David Blackburn

Charlotte Moore’s and Marcus Berkmann’s books of the year

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Charlotte Moore: I revelled in David Kynaston’s Family Britain and am longing for the next instalment of this densely packed, non-judgmental social history of mid-20th-century Britain. Michael Frayn’s memoir My Father’s Fortune is exemplary; touching, funny, cleverly constructed and kind. I returned to Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour after 20 years and found it still perfect.

Clara Claiborne Park, who died in July, was an American academic. The Siege, her book about life with her autistic daughter, diagnosed at a time when psychiatrists blamed autism on ‘refrigerator mothers’, was one of the earliest parental accounts, and remains one of the best.

Marcus Berkmann: Every compulsive reader is on a quest of some sort, and mine, I have realised, is in search of the perfect comic novel. God knows why: I have 80-odd P. G. Wodehouses on my shelves, and a good quarter of those must be as near perfection as makes no difference. But the search must go on, even though out-and-out comic novels tend to sell modestly, excite little more than critical indifference and never win awards, Howard Jacobson’s recent gong notwithstanding. Especially do they never win the Bollinger-Everyman-Wodehouse Prize for comic writing, which by hallowed tradition, only goes to something deeply unamusing.

But this year I found a beauty: My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen. Jensen is Danish, lives in London and writes in English, and every book of hers is different. This one, which came out in 2006, tells the story of a sparky young house-cleaner and part-time prostitute in late 19th-century Copenhagen who, for reasons too complicated and daft to go into here, ends up in 21st-century London, where she falls in love. Time travel is not a fashionable subject for serious fiction, but the book has a wild energy, a narrative voice unlike any other, a plot of Wodehousian elegance, and great warmth of spirit. It’s also wonderfully, life-enhancingly funny, in both expected and unexpected ways.