|Photo by Ralph Gibson|
Books of the year
From Zadie Smith's new novel to Robert Macfarlane's journeys on foot and memoirs by Edna O'Brien and Salman Rushdie…
Which books have most impressed our writers this year?
The Observer25 November 2012
Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot(Hamish Hamilton £20) is a wonderful book – literally, a book full of wonders – in which he takes to the world's pathways, from chalk downs and an estuarial mirror-world in England, to Palestine, Spain, the Himalayas. He has a poet's eye, and a prose style that will make many a novelist burn with envy. In a barbarous time, Macfarlane reminds us of what it is to be civilised.
La Folie Baudelaire (Allen Lane £35) by Roberto Calasso is an extraordinarily ingenious and learned study of Baudelaire and Baudelaire's Paris, "capital of the 19th century", and of the invention of modernism in literature and, especially, in painting. Only a mind as various as Calasso's would think to compare Manet's Olympia with a photograph by Weegee. One had thought they didn't write books like this any more, but Calasso does.
The great Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector once wrote that she wanted her writing to be like a punch in the stomach to her readers, "for life is a punch in the stomach". This year the life in Jenni Fagan's debut novel, The Panopticon (Heinemann £12.99), knocked the breath out of me, Peter Hobbs's In the Orchard, the Swallows (Faber £10.99) picked me up and dusted me down, and a reread of Brigid Brophy's 1967 novel The King of a Rainy Country (Coelacanth £10) boosted me better than any Omega 3.
My discovery of the year was the American novelist Shalom Auslander, who is brave, outrageous and very funny. I recommend his 2009 memoir Foreskin's Lament, as well as his 2012 novel, Hope: A Tragedy (both Picador £7.99).
Three of my favourite crime writers brought out excellent new books this year: A Room Full of Bones (Quercus £7.99) by Elly Griffiths, Kind of Cruel (Hodder £7.99) by Sophie Hannah and Broken Harbour (Hodder £12.99) by Tana French. And I enjoyed Glyn Maxwell's On Poetry (Oberon Masters £12.99) – occasionally mad but very interesting.