So we come to the final part of my Reads of 2015 (in which a late runner has just made a dramatic dash for the finish line, having only read the last line 15 minutes before putting fingers to keyboard!). I like to mix my reading up, a sprinkling of classics, books I’ve bought in the past couple of years who have finally found their ‘moment’, just published reads and proofs of those to come. This last collection really is a mixture of the above and believe you me, there are some gems that deserve to appear but have just missed out. I don’t want you to feel as if this is some what of a thesis to work through, so I will give some brief honourable mentions (if book passion doesn’t overcome me and lengthy paragraphs spill forth!) So shall we crack on? Let’s go!
There is no way of me talking about this without seeming heavily biased, but by not featuring this title I would by lying by omission and you, dear reader, may miss out on a gem. Patrick Suskind is widely known for his much acclaimed novel Perfume, a book that certainly causes quite the chill, but if you pick this novella up expecting much of the same you are in for quite the shock. Often mistaken for a children’s book due to the stunning illustrations throughout by the legendary Sempe, ‘The Tale of Mr Sommer’ is actually a coming of age story that has a somewhat dark finale which means it sits more comfortably in older hands. Our protagonist is a young boy who regails the reader with vignettes about his childhood in a small, rural German village. We are treated to his first date, the moment he conquers bike riding and, most wonderfully of all, one of the most excruciating yet side splittingly funny piano lessons of all time. Describing the teachers mother who sits in the corner listening to his progress, Suskinds prose left me reeling in awe and delight, “She was so old that really she was only alive in quite a narrow specialised sense”. I hear you asking, but where does this Mr Sommer of titled fame come into things? Constantly striding through the background of this story, like a supporting actor who steals all the scenes and scoops up the Oscar, Sommer walks at pace from the moment the sun rises to when it sets at night. Never pausing for a soul, journeying in silence, Sommer has no final destination and as each page turns we question whether he will one day hang up his boots. The two stories interweave together and as the final chapter closes Suskind has ensured that Mr Sommer will be walking through your thoughts for many months to come.
The Story of Mr Sommer by Patrick Suskind, illustrated by Sempe, £9.99 (Fox, Finch & Tepper)
I would like to give a couple of nods to books I’ve read this year that have either featured on the blog already or will be reviewed in full in the weeks to come. A title that must be mentioned in my reads of the year is ‘Spill Simmer Falter Wither’, written by Sara Baume. This novel impressed and moved me so much it demanded to be the first book I reviewed on this site. I can barely talk about it without clutching it to my heart and stressing to readers how you cannot go wrong with this quiet story written with poetic, sparse prose that is a masterclass to all. You can read my original outpouring of love for it by jumping back to Novembers posts. Two proofs have made their way into my book hungry hands in the latter part of this year and I will be dedicating much longer pieces to them soon as they deserve their own space, I just couldn’t resist this opportunity to wave a flag for their arrival. The first is a collection of short stories by Helen Ellis that had me wincing and laughing in equal measure as her wry, observational humour cuts through the everyday dramas in ‘American Housewife: Stories’. The second novel is the polar opposite, the new outing from Elizabeth Strout, which tells the story of a young woman recovering from illness in hospital when her estranged mother appears to spend only a handful of days at her bedside. Deeply moving, their stilted conversation gives glimpses into the complex past and relationship between these two. Strout is in top form with this and I would love to see ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ appear on every awards list.
A book that has made a last minute dash to join the list is ‘A Far Cry from Kensington’ – this had the wonderful effect of producing an actual gasp from me at the end of a chapter last night (although Muriel Spark featuring in a list of my favourite reads is something that could never provoke such a reaction to those who know me). Oh how I fell head over heals for our protagonist, Mrs Hawkins, within mere moments of meeting her. Straight talking, about both herself (her descriptions of her physical build are delicious) and when giving advise, she is a woman to be listened to. She speaks directly to the reader, telling of her time spent in a shared Kensington home with a whole host of colourful characters and her experiences in the publishing world, in which we can really hear Sparks own voice calling through. What initially could seem like a pedestrian life is unravelled to be anything but as an offhand insult leads to twists and turns both ourselves and Mrs Hawkins could never have dreamt of. Let me just say I hope never to have ‘pisseur de copie’ uttered in my direction! One day I will have read all of Muriel Sparks books and I dread that day coming, but for now I am just going to revel in the delightful hours I spent reading this one.
A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark £12.99 (Virago Modern Classics)
Last, but by no means least, we have an offering from the poetry shelf. ‘An Amorous Disourse in the Suburbs of Hell’ by Deborah Levy was published by ‘and other stories’ in 2014. An interesting set up, they are a non for profit organisation who aim to get great writing out there into the hands of readers. Passionate about a possible publication? Well if you make a pledge you will have the delight of seeing your name in print within said edition. If you want to read more about ‘and other stories’ just click here. Now – back to the matter in hand. I had this little red, cloth bound gem sitting on my shelf for some time but I must confess I only came around to giving it the attention it deserves when it happened to be picked for a poetry group I was attending. Now this is a book that can easily be read in a lunch hour but do not let its brevity give the false conclusion that it does not stand up to the heavy weights, Levy could take on any poets verse and match them pound for pound. This poem follows the conversation between a fallen angel and a modest man living in the suburbs, each page a constant back and forth between the two, titled ‘he’ or ‘she’. We begin with the pair completely enamoured with each other, tangled up in this sudden affair that has created sparks and made life seem dazzlingly new. As in life, nothing can last and it does not take long for these feelings to begin to wear thin, as the relationship quickly resembles that of two petulant teenagers. ‘he’ bemoaning how he actually likes his quiet, reliable life that she is so scornful of down here in suburbia, and ‘she’ railing at how he only wants ‘a wife…a wife and a second class stamp’ despite her trying to show him a whole new world. Reading this I found myself constantly switching from team ‘she’ or ‘he’ and wanting to applaud arguments and points well made. This may only take you an hour, but oh, what a blissful way to spend it!
An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell by Deborah Levy £7.99 (And Other Stories)
So ‘that’s all folks’ as Porky Pig was so fond of exclaiming, we can now all look forward to all those unread pages awaiting us in 2016! Do let me know if you have read any of the above & what you thought, or what some of your reads of the year have been, but until next time…