Monday, 18 December 2017

Books of the Year

As 2017 nears its end, here are the books I've read in the last twelve months.

The Trumpet-Major/The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

I continued my attempt to read everything written by Thomas Hardy into the New Year with these two shortish novels, one set around a mill during the Napoleonic Wars and the other a tale of unrequited and doomed love amongst agricultural labourers and cider makers in his almost imaginary county of Wessex.

The Evenings by Gerard Reve

A claustrophobic and almost plotless novel set amongst the foggy canals and tram lines of postwar Amsterdam on the last ten evenings of 1946 which I read after seeing this review of it, after it had just been published in English, and especially the classic line of its main character, the young office clerk Frits, when a friend asks him what he does at work all day: "I take cards out of a file. Once I have taken them out, I put them back in again."

This Sporting Life by David Storey

Although I'd watched the film based on this novel, I didn't get round to reading it until the death in March of the author who, like the central character Frank Machin, was a one-time rugby league player from a West Yorkshire mining background.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

I blogged about reading this socialist classic, set amongst the housepainters and builders of early twentieth century Hastings, here.

High Rise by J.G. Ballard

I read this novel, set in a dystopian high-rise block of flats of the future, after seeing it mentioned in an article about the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another dystopian novel which takes place in the near future, this time in a totalitarian and almost sterile former United States now called Gilead, which I read after watching a Channel 4 adaptation with Elisabeth Moss playing the title character Offred.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

The novel of the "Beat Generation", with Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise criss-crossing late forties America on roadtrips which take in visits to literary figures and to jazz clubs on the West Coast and in New York and New Orleans, which I finally got round to reading this year.

A Burnt-Out Case/The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Another author whose novels I'm working my way through, these two are both set in West Africa where he spent the war engaged in military intelligence, the first, which could be described as post-Catholic (although Greene later returned to the faith he had converted to as a young man), set in a leper colony in the Congo run by European missionary priests, and the other a more religiously orthdox account of the moral and physical decline, and eventual suicide, of an adulterous British colonial policeman overseeing a wartime Atlantic port in Sierra Leone.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The first novel I've read by any of the Brontë sisters, set upon the wild moors around their childhood vicarage home in West Yorkshire, this tale of the love between Cathy and the mysterious Heathcliff has rightly been described as almost vampiric.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I read this novel about a Newark-based glove manufacturer after seeing the film version starring Ewan McGregor and watching the BBC Four series The Vietnam War, the movement against which within the United States is key to the plot.

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Kerome

A sequel to his more famous Three Men On A Boat, and featuring the same trio of lower middle-class characters, this is another light comic novel, this time about a cycling tour through Germany before the First World War.


  1. Three Men on the Bummel also features Prague. It's a fascinating book, coming from a time before British people got a weird attitude to Germans.

  2. There are some interesting books on that list Matt, but I’ve only read four of them. Many years ago I remember the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists being serialised on Radio Four, and have always meant to get hold of a copy.

    I also need to check the J.G. Ballard book, as it reminds me of a novel we read at school, about a person who lived in a high-rise, and never went out; communicating instead with his fellow humans by TV (rather like people spending all their time on line today).

    Three Men on the Bummel was amusing, but unlike Three Men in a Boat, it didn’t have me rolling around with laughter. Agree with Ron’s comment though.