The year started with a foreign theme with Winter Notes on Summer Impressions by Fyodor Dostoevsky quickly followed by some Huraki Murakami. The Dostoevsky was great to see a great writer show a more human side. This was repetitive and obnoxious in places with a sense of humour that didn’t always work. Following it up with his debut Poor Folk showed just how polished he could be.
Murakami’s book about running was more a book about writing with the author talking about discipline and routine and the fact they worked well for both running and writing.
Then things took a German theme and specifically the holocaust with The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and Crabwalk by Gunter Grass.
The Reader was a clever book that challenged perceptions of victim status with a camp guard unable to read being sent to prison for amongst other things deciding who should die on prisoner lists. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was childlike but very powerful. The story of the boys on either side of the barbed wire ends in tragedy but the senselessness of racist persecution comes through strongly. Finally Crabwalk is Grass writing about modern technology and the power of the internet to spread hate. He tells a story about the power of the past and the failure of a guilty generation to teach the young the lessons they should have learnt.
Then came the marathon that was 2666 and the Red Riding quartet. First of all the Bolano. This 1,000 page opus is in many ways an odd book. Produced in a way that the deceased author never wanted – he had hoped for separate books – and without a conclusion it is a real challenge to stick with it.
The pay-off as far as I was concerned was that it showed an author who was clearly on a journey towards a grand narrative. The hundreds of women that were being killed in an industrial Mexican town were linked with a reclusive author. No doubt it would have all come together and you could appreciate the vision.
The Red Riding quartet, which benefitted from a TV series on Channel 4, was in some ways as dark as the Bolano with murders and corrupt policemen but this was closer to home and grittier. David Peace takes the reader into a nightmarish world where the lines between right and wrong have gone and night and day become a blurred living hell. As the story of corruption in Yorkshire unfolds through 1974, 1977, 1980 and 1983 so do a collection of inter-connected characters. Peace is writing not just about corruption but real evil and the imagery used and the content of these books is going to stick in the mind well beyond 2009.
Part two coming up…