I’ve always been a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to marking certain times of the year — birthdays, New Year and so on. No doubt that’s down to some disappointment in childhood which I’ve since rationalised away by arguing it’s just mere superstition to grant significance to certain dates, an accident of an arbitrary calendar. But I’ve been trying to mellow a bit in recent years and, while I draw the line at New Year resolutions, I’m willing to contemplate a look back at the past year of blogging. Here’s hoping you don’t Bah Humbug what follows!
First, a look at some titles I’ve reviewed during 2014. I’ve selected a range of genres, from history to drama, classic to thriller, pulp fiction to science fiction, fantasy to autobiography.
In January I looked at a scurrilous history from a millennium and a half ago. Procopius was a trusted civil servant to the Byzantine emperor Justinian, but in The Secret History he revealed the corruption and degradation that he observed at the imperial court and elsewhere in the empire. Unsurprisingly it was never published in his lifetime. In February I jumped forward to the late 18th century with Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities — more secrets, this time fictional, set in Revolutionary France. Staying in France (for the most part) was my look at E Nesbit’s autobiography of her childhood Long Ago When I Was Young.
I’ve made no secret though of my fondness for another children’s author, Diana Wynne Jones, and in March I reviewed her last ever fantasy, completed by her sister Ursula Jones, called The Islands of Chaldea , set in a parallel world on lands loosely similar to Britain and Ireland. Also based on an equally fantastical Britain is Shakespeare’s Cymbeline which both fellow blogger Lizzie Ross and I examined in April in a series of posts.
One hundred years ago Edgar Rice Burroughs’ romance Tarzan the Ape Man appeared in book form, maying May 2014 an appropriate moment to review it — if only I wasn’t allergic to anniversaries… In June I returned to France for Laurence Sterne’s pre-Revolution travelogue A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (even though we never got to hear about the Italian leg of the journey).
July saw a review of Keith Roberts’ alternate history classic Pavane, a measured dance through time and southern England. Moving to the borderlines between Wales and England was Mark Haddon’s The Red House which I looked at during August, a month traditionally dedicated to the borderland period of the summer holiday.
Back in time to the life and death of Edward II, the monarch said to have been very unpleasantly murdered nearly seven centuries ago — Paul Doherty’s study Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, which questioned the accepted ‘facts’ of the matter, was reviewed in September. Moving north of the border, Edinburgh was the setting for my October read, Kate Atkinson’s clever murder mystery A Good Turn.
I returned to Diana Wynne Jones in November for Deep Secret, a fantasy set in a more or less recognisable England as well as in her familiar multiverse of parallel worlds, which first appeared on the review blog Emerald City Book Review. Finally, in December I’d like to draw attention to another 19th-century classic I looked at, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: as a late convert to Austen I’m working my slow zigzag way to her last two novels, acknowledged as the high points of her short but distinguished literary career.
Looking back through my picks of the year I am ashamed to say it seems a rather Eurocentric if not insular choice of books. And that’s even before I mention two other titles — Joan Aiken’s The Winter Sleepwalker and Alison Uttley’s The Country Child — which so nearly made it onto my shortlist (eagle eyes will have spotted I sneaked in thirteen titles for 2014 instead of the expected twelve). I do apologise for such a blinkered approach — though I do have a number of titles planned for 2015 with, as it happens, a more international outlook. — and a trawl through 2014’s reviews should also net a range of non-British authors like Antal Szerb. On the plus side I note I’ve included six women authors in this overview — after a lifetime of reading almost exclusively male writers I’m finally learning to expand my horizons.
Oh dear, that almost sounds like a New Year resolution.