Those who visit this blog regularly will know of my devotion to contemporary fiction, the shiny and the new. But I’m not really a one-trick pony in my reading. The metrics in my annual reading stats include the number of books I’ve read published before I was born in 1960 and those between 1960 and 1999 and they prove I’m not totally addicted to the latest titles.
So, I started a new series of posts picking out some of the old books that I’ve read, sorted by publishing date decade(s) by decade(s), beginning with the 1940s HERE.
This time, we’re looking at the 1970s – as suggested by Cathy. The trusty spreadsheet showed 55 titles from the decade in total which meant I’ve had to leave out some cracking good books, but I’ve tried to achieve a spread across what I’ve read and when I read it (although primarily since 2008 when I launched my blog). NB: ‘Buy’ links all go to Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
1970 – Running Blind by Desmond Bagley
From the mid-1970s I was a huge thriller reader (alongside my parents) – Alastair McLean, Hammond Innes, Colin Forbes, Wilbur Smith, Helen MacInnes, the James Bond novels and many more, plus Desmond Bagley. This well-written example is a cracker that held up really well when I re-read it in 2017. Set in Iceland, it involves an ex-spook who is
persuaded coerced into doing one last job there where he reunites with his Icelandic girl Friday Elin who is a wonderful character. Bagley is particularly good at describing the bleak and rocky landscape of the almost treeless Icelandic wilderness, bringing some nice touches from the Icelandic sagas and legends into the text too. Full review here. BUY
1971 – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
This novel about a widow befriended by a young man whom she asks to pretend to be her grandson is so sharply observed and touching. At first we wonder whether Ludo is just prospecting, but he proves a better man than Mrs Palfrey’s own grandson who didn’t come to visit when she moved into the retirement hotel. Despite the central theme of the sadness of growing old on one’s own, Taylor adds so many humorous touches, she seems to combine the two extremes perfectly to made it a joy to read, and a novel I’d like to re-read. Full review here. BUY
1972 – Maigret and Monsieur Charles by Georges Simenon
Simenon is one of my most-read authors since I started blogging, I’ve included him here again as this book marked the end of an era – the very last Maigret novel in which he retires at the end. I like the way that Simenon has let Maigret age with his books – this one mentions a television! Maigret may be older but his investigative skills remain acute, and he has a tricky case to decipher here. Full review here. BUY
1973 – Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
When Penguin reprinted these novels in 2014, I was overjoyed to discover them. This is the first (and best) of an hilarious short series of books involving Charlie Mortdecai – a minor aristocrat who has whisky for breakfast, dinner and lunch and deals in art when he can be bothered, being a man of few morals who knows all those useful people who live in the shadows and can be helpful to move or tinker with a dodgy painting or what have you. He lives in luxury assisted by his manservant cum thug Jock, and they have a perfect symbiotic relationship. Jock is a sort of anti-Jeeves: silent, resourceful, respectful even, when the mood takes him, but sort of drunk all the time, really, and fond of smashing people’s faces in. Full review here. BUY
1974 – Holiday by Stanley Middleton
I’ve included this one to represent the times I’ve read books just because they’re prizewinners. Sharing the ’74 Booker with Nadine Gordimer, Holiday is strangely dated. This is a typically middle class novel in which not a lot happens, and most of the story is internalised in the protagonist’s mind. Edwin is on holiday by himself having left his wife, their marriage now so tortuous after a family tragedy that he couldn’t stand it anymore. Imagine his surprise when he goes into a backstreet pub to find his father-in-law there also on holiday, who will try to persuade him to go back to his wife. Full review here. BUY
1975 – Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge
I could have picked a Beryl novel for most years of the 1970s, but limited myself to just this one – my personal favourite, one of her most autobiographical novels. Ann is a secretary, engaged to Gerald – but he’s just got a job in America and she can’t join him until later. No sooner is Gerald off to the USA, than Ann finds herself being picked up by William McCluskey, a larger than life, golden-haired playwright, with whom she falls deliriously in love. But no sooner has he moved in than he keeps disappearing… he can’t keep his pants on. McCluskey is based on was modelled on the chap she had a relationship with when she moved to London after her marriage broke up in Liverpool. “I didn’t exaggerate his character” recalled Beryl Bainbridge of her muse. “If anything I toned him down.” Full review here. BUY
1976 – Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan
I’ve had a mixed relationship with the Beats, but I rather enjoyed my first experience reading Brautigan. This is a short novel with dual linked narratives. The first, the title one, concerns a short story that an author is having problems with about a sombrero that falls out of the sky – who will be the first to pick said headgear up? The author isn’t satisfied with his story so far, so he rips it up and throws it in the bin where it takes on an absurd life of its own. The second strand concerns the author and his ex-girlfriend, Yukiko. The narrative flits between the author, who is obsessing about everything, but mainly her, and Yukiko who is asleep beside her cat, dreaming. The second strand is better, but I’ve gone on to read more Brautigan. Full review here. BUY
1977 – Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson
The first volume in Donaldson’s epic series, ‘The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever’, I devoured these books as a student when I was reading nothing but SF & Fantasy. The books concern Covenant, an author with leprosy. After treatment his wife and son have left, and he is alone. While out he has an encounter with a beggar and disconcerted by it stumbles into the path of a police car waking up in ‘the Land’ where he meets the evil Lord Foul who gives him a message to take to the rulers of the Land. I’m not sure I’d want to re-read them, but I remember they were well written, and even my Mum who never read fantasy books borrowed and read them! BUY
1978 – The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Written and set in what’s now a bygone age, in the days when most books were bought in small bookshops, this novella is a little gem. Florence decides to open a bookshop in a small coastal town and buys a property – it could be a success – but she hasn’t banked on a local landowner who’d wanted the same property. This short novel was a superb character study, full of wry humour, but there is a despondency that emerges as Florence’s clashes with Violet play out, presaging things to come in the book trade. Full review here. BUY
1979 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
And finally, a book I’ve read three times now, finding different bits funny each time. What surprised me on this re-reading was how philosophical the underlying story of trying to understand how the universe works is. It is full of fantastic concepts which, as you get caught up in the lives of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and co, appear utterly believable, but also totally hilarious. A masterpiece of comic writing. Full review here. BUY
I hope you enjoyed the tour of my reading from the 1970s.
Do you have any highlights from particular years of this decade?