Archive for December 27, 2012

Best of 2012 : my choices among the books I read

December 27, 2012 31 comments

Mafalda_merci2012 is ending and now is the time for me to look back on my reading year and think about the books I loved the most. I don’t have any categories, only what we call in French my “Coups de Coeur”, literally “blow of the heart”. (I still don’t know the English equivalent of this phrase, so if someone can enlighten me…)

1 – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

This one stayed with me. I have a special connection with Newland Archer, even deeper than the one I felt with Ralph in The Custom of the Country. He reached me personally and I understand him better than I’d wish to. I think Wharton portrays men the way men writers don’t, in their humanity, their weaknesses.

2 – In the Absence of Men by Philippe Besson.

Besson is my discovery of the year. I love the flow of his prose, the way he describes passion as a demanding force, a hurricane. It’s not a wailing passion like the Romantics describe it. It’s a compulsive force the characters surrender to but always with their eyes open and perfectly aware of the risks they’re taking. This one also made Max’s end-of-the-year list, which is a great reference for me.

3 – Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Philip Roth and I are in a one way literary relationship. In appearance, I have nothing in common with Nathan Zuckerman. And yet, there’s something in Roth’s prose that always crawls under my skin and stays there. It’s the heady mix of the trivial and the deep thinking, coloured with dark humour. He seems to write effortlessly but this degree of apparent nonchalance is the brand of a gifted and skilled writer.

4 – Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi.

Bone chilling. It haunted me after I read it and I need to read another of her books to connect her with something else than this story.

5 – The Ripening Seed by Colette.

Adolescence pictured in a breathtaking prose. A revelation for me. And why had I never read Colette before?

6 – The Enchantment of Lily Dahl by Siri Hustvedt

I’m not a specialist but it floated in the air of this novel a scent of a Noir novel. It’s not crime fiction but I had the feeling some of the codes of Noir applied there. It’s beautifully written and the characters are unusual.

7 – Miss Mckenzie by Anthony Trollope.

I owe this one to Guy and last year’s virtual Christmas gifts. I loved it. I loved Miss Mckenzie, Trollope’s prose and his undercurrent feminism. It seems like a light novel but it’s not. It’s a precise picture of the society of that time and the condition of women.

8 – La curée by Emile Zola

Guy pointed it to me when he was reading all Zola. I loved it for the characters and for the historical background of the Second Empire and the transformation of Paris. Some things don’t change in human behaviour when money or sex is at stake.

9 – Washington Square by Henry James.

On the second reading, I saw the violence of the battle of wills between Catherine and her father. I still don’t know if Morris’s intentions were honest or not. Does it matter? I think that James wanted more to write about the confrontation than about the love story.

10 – Cakes and Ale by William Somerset Maugham

Beside the exceptional prose, I read it the same year as Exit Ghost and both explore the posterity of a writer. How can a writer control what others will write about him after his death? And then of course, I’m reading all Thomas Hardy, so the connection with this writer was interesting too.

In addition to this selection of books, I want to draw your attention to several other French books:

  • Kennedy et moi by Jean-Paul Dubois
  • Tu verras by Nicolas Fargues
  • Eloïse est chauve by Emilie de Turckheim.
  • Apocalypse Bébé by Virginie Despentes
  • A Slight Misunderstanding by Prosper Mérimée

I hope I piqued your curiosity, that you’ll be interested in trying one of these books. They’re really worth it. To the readers of this blog, I’ll say thank you. Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling, babbling or chatting about books or whatever the appropriate expression is. Thanks for the comments and for clicking on the Like button to say “Hi, I’ve been there”

I’ll continue writing billets about the books I read in 2013. Sharing my thoughts with you is a real pleasure and I hope you’ll still be willing to read them.

All the best, Emma

Categories: Personal Posts
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