The Spectator

Books of the Year II

A further selection of the best and worst books of the year, chosen by some of our regular contributors

Philip Hensher

The two books I enjoyed most this year were both out of the usual run. Who was the last person to publish a book of aphorisms? No idea, but Don Paterson’s splendid The Book of Shadows (Picador, £12.99) will probably discourage anyone from entering into rivalry for a good time to come. Startlingly insightful, funny, exotic and, of course, from the finest poet of his generation, irreducibly well-put, this was a book everyone should read. Simon Gray’s The Smoking Diaries (Granta, £12.99) was difficult to categorise; a ragbag of stories and reminiscences, it must be one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

The best biography of the year was Peter Parker’s exemplary and constantly absorbing Isherwood (Picador, £25), one of the few biographies of such length which really deserved and justified its amplitude. The best novels were V. S. Naipaul’s extraordinary Magic Seeds (Picador, £16.99), David Mitchell’s highly original and dreamily satisfying Cloud Atlas (Sceptre, £16.99), José Saramago’s The Double (Harvill, £15.99) — a Borgesian fable with a marvellous flavour all its own — and, from Germany, Christoph Hein’s Landnahme (Suhrkamp Verlag). Hein is the DDR novelist who seems to be surviving best, and Landnahme had a magisterial force; I hope it gets translated.

David Pryce-Jones

Anyone who wonders how and why public taste in the art world has become so de- graded will get a surge of reassurance and pleasure from Roger Kimball’s The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art (Encounter Books, $25.95). He takes a handful of eminent panjandrums of art history commenting on a handful of famous pictures, and rubs their noses in their psycho-politico-babble. Oh, how liberating to laugh at the professors.

The Great Deception (Continuum, £20) is a carefully researched history by Christ- opher Booker and Richard North of the way that the European Union has emerged like Aladdin’s genie out of the bottle.

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