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Christmas Book List by Eric Idle - Dec-2015

These are the books I chose to send to friends this year. Happy Reading in 2016!

SLADE HOUSE  by David Mitchell

SUBMISSION  by Michel Houellebecq

THE FLEMISH HOUSE  by Georges Simenon

THE LADY IN THE LAKE  by Raymond Chandler

HEAT WAVE  by Penelope Lively

LOW LIFE: THE SPECTATOR COLUMNS  by Jeremy Clarke

GIDEON’S SPIES  by Gordon Thomas

THE LADY FROM ZAGREB  by Philip Kerr

DEAD IS BETTER  by Jo Perry

Dust That Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres - Dec-2015

Sometimes reading a book one can feel ambivalent, unsure whether you’re totally enjoying it. I enjoy this writer and have enjoyed many of his books. He writes nicely and interestingly although anyone who starts a novel with a young man heading for the trenches, well no doubt how that’s going to turn out. With this book I was still ambivalent for almost two thirds, but I felt I needed a break as the year ended. Not sure why.

Killing a King by Dan Ephron - Dec-2015

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin And the Remaking of Israel. Really the end of the peace process… So sad for all concerned.

The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins - Dec-2015

A wonderful very well written murder mystery. A great read and a great thriller. Alternative viewpoints from the various characters keep the suspense till the end. Perfectly accomplished and a great achievement. I loved it.

The Lemur by Benjamin Black - Dec-2015

An excellent book by John Banville under his pseudonym. I don’t know how I managed to miss this one. Short, taut and almost perfect.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen - Dec-2015

I was enjoying it, which surprised me, but he writes nicely and then it just seems to go on and on, and I realised that I believed neither in Pip, the female lead, or the asshole Andreas Wolf, the murderous East German spiritual leader of young women in Bolivia. Really? I tried and tried and then went, oh fuck it.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris - Dec-2015

A very funny book that would have made my Xmas selections if I had read it sooner. Very amusingly called “the Catch 22 of dentistry” by Stephen King no less, his style and his subject reminds me of Joseph Heller, and indeed Philip Roth, which is high praise indeed. Very enjoyable and original.

Sweet Caress by William Boyd - Nov-2015

Sometimes you can be reading a novel which starts well and just feel the air go out of it. I like William Boyd’s writing very much and have enjoyed almost all his books, though not his last one, the Bond job, and this at first excited me and raised my expectations because he strayed into W.G. Sebald territory by including pictures, but somehow it collapsed. I ceased to believe in it. Mainly I think because I didn’t feel he wrote a convincing woman. I felt he has used this shape before in a novel I really liked, (Any Human Heart) but that he was dealing unconvincingly in slightly clichéd areas. I am sorry for this and to have to say this as I think he is a very fine novelist.

A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald - Nov-2015

Essays. And this led me to read…

Vertigo by W.G. Sebald - Nov-2015

A puzzling book, about memory and a good beginning about Stendhal with Napoleon, Kafka in Italy, Casanova in Venice and he himself going back to South Germany. I wrote in 2006 when I first read it “Sometimes great, sometimes banal. He seems unable to distinguish between the particular and the prosaic. Highs and dulls.” This was a first edition I picked up in Hatchards.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - Nov-2015

I very much enjoyed this beautiful short novel of the Swedish settlers in Hanover, Nebraska. Love and loss and lyrical writing. Great. Written in 1913.

Slade House by David Mitchell - Nov-2015

A brilliant ghost story, a form I never would have imagined enjoying so much, but he has made it so modern and above all so believable that you are seduced into it and cannot put it down. I read it from cover to cover between JFK and LAX and was utterly pleased and thrilled. I have very much enjoyed his previous books and he is an astonishingly good writer. This I think will be a best seller for him. It’s chillingly good.

Submission by Michel Houellebecq - Nov-2015

A very funny novel. Satirical and withering. And deadly topical. I read it just before the Paris attacks. He demolishes modern France a step at a time, through the eyes of his louche academic who studies Huysmans and teaches at the Sorbonne. Step by step he goes from the contemporary to the inevitable. It is both a warning and a great gag about the triumph of Muslim fundamentalism. I liked it a lot.

Lanzarote by Michel Houellebecq - Nov-2015

Short, funny, sexy and hilarious, he can make drama out of four characters and an empty island.

Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry - Oct-2015

Oh joy, oh rapture, to be off on the road with a new Thomas Perry, which won’t be published until January. A perfect start to travel reading.

Civil War by Peter Ackroyd - Oct-2015

Volume 111 of the History of England. Very well told history of the English Civil War from the arrival of the Scottish King James V1 to become James 1st, through his wilful son Charles 1st who was executed, and his two sons Charles II and James II who was forced to flee the throne on 1688 in the Bloodless Revolution, allowing his daughter Mary to take the throne. A fascinating struggle for Parliamentary rights against the capricious arrogance of a monarchy. Parliament’s victory was a very important moment in the history of the rights of the individual.

The Last Six Million Seconds by John Burdett - Oct-2015

A cracking good yarn as they say. I think this is his second novel and he is working his way towards his Thai detective series. This is set in Hong Kong on the eve of liberty from the British and has a Hong Kong Policeman who is only half Chinese. Really excellent read on my iPad.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet - Oct-2015

I think Hammet is not as good as Chandler but still I like this, his best book. Spade is a weird man. “When your partner gets killed you’re supposed to do something about it” but what he does do is avoid the widow, whom he is clearly having an affair with, and pursue the client, sexually and then turn her in. He is described as a blond Satan and with his yellow hair, his slightly cruel, in fact beastly behaviour to his secretary, he is both more real and less attractive than Humphrey Bogart.

The yarn is still superbly set up for the John Huston movie, with all the characters leaping off the pages on to the screen.

Watch Me by Anjelica Houston - Oct-2015

The second volume of director John’s daughter picks up her tale in the seventies in London, with some familiar faces to me. Jack Nicholson filming The Shining, Shelley Du Val and Nona and Martin Somers. Familiar times. I was kinda hoping she would describe her visit to filming The Life of Brian in Tunisia, but she didn’t so I guess I’ll have to. There is the arrest of Polanski which she was very close to. A wonderful woman, and a great life.

Pulse by Julian Barnes - Oct-2015

Fine short stories, some linked which I picked up on the road and enjoyed even though I had the feeling I had read them before, which I had in July 2011, and here’s what I wrote then: The new collection of vaguely linked short stories is a return to form for him, and an example of what he does best, conveying character through dialogue. These short stories are almost play-like in their lack of descriptive prose, but his characters talk, bicker and despair and come to life immediately. Happy to see he’s back.

The History of The Conquest of Mexico by William H. Prescott - Oct-2015

Continued to read on iPad.

Liberty Bar by Georges Simenon - Oct-2015

The first set in the South of France where Maigret commutes by bus between Cannes and Nice while sorting out what’s up.

The Flemish House by Georges Simenon - Oct-2015

The thing I notice is his weather is superb, his atmosphere, the rain, the cold, the boots, the bars, the differences between the French and the Flemish. The border places, the boat places, the canals, the locks, and in this case the Meuse which is in full flood and preventing the barge traffic. Maigret is often soaked and cold, and always reaching for a warming drink or missing his wife’s cooking. The images are in the details. I loved this one.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster - Oct-2015

Brilliantly alive with the misunderstandings of the British, Fielding, Miss Quested, drawn together by the strange and unlikely affection of Mrs Moore for Dr. Aziz, a Muslim who lives through misunderstanding, false arrest, false accusation and unexpected release and triumph, to explore his hatred and misunderstanding and finally his love for India and the inevitability of its release from the British Raj. Written in 1924, it still had only 24 years left, and correctly predicts another European war will do for it. First US edition, third printing August 1924. Rather oddly Pages 161–176 are bound in upside down…

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth - Sep-2015

Dr. David Kepesh. A monologue on love and sex, and child abandonment, teaching and above all his longing for the breasts of Consuela the Cuban, whom he loves, whom he abandons and with whom he reconnects and photographs just before she has a mastectomy. In all a strange book. And for a short book, rather long. I haven’t read The Breast, perhaps it is a start of that.