I have never really understand why others have their annual reviews early in December. Don’t they read any books between then and the end of the year? I certainly do. Like others, I have been browsing the end of year reviews – you can catch up with them at Large-Hearted Boy. I was surprised to read many reviewers saying what a good year it has been – at least in the English speaking world as other cultures seem not to do this sort of thing so much. Frankly, I have not been too impressed.
On this side of the pond, we have had Kazuo Ishiguro‘s disappointing The Buried Giant, Jonathan Coe‘s OK but not much more than that Number 11, Rupert Thomson‘s OK but not much more than that Katherine Carlyle and Jeanette Winterson‘s interesting but certainly not brilliant reimagining of Shakespeare – The Gap of Time. I shall probably get round to Pat Barker‘s Noonday, Tom McCarthy‘s Satin Island, David Mitchell‘s Slade House and Kate Atkinson‘s A God in Ruins but none is high on my list. I did, however read three books by Ellis Sharp, all published this year and enjoyed all three. I am well aware that they are not everyone’s cup of tea but they are certainly more original than most works coming out of this country. All power to the two small publishers, Zoilus and Jetstone, that published them.
Over the pond I read Jonathan Franzen‘s Purity and quite enjoyed it. I did not enjoy Mark Danielewski‘s The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May but I don’t think many people did. I did, however, enjoy Alexandra Kleeman‘s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Not much else from over there has seemed particularly exciting this year. I might get round to Man Booker favourite Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life but I probably won’t. I might also get round to the winner, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, from Jamaica but I might not. I have read three on the longlist but none on the shortlist. Nothing really inspired me.
I have managed to avoid any book with the word girl in the title. No Girl Gone , Girl on the Train, Luckiest Girl Alive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Online, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, The Good Girl, The Boston Girl, The Girl from Krakow, Not That Kind of Girl and A Danish Girl, though last year I read Ismail Kadare‘s E penguara: E penguara: Requiem për Linda B. (A Girl in Exile) in French and translated the title as A Banished Woman (woman, not girl) but now see that Vintage will be publishing it in May 2016 as A Girl in Exile. What happened to women?
As for books in other languages, things have been a bit more impressive.
I did not see much praise in the end of the year lists for Enrique Vila-Matas‘ Kassel no invita a la lógica (The Illogic of Kassel) which appeared in Spanish in 2014 but in English this year. Not his best but another fine work. Some people enjoyed his Because She Never Asked but that is only one of the stories in his Exploradores del abismo [Explorers of the Abyss], which I did read this year and particularly enjoyed Because She Never Asked. I read Kamel Daoud‘s Meursault, contre-enquête (Meursault, Counter Investigation) last year in French but it came out in English this year and was certainly worthwhile.
I tried – I really did try – to enjoy Elsa Ferrante. Not bad but what was all the fuss about? I managed to read the first two but gave up at that point. Am I missing something? It would appear so but there seem to be so many better books. Knausgaard I have long since given up. I think he produced another book in English this year. If so, I did not read it and almost certainly never will. I don’t get him, either.
Inevitably, it is the small publishers that most impressed me. I read and enjoyed Alisa Ganieva‘s Праздничная гора (The Mountain and the Wall), Leila S Chudori‘s Pulang (Home) and Fiston Mwanza Mujila‘s Tram 83 (Tram 83), all from the very wonderful Deep Vellum. Cuban Books gave us a few Cuban translations and I read and enjoyed Mirta Yáñez‘s Sangra por la herida (Bleeding Wound). Twisted Spoon published Jiří Karásek ze Lvovic‘s Gotická duše (Gothic Soul) this year. Hardly a new book – it first appeared in Czech in 1900 – but worth the wait.
I would like to mention five books that particularly impressed me this year. The first is a book that I had been wanting to read for some time and it finally appeared in English this year: Mikheil Javakhishvili‘s Kvachi. It was a real treat to read and we can only heartily thank Dalkey Archive Press for bringing out so many Georgian works, which do not seem to be getting the publicity they deserve.
Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Лавр (Laurus), was a wonderful tale of medieval Russia, superbly translated by Lisa Hayden (of Lizok’s Bookshelf , the essential blog on Russian literature) and published by another publisher worthy of attention: OneWorld, who also published Meursault, contre-enquête (Meursault, Counter Investigation) and the Man Booker prizewinner, Marlon James’A Brief History of Seven Killings.
I read Héctor Aguilar Camín‘s Morir en el golfo (Death in Veracruz) in Spanish a while ago and I thought it an excellent novel. Thirty-five years after it was first published in Spanish, it has now appeared in English from Schaffner Press, a small Tucson-based publisher. I know very little about their other authors but I am glad to see that they have published the Camín. Sadly, it has been barely noticed.
I was very glad that another small press, the Dorothy Project, published the first novel by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz to have been published in English, Die Schwerkraft der Verhältnisse (The Weight of Things). Inevitably, it only got a few reviews and barely a mention in end of year lists.
In late winter/early spring, I did my annual one-nationality-readathon which, this year, was Russia. It confirmed to me that there is a lot of interesting work coming out of Russia. I particularly enjoyed Vasily Golovanov‘s Остров или Оправдание бессмысленных путешествий [Island or A Justification for Meaningless Travel], which has yet to appear in English. I hope an English-language publisher does pick it up.
One book I read this year that has not been translated into English but almost certainly will be is Mathias Enard‘s Boussole [Compass]. It was not the same as Zone (Zone) by any means but you can see the similarities.
Not too much excites me of the announced books for next year. You can see some examples here, here,
For me, the biggest effort of the year has been converting my website to WordPress which has been an interesting experience. WordPress has lots of advantages but some strange quirks which I am slowly learning and/or adapting to. One advantage has been a link checker plug-in. I am well aware that you can get a link checker for any site but a built-in one makes it much easier. To my surprise/horror, I have 22219 links on my site. This is not as much as it may seem, as many of them are internal. For example, every page has a set of links at the top of the page to show you where you are and how you can move up to a higher level. Even so I have a lot and, to my greater surprise, quite a lot (several thousand) were either broken (i.e. led nowhere) or were redirects. Redirects mean that the link was automatically redirected. This might be a simple redirect to the same page but with a different URL, e.g. because the site has moved from http to https or they have changed their main page (guardian.co.uk to theguardian.com) or generally redesigned their site but had a redirect to the new page. However, it could also be a redirect to an error page (as you will get on my site if you enter an invalid URL), to a different page, often but not always the front page or a page which it tries to guess may be the right one, which sometimes it is and sometimes it is not (thank you, salon.com).
Several things surprised me. First of all, I was surprised at the number of sites which, like me, have not only redesigned their site but changed their URLs. Secondly, I was surprised at the number of sites that have died, from the interesting Finnish literary site www.kirjasto.sci.fi to, the past week, essortment.com, an encyclopedia-type site. Thirdly, I was surprised at the number of sites that have simply removed very interesting page from their websites. Fourthly, I remain surprised that every day, yes, every day, some site disappears, some site removes some pages, some site changes its URLs and/or some site has temporary difficulties (e.g. bandwidth exceeded, we are aware of the problem and are working on it). It is often ten-twelve sites a day. We have all known that the Internet is fluid and that sites come and go. Hosts like Geocities disappear or, like Yahoo, remove massive amounts of personal sites. Bloggers get bored, move on, die. However, seeing this every day brings home to me how impermanent the Internet is. Most books, I imagine, get saved somewhere, unless produced by a very small press, a vanity press or a self-publishing press, though this is presumably less so in this day and age of e-books. But websites, unless picked up by archive.org (which has a very English-language and, indeed, very North American bias) or something similar just disappear. Lots of good stuff is going.
I hope that you have enjoyed my main site and my blog and found some interesting books to read and that you have discovered lots of worthy gems here and elsewhere. I maintain that it is something of a golden age for quality novels, particularly if you are lucky enough to be able to read books in other languages. This end of the year review would not be complete without a big thank you to all the excellent bloggers out there, who provide me with much of the interesting information about and knowledge of books and authors, far more than I obtain from more mainstream sites. And, of course, a thanks to the authors for writing them and publishers for publishing them and, where appropriate, translators for translating them. May I wish you a Trump-free, posturing-Putin-free, World War III-free 2016 and, above all, lots of good reading of books from all over the world.