter for people who aren’t born yet.’
This line, spoken to a priest charged with assessing Vincent for possible release from the asylum in Saint Remy where he has been interred after a latest bout of his illness, seems to me central to the director’s vision. With more than a century of art market hindsight, it’s an easy enough line, although I do not know for sure if the artist ever said it. It feels unrealistically self-confident.”
I reviewed this savage memoir of rape and childhood trauma
The Little Girl on the Ice Floe, Adélaïde Bon, trans. Ruth Diver
Also in May I looked at a collection of essays by Mary Oliver,
“He was probably only looking for a partner. So begins one of Mary Oliver’s short essays from this collection ‘Who cometh here?’about a black bear. This poor bear having struggled long and hard to reach Provincetown (‘crossing Massachusetts, swimming the channel, striding the length of the Cape’) got tranquilised and put in a van and returned to, as far as the rangers knew, the point where he had begun.”
I reviewed Caroline Criado Perez research on the data bias that causes invisibility of the female in data about ‘mankind’. Essential reading for anyone who assumes that in the 21st century equality of the sexes is a done deal.
July – Virginia Hall’s daredevil exploits during World War 2
“her service is even more remarkable for covering a time when women didn’t register on the heroism scale – or any other scale much. Even more incredible, is that despite the fact Virginia Hall was disabled by a shooting accident which left her as an amputee she personally oversaw and took part in some of the most daredevil exploits to help the allies win WW2.”
In September – my book of the year, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
At once both ultra contemporary and completely ageless, this book sums up societies both sides of the Atlantic as they ruthlessly are rather than as we might like to see ourselves.
” Thank goodness for his genius to humanise modern America, to bring the worlds of Saigon, Dunkin donuts, food stamps and nail bars crashing together as the voice of his lived experience. How Vuong skewers the appalling opioid scandal which has decimated the US and is making its way to the UK.”
In November Edward Snowden came to tell us about the world we are creating for ourselves through unbridled and poorly understood – yes even by those who are supposed to know – technology.
“I was worried that the book might be quite technical and I wouldn’t understand it. But I need not have worried. Permanent Record is much more about the why rather than the how. Why a young man might give up his whole life as he knows it – home, family, friends, extremely well paid job – for his principles.”
“Written with a sense of irony perhaps but also not so far from the truth of what many endured at such institutions – many were scarred for life by such experiences. I found this early section of the book the most interesting as Lewis negotiates life without his mother, surviving the horrendous Wynyards, his closeness to his brother Warnie (a closeness later lost) and their father Albert’s struggles to raise two motherless boys.”