Having been so badly burned last year, buying and reading a pretty trashy selection of books, I have been more circumspect with an equally worrying list in 2012. Though perhaps equally worrying is mildly over-stating the case – for there are a few surprising omissions, but what would I know? I am not a famous model; celebrity chef; ex-commissioner of the metropolitan police: no, I am just someone who reads books, lots of books – on average around 200 a year if my Book Reading Diary is anything to go by, though this includes non-fiction as well as fiction.
So what have I chosen from this year’s list?
Before the list was even published, I had read Rachel Joyce The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. A peripatetic novel about Harold who goes out one day to post an important postcard, passes the first pillar box, and unaccountably the second and final finds that he is walking all the way to the recipent’s address in the North of England.
Aside from the rather Quixotic (in it’s real sense) notion of the importance of an aim well accomplished, however mad; this book has an abiding charm as Harold travels through England, avoiding large towns; gathers and loses an assortment of companions; gets taken up by the Media; gets lost and found and all the time his wife and his neighbour keep up the polite pretence that all is well and Harold is ill in bed at home. The most enticing and enchanting aspect of the story is in its attention to detail, especially the state of Harold’s shoes, a pair of yachting shoes, suitable possibly for a stroll to the end of the road – but to the end of the country…?
Also before the list came out, I read the greatly yearned for, eagerly anticipated second part of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell, Bring up the Bodies. This covers an even shorter stretch of Thomas Cromwell’s life than Wolf Hall, being devoted entirely to his campaign to arraign and convict (and decapitate) Anne Boleyn. By trick or by torture to get her companions to traduce themselves and her by admitting adultery, their own with her or each other’s. All this, the book suggests, because of a silly, cruel mumming-caricature of Thomas’ devoted mentor Cardinal Wolseley. A book that was worth the wait: wonderfully compact and compelling writing and a fascinating study of Revenge – a dish, in this case, eaten chillingly cold.