Some of my new books were really for my birthday, but one way and another I’ve got a good haul this year. Not many suuprises as most of the books were on my wish-list. They include a couple of books that have been highly praised this year: John Williams’s Stoner and James Salter’s Collected Stories, and I expect I’ll write about them in a future blog. I hardly ever buy hardbacks for myself, and it’s lovely to have these two very attractive volumes. I have almost finished Stoner, and, yes, it is very good. Of course there are always plenty of crime novels on my wish-list, and I’m looking forward to reading Snow White Must Die by German writer, Nele Neuhaus (her novels were originally self-published and this one has sold over three million) and Andrea Camilleri’s The Dance of the Seagull, so one writer new to me and one old favourite. I’ve also been given The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris by Edmund White, who lived in the City for sixteen years: I’ve have a little virtual holiday as I read it. And finally, a couple of surprise gifts. One of them is Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I’ve had a flick through and I’ve read the first few pages: I’m going to enjoy it. It’s always nice to get something you might not otherwise have read and that also applies to Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, a collection of essays on our relationship to the natural world. I’ve read good reviews of her work.
I love getting books as presents, and often give them too. The gift of an ebook just wouldn’t be the same.
I recently came across a novel so engrossing, so fascinating, and so well written that I was surprised that I had never heard of the writer. I discovered LIGHT YEARS by James Salter, first published in 1976, when Andrew Miller recently picked it for the ‘Book of a Lifetime’ slot in the Independent. It sounded interesting so I ordered it from the London Library. The theme is a familiar one: the failure of a marriage. It is Salter’s use of language that is so extraordinary, particularly of images that are startling, almost incongruous, yet strangely apt. Flicking through the book I’ve picked out a couple of examples almost at random. Take this description of the family Christmas, which included ‘lighting real candles on the tree, a huge tree standing near the window, thick as a bear’s coat.’ For me that captures the sense of the tree as something tamed, of nature brought into the house, but awe-inspiring, too. Or there’s this: a friend comments on the breakdown of Viri and Nedra’s marriage: ‘any two people when they separate, it’s like splitting a log. The pieces aren’t even. One of them contains the core.’
It’s an ambitious novel, and there are times when Salter doesn’t always quite pull it off, but almost all the time he does. It’s a rich, thoughtful, complex novel and he deserves to be much, much better known.