Tuesday, 4 January 2011

2011 books

1. The Abbess of Crewe, Muriel Spark
Apparently a satire on Watergate, this novella reminded me more of collegiate life.  It's about a scandal in a nunnery and is very funny. The Abbess, who likes to say the services in Latin despite Vatican II, and sometimes substitutes words of English poetry, has set up a wholescale electronic bugging of almost every part of the nunnery. Sister Felicity has fled with a Jesuit lover and is feeding damaging stories to the papers.

2. The Literary Conference, Cesar Aira
A novella by one of those current South-American authors whom one ought to have read already. It's wierd and very good, and perfect for a novella because it might have tipped over into insufferable at novel length. The protagonist, a writer and translator called Cesar (it's very trendy for people to write versions of themselves into their books, but I'm running out of patience with it a bit) is a mad scientist in his spare time, and has decided to achieve world domination by making endless clones of the novelist Carlos Fuentes. (Another one I haven't read, but probably will now, if only to get a sense of why clones of him would make an invincible army, though I suspect it's really because he's a chum of Aira's.) There are more musings on literary theory than you would expect from this synopsis. It's a good book and I'll probably read more Aira, but only after carefully checking the blurbs.

3. Tamsin, Peter Beagle
I read this entirely out of nostalgia, though I've never read it before. It's one of my favourite plots from my young days: sulky girl, uprooted from her normal life by some family event, goes to live in an old house, and gradually learns more about the fate of a previous young female inhabitant. I am totally going to write one of those myself, one day. This one is amiable and good, and involves ghosts, including boggarts and pookas. Also Judge Jefferys plays a part in it. They still just about remember to hate Judge Jefferys in the south west. He was an utter bastard. My mother's mother's family in Bath were Jefferyses, and they would say "no relation!" until my great great aunt started digging around in the family tree and then stopped abruptly refusing to tell anyone what she had found. So then they worried that maybe they were related to Judge Jefferys. But after her death they found her papers and actually she'd stopped on getting to a lot of people with Jewish names. So that's the 1930s for you. If they really were Jewish I'd love to find out more about them some time. Even in the non-conformist south-west it must have been complex to be that non-conformist.

4. Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
A collection of short stories mostly about New York women's relationships with men and other women.  They're quite well-written but very New York-y, full of hookers and masochists, and somehow terribly late 1980s.  There's a story called Secretary which is presumably the inspiration for the film Secretary.  I'm not sure that I can be bothered to find other stuff she's written though I expect she wrote other things well too.

5. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, Javier Marías
Another novella -- I read lots of blogs recommending novellas in December, and the Amazon secondhand orders are now coming in after the snow. I like Marías from the few short things of his which I've read, but I've not yet plucked up the courage to read his novels. I was recommended them some time ago so they've been on my wishlist for ages. This one involves a trip to Mexico with Elvis Presley, which gets complicated when the protagonist has to translate insults in a rough bar.

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