December 01, 1988

Book Reviewers’ Choice

Filed under: Archive,Books

Book Reviewers’ Choice

Best reading for 1988 would have to include Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping (King Penguin). It was turned into a sublime film by Bill Forsythe, but the novel, first published in 1981, is even sublimer. Beautifully written, eerie and strangely consoling, it is a rare work.

Julia Voznesenkaya’s The Women’s Decameron (Methuen) is a cycle of stories told by ten women quarantined in a present-day maternity hospital in Leningrad. The hundred stories tell, among other things, of First Love, Noble Deeds, Revenge, and Sex in Farcical Situations. They make Boccacio seem Middle-Aged. It is a vivacious, richly funny book.

Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities (Jonathan Cape) should also be added to the heap. In charting the downfall of New York stockbroker, Sherman McCoy, it grimly and comically anatomises the decline of the Great Republic. This is Wolfe at his vulpine best.

While the orthopaedic industry was recently drilling for money in my kneecap, I had the chance to read Elmore Leonard – Glitz and Stick – both lean narratives of Miami Virtue; also the Picador reprint of James Agee’s darkly poetical deconstruction of his Fortune magazine assignment interviewing three sharecropper families in Alabama in the late 1930’s – Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Patrick Suskind’s nose-curdling tale of menace, Perfurme (King Penguin).

And the biographies for the year -Brian Matthews’ (prizewinning) Louisa, Richard Ellmann’s Wilde and, soon to be reviewed right here in The Beast, Humphrey Carpenter’s A Serious Character, a comprehensive devaluation of Pound.

Murray Bramwell

The Adelaide Review, No.58, December, 1988, p.26.

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