I’m kicking off my review of my 2019 reading year by sharing a few of the authors I discovered for the first time and now want to read much more of – and poetry!
Bingham’s volume of memoir MI5 and Me (reviewed here) which covers her later teens in the late 1950s when she worked as a secretary in the Secret Service, was simply a breath of fresh air. She wrote two volumes of memoir back in the 1960s, and now in her seventies, she has managed to recapture her teenaged voice perfectly. It’s frothy and hilarious, full of a sense of place, and surprising insight. Although I’m not bothered about reading her romance novels, I desperately want to read her two earlier volumes of memoir, and her latest which came out earlier this year. This book was the perfect pick-me-up to read in the dull weeks after New Year.
I was familiar with Dunthorne’s debut novel, Submarine, but not on the page – on the screen through Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of it. I loved that film, so why did it take me so long to read Dunthorne on the page? This year, I read not one, but two books by him – wildly differing in their offering, but both with his off-beat sense of humour. The Adulterants is his third novel, (reviewed here) and it explores masculinity, blokeishness, and finally growing up through the eyes of thirtysomething everyman, Ray, who is chucked out by his heavily pregnant wife after an incident at a party and then everything goes wrong. Through his breezy narrator, Dunthorne takes a wry look at the subject that has its heart-breaking moments, but is really funny throughout.
Dunthorne also published a first collection of poetry, O Positive (reviewed here) this year. The first poem, ‘A Sighting’ certainly caught my attention from the start:
As we waited to be torn apart
I remember thinking the bear
looked like an actor in a bear suit
who had quit his frontier theme park
to live in the hills, …
Dunthorne does genial darkness very well indeed! Almost all of the poems have some aspect of threat or menace in them. Veiled in sunny tones, the mood can turn on a sixpence. I enjoyed his economy of style, the bizarre scenarios, I loved the black humour too, but was equally surprised by occasional moments of soppiness which was very endearing. A rather wonderful first collection.
I’ve been buying Ukrainian author Kurkov’s books for years – but didn’t get around to reading any until this summer, when I chose the most recent in my piles, The Gardener from Ochakov (reviewed here) as one of my ’20 Books of Summer’. Kurkov is famed for his black humour, post-Soviet comment, and elements of surrealism in his writing – and this novel combined all of those!
It’s a time-travel black comedy with Igor, a thirtysomething slacker, transported back into a police state through a vintage police uniform he acquires for a fancy dress party. The time-travel element was done so well. It was full of the black humour I’d hoped for, and the characters were certainly quirky. The contrast between the present day and the police-state of the past, with Igor as an unlikely police officer, came through more and more strongly as the novel progressed – but even in the Soviet past, there was room for con-men.
I really must get onto those other Kurkov novels on my shelves.
My growing appreciation of poetry
I’ve not been much of a poetry reader in my adult life, but thanks to a book called The Point of Poetry by Joe Nutt (reviewed here), I was tempted to read more of it properly, and I discovered I rather enjoyed the experience, and added poetry books (mostly from the library) to my reading whenever I could thereafter. Here’s some of those (apart from Dunthorne’s, already mentioned above, that I particularly enjoyed:
- Mike Harding – Strange Lights Over Bexleyheath
- Kunial Zaffar – Us
- Lavinia Greenlaw – The Casual Perfect
- Blake Morrison – Shingle Street
- Helen Dunmore – Inside the Wave
- Hollie McNish – Plum