Sunday, 30 December 2007

Books of the year - second batch

Just put on my first batch of bread in our new breadmaker – the Other Half has done it all up until now. Anyway, as I sit here waiting for something to happen, here is my second tranche of books of the year.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. Who would have thought that the conflicts between Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung would provide such a fascinating backdrop to tales of murder amongst the glitterati of turn-of-the-century New York? Well, actually, anybody who knows me well would have known this would appeal to me. My ex-husband is a psychiatrist and mental illness has always fascinated me (when I’m not in the throes of depression myself) so this was always going to be an interesting read for me. (As was Human Traces which I blogged about here but didn’t make it to my books of the year for reasons you’ll see if you read the blog.)
Jed Rubenfeld cheerfully admits on his website that, apart from the fact that Freud did visit New York in 1909, all the events in the book are entirely fictional. And yet, after the single visit to the US, Freud ever thereafter described Americans as ‘savages’. The Interpretation of Murder, with its descents into depravity presents the reader with a wholly believable backstory to such a verdict. It is a book which gives us a picture of what very well might have happened if Freud had been presented with the sadistic murder of a fellow-hotel guest and left to help another analyst to solve the mystery.
The Freudian epigram quoted on Rubenfeld’s website ‘The pleasure of satisfying a savage instinct is incomparably more intense than satisfying a civilised one’ could be the subtitle of the book as the process of psychoanalytical interpretation itself - and the instincts which it calls on in the protagonists - begins to look more base than civilised.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling. Honestly, it almost feels superfluous to write ‘by JK Rowling’ after any of the HP books – I mean, who doesn’t know??
I came to the last Harry Potter with equal dread and anticipation. Dread because it’s the last one and I’m a big fan; anticipation because I thought there was about as much chance of being disappointed by this book as of me waking up tomorrow and finding that my rucksack fetish has worn off (ie none).
I also came to HP and the Deathly Hallows with several predictions/convictions:
Snape had not gone to the dark side, he just hated Harry.

Dumbledore knew his days were numbered and he and Snape had agreed between them that if the situation arose, Snape would kill Dumbledore to maintain his cover with The Dark Lord.
Harry was a horcrux.
Harry would die in defeating Voldemort (in true messianic fashion).

Don’t read the rest of this paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers!
And, as all those of you who have read HP&TDH, I was right on all counts, though the last is a bit dodgy as he sort of dies and then chooses resurrection. So - go me! - I can predict what’s going to happen in a children’s book! Actually, I had some very heated arguments with other HP fans (mostly adults) about Snape. After HP and the Half Blood Prince, they were all convinced that Snape had gone rogue, and – to be fair – JKR had given them enough evidence for that belief. But I was convinced by Dumbledore – there was no evidence anywhere in the books that he gets people wrong. Nor did he, clearly.
I loved all the Dumbledore back-story in the Deathly Hallows and particularly his admission that he knew he couldn’t be trusted with power. Brilliant – made him so much more human in my eyes.
There’s been a lot of scorn poured on the book's epilogue/last scene – the grown up characters seeing their own little wizards and witches off to Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione all nicely spliced up. Well I liked it, and I admit to a lump coming into my throat every time I even think about Harry saying to his second born, worried about which house he would be chosen for ‘Albus Severus … you are named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.’ That’s Snape! The one who had supposedly – according to the losers-of-faith – gone bad! Hah! I actually howled when I read that – as in cried – I don’t know why but I just found the whole book unbelievably moving.
Is there any wonder I don’t like reading Man-Booker prizewinners?

The mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee. I discovered Sue Gee about ten years ago when I read The Hours of the Night which, I now see, was re-released by Headline in a new edition in 2004.
Sue Gee is one of those writers for whom the word lyrical is not idle praise. Her prose is often highly poetic but neither it nor her characterisation are ever less than precise. The Mysteries of Glass is set in the Welsh borders in the 1860s and concerns the first curacy of Richard Allen, a young man coming to parish life and to love for the very first time. You know he is going to fall in love with the vicar’s wife the first time she sees him and so it proves but it is not just the love story – so beautifully drawn and so very constrained in an authentically Christian, nineteenth-century kind of way – which is so affecting. Sue Gee takes you bodily into the world her characters inhabit, we shiver on the floorboards of his bedroom with Richard as he says his prayers, he walk with numbed toes through the heavy snow as he goes to preach at Christmas, we feel the rush of freezing air on our faces as we skate with him on the frozen rivers. And, as the winter finally loosens its grip and the summer comes in with its sun and flowers and garlands, so love blossoms and our hearts beat more quickly with Richard's and Susannah's. But neither their love nor Richard's first taste of the pastoral life is without its trials and tribulations and, in this simple but beautifully told story, we feel every one right down to the bone.

Last lot tomorrow…

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