The next post will be on or before Sunday 30th September


What I Did and Read in 2001

In August of 2001 Annie, Ione and I spent a truly perfect fortnight in North Portugal, close to the Spanish border in an attractively appointed central flat in the handsome little town of Caminha. As in all civilised European countries (excluding the philistine UK, predictably enough) every town in Portugal offers an extensive range of free cultural events in the busiest tourist month of the year. One boiling hot night, the 13th August to be precise, there was some superb Luso-Brazilian vocal jazz on the Largo Turismo. The virtuoso singer who would have made good competition for the likes of Chick Corea’s Brazilian regular Flora Purim, was Maja Makaric Pavlovic, a beautiful Serbian woman living permanently in Portugal. And so it was that we enjoyed that exhilarating cosmopolitan mix that I find so attractive about European culture, as opposed to the infantilised myopia of the ludicrous Brexit perversion. When we weren’t watching the free events in Caminha, we were visiting as many little towns as we could between our base and the Spanish border, including Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valenca, Moncao and Melgaco. Only the first one could be reached via train, and though it is a handsome little place with a ferry into Spain, there was the harrowing sight of an impoverished travelling circus near the station with a very depressed old flea-bitten lion trapped inside a cage the size of a removal van. Valenca was more cheerful and near the bus station is an enormous open market patronised mostly by Spaniards who can buy everything there a whole lot cheaper than back in Spain. From there we carried on to Moncao, whose bus station is next to the defunct and therefore melancholy railway station, and dallying in the little town saw that there was a concert to be given that night by Eagle Eye Cherry (born 1968). In case you’ve never heard of him, he is the half-Swedish son of the eminent jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-1995) and sister of the remarkable and incendiary singer Neneh Cherry (born 1964).

We realised soon enough that if we went to the late-night concert we would never get back to Caminha unless by exorbitant taxi. We therefore decided to walk back to the bus station and this is where the inexplicable took over because small and compact as Moncao is, we were wholly unable to find the conspicuous place we had exited from about 3 hours earlier. We tried about 6 times and asked directions from groups of old men at every opportunity, then found ourselves returning stupidly to our sources of information, all of them laughing uproariously if tolerantly at our non-existent navigational skills. The next day we tried to retrieve our dignity by going further on to Melgaco, famous for its vinho verde wine, exquisite churches and the impressive central square. That evening some massive outdoor spectacle was planned as part of the August events and half a dozen young guys with beards were assembling a great deal of lofty scaffolding. Their beards convinced me it just be something theatrical and I pondered whether sitting through a couple of hours of dramatic Portuguese would be a pain or a pleasure, and then the fact that Ione was only 12 and the drama unlikely to be knockabout slapstick decisively clinched it.

It was less than a month later that most of the world convulsed and fell to bits when 9/11 happened. I watched the collapsing towers on daytime TV in our North Cumbrian farmhouse and aside from the horror and brutal evil of incinerating innocent folk, a fair number of them US Muslims, there was the overwhelming sense of its sheer impossibility. Meaning, what I was watching here on daytime TV was rank incredible, and yet unspeakably it was the case, it was a new and hideous reality, yet the enduring impossibility of what I was observing was confirmed by the fact that no one aside from the perpetrators and maybe a few intelligence personnel in sundry parts of the world could possibly have predicted such a freakish circus tableau of pitiless cruelty. As an aside, I cannot abide the caricatural adolescent fictions of Martin Amis, but he wrote a piece about 9/11 that was brilliant and perceptive beyond words, whereafter I decided he should stick to non-fiction and thereby gain a just rather than exaggerated stature.

Fast forward another month, and it was my 51st birthday and my wonderful wife Annie who knew what I wanted better than I knew what I wanted, did me proud by buying me a subscription to Sky TV, to the pantheon of limitless digital media as opposed to the 5 increasingly feeble UK terrestrial ones. We both knew that 275 of the 300 digital TV and radio channels available peddled unutterable garbage, but Annie also  knew that I craved to have access to BBC Knowledge (the distinguished precursor of the usually pallid ‘culture’ channel BBC4) as well as Artsworld (now the far less impressive Sky Arts 1 and 2) plus all the umpteen film channels of which TCM, Film 4 and its sadly deceased brethren of Film 4 World and Film 4 Extreme were particularly attractive . There were also a couple of music channels (Mainstreet was one) played vintage jazz concerts which put me in a seventh heaven needless to add, albeit within a year and without any notice to the doting viewers they bit the dust and were never to be seen again. At any rate, the digital experience was so profound that I wrote an entire novel about it, Murphy’s Favourite Channels (2004) which had alternating digital and terrestrial narratives and which was featured as a Novel of the Week in that bastion of liberal thought and humane radicalism, The Daily Telegraph.

What I Read in 2001 (from my Reading Diary)

The Crossing Place – a Journey among Armenians by Philip Marsden (born 1961. A fine travelogue published 1993)

Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb (an Australian born 1946 who spent much of his time in Naples. A terrific study of the contemporary Mafia)

The Carpenter’s Pencil by Manuel Rivas (born 1957, leading Spanish novelist also Founder Member of Greenpeace Spain)

Second Spring by Max Egremont (born 1948 and a Baron twice over. This is his excellent 1993 novel)

What a Lovely Sunday by Jorge Semprun (1923-2011. Major Spanish author who lived mostly in France and wrote in French. A communist at one stage, the Nazis put him in Buchenwald as described in this novel. He was also a socialist Minister of Culture in Spain after Franco died)

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (born 1959. This is her 1985 autobiographical novel about a girl brought up in a strict evangelical sect in the north of England. It was successfully televised in 1990 with Geraldine McEwan as the devout Mum)

Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island by HG Wells (as a rule of thumb any comic novel by Wells with ‘Mr’ in the title tends to be unreadable e.g. Mr Britling Sees it Through. This is no exception)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

More by Max Beerbohm (1872-1956. His 1899 novel)

The Gold Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000. This is his 1958 novel. Bassani was of Ferrara Jewish origins whose situation under WW2 Fascism was depicted in The Garden of the Finzi Continis . He was also a publisher’s editor responsible for taking on the legendary The Leopard by Lampedusa.)

Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Eminent Colombian Nobel Winner, 1927-2014. This is his 1986 account of the filmmaker Miguel Littin returning clandestinely to his native Chile)

Symposium by Muriel Spark (1918-2006. Excellent 1990 novel about 5 couples at a dinner party by hugely gifted blackly comic Scottish writer)

Late Call by Angus Wilson (1913-1991. Very talented if uneven writer, doyen teacher at the famous UEA Writing MA, whose short stories plus the novel Hemlock and After are fine entertainment. This was his 1964 novel)

Rituals by Cees Nooteboom (born 1933. The best-known novel, published 1980, of the extremely talented Dutch author, who also writes great travel books)

Thy Neighbour’s Wife by Liam O’ Flaherty (1896-1984. Excellent novel about a troubled priest by one of Ireland’s finest writers, most of whose work is appallingly out of print. I recently published a post about it in these pages)

Wilderness by Liam O’ Flaherty (his compelling 1927 novel)

Lost by Hans Ulrich Treichel (the harrowing tale of a German family fleeing from the Soviet invasion in 1945)

Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa (born 1963. Gifted Ugandan writer and this his debut novel sold over 100,000 copies)

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark (controversial 2000 novel about a fraudulent psychiatrist)

The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom (inventive and absorbing 1991 novel about a man who wakes up in a different city to where he fell asleep)

The Truth About An Author by Arnold Bennett (1867-1931. My favourite novel of the great man’s is his 1911 The Card turned into an entertaining 1952 movie with Alec Guinness and Petula Clark)

Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner (1897-1962. The great Deep South writer from Oxford Mississippi best known for The Sound and the Fury)

A Light in August by William Faulkner

Soldier’s Pay by William Faulkner

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch ( I am a paid up fan of Murdoch but I found this too whimsical and plain daft for its own good)

I’m Off by Jean Echenoz (born 1947. Prolific French author, winner of Prix Goncourt)

Kaleidoscope One by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942. Short stories by the great Austrian Jewish writer who committed suicide with his wife in exile in the USA)

Kaleidoscope Two by Stefan Zweig

The Nice and The Good by Iris Murdoch (I loved it on a first reading though less so next time round)

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (born 1961. Bestselling poignant novel about a man and a penguin by leading Ukranian writer who writes in Russian. His work has been translated into 37 languages)

Vatican Cellars by Andre Gide (1869-1951. A novel about saints, pickpockets and con men by the Nobel winner 1947)

The Seville Communion by Arturo Pereze-Reverte (born 1951. Bestselling novel by flamboyant Spanish writer who was once a war correspondent)

Games with Love and Death by Arthur Schniztler (1862-1931. Short stories by the great Austrian Jewish writer whose work was described by Adolf Hitler as Jewish filth)

A Dinner of Herbs by Carla Grissmann (1928-2011. Touching memoir by US travel writer who at one stage lived in Afghanistan)

The Low Life by Alexander Baron (1917-1999. London novelist and screenwriter of Polish Jewish origins. This 1963 novel is about London gamblers, prostitutes and layabouts)

Fowler’s End by Gerard Kersh (1911-1968. Another London Jewish writer who eventually settled in the USA. He was immensely prolific but is little read since his death 50 years ago)

Four Tales by Joseph Conrad

Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway

Nicolas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

Hunt The Slipper by Violet Trefusis (1894-1972. Talented and original novelist who was lover of Vita Sackville-West and their relationship was fictionalised in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Her extremely enjoyable novels are available in Virago Classics)

The Case of Sergeant Grisha by Arnold Zweig (1897-1968. No relation of Stefan Zweig, he was a German Jew born in Poland who ended his days in communist East Germany. This bestselling 1927 work is his famous anti-war novel)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1930-2013. This 1958 novel by the Nigerian writer is the most read work in African literature)

No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe (his 1960 novel)

Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje (born 1943. A Canadian born in Sri Lanka, author of 1992 The English Patient, and winner of the Booker Prize. This is his 1976 novel)

1956 by Margaret Wilkinson (short stories by American creative writing teacher based in Newcastle University UK)

Lancelot by Walker Percy (1916-1990. New Orleans author who won the National Book Award. This is his 1977 novel)

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad

My Father by Jean Renoir (1894-1979. Memoir by eminent film director and author)

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (I recently wrote a post about this. She was the lover of HG Wells and an enormously talented writer)

The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe (born 1961. Successful UK novelist whose work has been televised)

Ten Men by Elisa Segrave (novel by London writer and critic famous for her Diary of a Breast)

Diary of a Breast by Elisa Segrave (about her battle with breast cancer)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1914-1994. Best known autobiographical novel by eminent black US writer which won the National Book Award in 1953)

The Comedy Man by DJ Taylor (born 1960. Prolific novelist, critic and biographer who wrote the definitive biography of George Orwell)

Moscow Circle by Venedikt Yerofeyev (1938-1990. Wildly funny surreal novel by a dissident whose father spent many years in Stalin’s gulags)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1890-1974. Massively gifted writer who disappeared from view for many years, and this is her prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Born in Dominica in the Caribbean she spent most of her life in the UK)

Cab at the Door by VS Pritchett (1900-1997. Memoir of eminent UK short story writer)

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989. This novel by the eminent travel writer is about the fictionalised life of a slave trader in what is now Benin)

Gleanings in Buddha Fields by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904. Born of Irish and Greek parents in Lefkada Greece, hence his name, he moved to Japan in 1890 and became a naturalised citizen and expert Japanologist. This is his 1897 work)

An Indian Summer by James Cameron (1911-1985. Eminent British journalist and this is his 1974 travelogue)

Sean by Eileen O’ Casey (memoir of the great Irish playwright Sean O’ Casey, by his wife)

The Alexandria Semaphore by Robert Sole (born 1946. Distinguished French novelist of Egyptian extraction)

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (born 1941. Major Australian novelist from Adelaide)

The Hacienda by Lisa St Aubin de Teran (born 1954. Superb memoir about her time looking after a huge South American estate when her unstable Venezuelan husband was incapable of doing so. One of my favourite contemporary UK writers)

Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (born 1963. Jewish US writer and this bestselling novel came out in 1988 when he was 25)

Innocence by Pierre Magnan (1922-2012. Gripping novel by superb French crime writer)

Ways of Escape by Graham Greene (his 1980 memoir)

The Adventures of Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich (1932-2018. Epic series of satirical novels 1969-2007 by courageous activist who has publically criticised another Vladimir called Putin)

Last Summer by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960. Author of Doctor Zhivago and this is a tender novella about a young Russian tutor reminiscing about his romantic adventures)

Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz (leading Israeli writer born 1939. This is his 1973 novel)

A Favourite of the Gods by Sybille Bedford (1911-2006. German born writer who lived mostly in the UK. This 1963 novel is about an American heiress)

The Club of Angels by Luis Fernando Verissimo (born 1936. Brazilian writer who is also a journalist, cartoonist and a sax player)

The Mansion by William Faulkner

Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov (1899-1951.Satirical Russian novelist variously liked and loathed by Stalin and sometimes called the Russian George Orwell. He died young of TB)

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

The African Child by Camara Laye (1928-1980. Guinean writer and this his autobiographical novel was published in 1953)

Adrigoole  by Peadar O’ Donnell (1893-1986. Radical Irish Republican born in Donegal whose best novel I think is The Big Windows, 1955. He also edited The Bell at one stage)

Lost Fields by Michael McLaverty (1904-1992, and not to be confused with Bernard McLaverty. Belfast teacher, short story writer, and mentor of Seamus Heaney and John McGahern with whom he fell out. He wrote fine stories about Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland, where he holidayed as a child)

Austerlitz by W G Sebald (1944-2001. Fine highly idiosyncratic German writer teaching in UEA, UK and at the height of his powers, when killed in a car crash. His themes were mostly about memory and forgetfulness, and he had been tipped for the Nobel Prize)

Old Men Forget by Duff Cooper (1890-1954. The 1953 autobiography of Tory politician and diplomat husband of Lady Diana Cooper)

Ferdinand Count Fathom by Tobias Smollett (1721-1771. I am a paid-up fan of the author of Peregrine Pickle, Launcelot Greaves and Humphry Clinker but this novel is well-nigh unreadable, as if written in the bath. Smollett was a Scot and a ship’s surgeon as well as a picaresque novelist)

The Land of Spices by Kate O’ Brien (1897-1974. Fine Limerick writer who would have disappeared from view had it not been for the wonderful Virago Classics. Read all of her novels and you won’t be wasting your time. She also wrote a leftist travelogue called Farewell Spain about the Spanish Civil War. This novel was immediately banned in Ireland when it appeared)

The Blood of Others by Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986. Author of The Second Sex and lover of Jean-Paul Sartre, this is her 1945 novel)

A Confession by Maxim Gorky (1868-1938. This is his 1908 novel about Russian religious sectarians. Gorky is one of my very favourite writers, and his novels e.g. The Three of Them, The Artamonov Affair and Foma Gordyev are shamefully neglected)

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000. Booker winner and this is her 1980 novel)

The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald (her 1990 novel)

The Price of Love by Arnold Bennett (a little known but very enjoyable 1914 novel by the great man)

The Journals by Arnold Bennett (more  gripping than some of his lesser novels, at the end of every year he calculates, with no computers or calculators in his day, how many thousand words he wrote and how much dosh he had made)

QED by Gertrude Stein (1874-1946. Lover of Alice B Toklas, this is her 1903 novel about a passionate Lesbian affair. She was both a Jew and an art collector who controversially survived WW2 living in France, and later she praised Marshal Petain of the Vichy collaborationist government)

Southpaw by Lisa St Aubin de Teran (one of my favourite UK writers with family connections to the Channel Isles)

Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866. Satirical novelist and friend of the poet Shelley)

Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett (alas, not one of his best)

Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers (1917-1967. Deep South writer best known for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Much praised by Graham Greene and Gore Vidal. This is her 1941 novel)

Renee Mauperin by the Goncourt Brothers (Edmond Goncourt 1822-1896, Jules Goncourt 1830-1970. Famous for their Journals these 2 naturalist writers rarely spent a day apart until Jules’ early death. This is their collaborative 1864 novel)

The Migrant Painter of Birds by Lidia Jorge (born 1946. Superb novel by leading Portuguese writer from Boliqueime in the Algarve , which I reviewed for the Literary Review)

Marcel by Erwin Mortier (born 1965. Stunning 1999 debut by Flemish writer told via a 10-year-old boy, and about the vanishing of the beloved Marcel)

Sanctuary by William Faulkner

Two Brothers by Bernardo Atxaga (born 1951. The 1985 story collection by the best known contemporary author writing in Basque. My favourite book of his is the 1988 Obabakoak)

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1892-1983. Her fine 1918 novel about a traumatised soldier returning from the trenches. Made into a film in 1982 with Alan Bates, Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson)

The Big Windows by Peadar O’ Donnell (my favourite work by the Donegal novelist)

The Weaver’s Grave by Seumas O’ Kelly (1881-1918. The best known short story/ novella of the fine Galway writer who was also a dramatist and journalist)

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch (very enjoyable and worth it for the title alone)

A Legacy by Sybille Bedford (very absorbing and available as a Virago Classic)

The Gospel According To Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago (1922- 2010.The 1991 novel by Portuguese Nobel winner 1998. A phenomenally gifted writer who exercises perfect sentence control and perfect sly wit at the same time. My literary hero)

The Body’s Rapture by Jules Romains (1985-1972. Pen name of French author best known for his vast novel cycle Men of Goodwill. This is his 1933 novel)

Pray for the Wanderer by Kate O’ Brien (her 1938 novel)

That Lady by Kate O’ Brien (her bestselling antifascist historical novel set in Spain, made into a movie in 1955)

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (born 1940. Very talented Chinese American author)

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (born 1944. This is the massively bestselling 1995 work by the German philosophy professor. I thought it readable and no more)

The Burn by Vasily Aksyonov (1932-2009. The best known 1975 novel of a satirical pro-Western Russian often at odds with the KGB. Aksyonov was also a trained doctor)

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan (born 1950. Moving account of the Northern Irishman’s being held hostage in Beirut from 1986-1990)

Oranges from the Son of Alexander Levy by Nella Bielski (born in Ukraine in the 1930s, she moved to France after marrying a French journalist. Novelist and playwright who often collaborated with the late John Berger)

I’m Dying Laughing by Christina Stead (1902-1983. Satirical Australian novelist who was a committed Marxist. This is her posthumous 1986 work)

Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1871-1900. Highly innovative US writer and this is his best known 1895 novel about the American Civil War)

The Autobiography of Isadora Duncan

Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet (1903-1923. Shocking but accomplished novel by enfant terrible who died of TB aged 20. It is about a 16-year-old boy having an affair with a woman whose husband is away fighting on the front and is part autobiographical. He was a friend of Picasso, Cocteau etc)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

The Little Misery by Francois Mauriac (1885-1970. The 1951 novel by the great writer who won the Nobel in 1952)

Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1932-2018. Acclaimed 1979 novel by Nobel winner 2001. My favourites of his books are Miguel Street and Mr Stone and the Knight’s Companions, both very funny, the former set in backstreet Trinidad and the latter in the genteel UK)

The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P by Brian O Doherty (born 1928. This is the 1992 novel by the Irish artist, art critic and gifted novelist. He is best known for The Deposition of Father McGreevey)

Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks (1933-2015. Wonderfully enjoyable 2001 memoir by the famous neurologist)

Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote (1924-1984. This 1980 work by the great ‘Southern Gothic’ writer is a collection of short pieces of both fiction and non-fiction.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006. Fine novel by the great Egyptian author who won the Nobel in 1988)




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