Wednesday 12 December 2018



The Last Window-Giraffe: A Picture Dictionary for the over Fives by Péter Zilahy, translator Tim Wilkinson: wonderfully playful sort-of memoir about growing up in Hungary and being in Serbia during the collapse of Yugoslavia, all in the form of a children's encyclopedia.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper, an investigation into the horrific Black Saturday bushfires of Australia in 2009, which killed 173 people, and a perceptive, disqueiting look at the peculiar man convicted of lighting them.

Mem by Bethany C. Morrow: if you don't want to read a Jazz Age Montreal sci-fi alternative history novel about the nature of memory and consciousness, with a surprisingly affecting old-fashioned romance thrown in, then I can't help you.

Territory of Light by Yūko Tsushima; translated by Geraldine Harcourt -- the first of three books by this wonderful late Japanese writer I read this year, about a sort-of-single mother in Tokyo...

...followed by Child of Fortune (novel) and Of Dogs and Walls (2 stories) (also translated by Geraldine Harcourt), which are similarly excellent, and I hope the forerunners of an ongoing Tsushima recovery.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori: intriguing novel about a woman with unnerving character traits who has found her niche in life and is resisting everyone's attempts to push her out of it. Both unique and faintly Highsmithy.

Murmur by Will Eaves: Alan Turing, consciousness, AI, love... It was very nice, if unexpected, of Eaves to write a book just for me; all the rest of you with any taste will love it too. Published by the great @CBeditions; a US edition comes out next year.

Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith: one of the most purely interesting books ever written. Hard to do it justice, but if this piece doesn't intrigue you, you must be dead.

Love by Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken: this book will, if read properly, fuck you up severely. Heartbreaking, beautifully written. Did I mention how sad it is? And it has a weird slingshot ending whereby the worst, saddest thing happens BEYOND the final page.

The Order of the Day by Éric Vuillard, translated by Mark Polizzotti: splendidly concise and perceptive novelish non-fiction about the unholy marriage between corporations and fascists, as exemplified by Nazi Germany and as imitated by everyone else these days, sadly.

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy: brilliant personal essays, the second volume in a series that doesn't require you to have read the first. Levy's having a renaissance after @andothertweets brought out "Swimming Home", and it's hard to think of a writer who deserves it more.

The Smoke by Simon Ings: one of the most deeply strange works of serious literature published this year, a regularly startling tale of human speciation, working pseudoscience, massive Dan Dare-style technology, and the failures of family bonds.

Evelina by Frances Burney: obviously I'm a bit late with this one, but you can see why Jane Austen loved it--a funny and piercingly perceptive look at the horrible precariouness of being a woman with obligations but no power.

Europe at Dawn by Dave Hutchinson: 4th, final book (start with Europe in Autumn, NOW) of cartographic sci-fi, extremely witty and charming political/espionage stuff in near-future where our familiar countries all collapsing into numerous micro-nations.

The Last Summer by Ricarda Huch, translated by Jamie Bulloch: clever, stylish, short epistolatry thriller from 1910 about a student embedding himself in a White Russian family as a tutor/helpmeet, but who is really there to kill the family father, a repressive local Governor

The Endless Summer by Madame Nielsen, translated by Gaye Kynoch: if I'd known more about Nielsen (ie performs in blackface, etc), I would not have read this modernist, beautifully done group portrait of a family and various hangers-on over the course of a rural Danish summer

An Untouched House by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated David Colmer: Dutch partisan thoroughly sick of WW2 deserts and takes over luxurious empty house in abandoned warzone, and is then determined to do absolutely ANYTHING to keep it; dark and nasty.

Death and Other Holidays by Marci Vogel: along with all of its other horrors, grief is almost unbearably boring to experience, so for Vogel to turn the experience of a woman grieving her beloved stepfather into such a funny and engaging novel is a real achievement.

Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman: deeply intelligent and gripping near-future sci-fi about bonobos, the science of infidelity, endometriosis, climate change and more; constantly unpredictable, beautifully judged.

The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes, Ottilie Mulzet & John Batki: intense button-holing stories of great variety in setting but consistent claustrophobia; Krasznahorkai is not like any other writer in the world.

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell: at this point I'm probably the last person to read this undeniable masterpiece and you don't need my incoherent ravings to tell you you should get it, but let's all raise a glass to the memory of super-translator Anthea Bell

Fireflies by Luis Sagasti, translated by Fionn Petch: an unclassifiable rambling masterpiece of non-fiction, taking in everything from Kubrick to space to Sun Ra to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to Wittgenstein. Pure pleasure.

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Sam Taylor: intricate multi-POV 24-hour-set novel tracing a heart from the death of its original owner in a car accident, via everyone involved along the way, to its new home, post-transplant, in a young woman.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts: seriously clever and rigorous hard sci-fi about the difficulties of planning a political revolution over the course of millions of years when most of the revolutionaries are in cryogenic sleep and never meet.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice: literary collapse-of-civilisation novels are everywhere these days, but this one is especially good, affecting and unusual: an Indigenous Canadian community in the far north is so remote they don't even know the world has ended...

Sight by Jessie Greengrass: splendid time-hopping novel reflecting on birth, motherhood, death, the discovery of X-rays, the history of surgery, and anatomical autopsy models, all done in beautiful prose.

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan: as with "Austerlitz" I am very late to this party, but what an amazing, dark, depressing, beautiful and bracingly chilly party it is. Pairs well with Hanne Ørstavik's Love (see somewhere above).

The Night Market by Jonathan Moore: unusual science-fiction crime novel, exploring memory and motivation and the total abject exploitation of desire by capitalism. Much more grim fun than that sounds.

Welcome Home by Lucia Berlin: unfinished yet brilliant memoirs of all the many, many homes Berlin lived in. Sardonic, sad and superbly written, even though it's just an incomplete early draft. (Also contains Berlin's selected letters.)

I think that's the lot. I just have to make sure I only read crap for the next two-and-a-bit weeks so that I don't have to add to this list.