Denton Welch’s last work stands at the head of a list that marks a fine year’s reading with the discovery of three writers whose work has changed me: Brigid Brophy, Tomas Espedal and Welch
Denton Welch’s A Voice Through a Cloud is alive throughout though left incomplete by his death. Welch’s characteristic eye for detail and ear for dialogue is clear in all his work but in A Voice Through a Cloud he maintains an unstable tension that keeps his light touch so very serious. The smiles of acknowledgement and tears become impossible to separate. It’s hard to imagine a finer book in any year and his other two novels are small but magnificent.
If pressed I’d name Brigid Brophy’s The Snow Ball as the finer of her novels that I read this year, an elegant tale of female eroticism that splices together Brophy’s twin fixations of Mozart and Freud.
What Welch, Brophy and Tomas Espedal share is the sense that they are all writing their lives in fiction, fulfilling an attempt to smuggle reality into their art and doing so with force of intellect, originality and passion. Any of Espedal’s three translated works would serve as a book of the year but Tramp will be one I return to again and again. That all three are published by Seagull Books simply underlines my deep-seated affection for their vision.
Those writers aside, this was also the year I read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, novels that led by precise description and a fierce power that lay in what was left out. Little was left out of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, in HT Lowe-Porter’s translation, a brilliant conception of the demonic, also explored in Wolfgang Hilbig’s disturbing but equally singular “I”.
Two works of literary criticism stood out this year: Rita Felski’s Uses of Literature and David Winters’s Infinite Fictions; both offered profound insight, refined by doubts and perplexities and in both cases suffused with a love of literature.
Espedal’s Tramp was a good companion novel to Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project which beautifully navigated the indeterminate space between memoir, biography and travel narrative.
Like Beckett’s Murphy, this year the macrocosm intruded into the freedom of the microcosm, i.e. the job-path became all consuming, leaving less time to read and write here. That said I expect to read seventy or so books by year end, respectable enough given other commitments which include discovering a zest for public speaking.
I have to laugh (at myself) looking at your line-up of Kristof, Mann and Hilbig. The same three books were in my intended reading and all sit on the shelf lined up now for 2016. The Hilbig waits, simply because I like the idea of having it to look forward to and will probably be the first to fall. Hopefully I will finally crack the other two as well.
And thanks, as ever, for the introduction to Seagull. One of the major literary highlights of my year.
My pleasure. I intend to read quite a few Seagull Books next year – they have impeccable taste as is demonstrated in their extraordinary catalogue.
Ah yes, I’m expecting my own copy of their catalogue soon.
Hey, Anthony, were there any specific poets that stood out in you mind for the year? I’ve been meaning to read Kristof and Hilbig for a while now. Just upped them on my current list of never-ending reads.
Peter Handke’s To Duration stood out as did Alice Oswald’s Tithonus.
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I have the Welch, so no excuse for not reading that in the next few months. You certainly make a good case for it.
Brophy is definitely on my list to get to grips with this year. I simply have to decide which first.
Is Espedal fiction, non-fiction, neither quite one nor the other?
I tried Mann’s Faustus as a teenager, and found it both exhilerating and very hard going. Mann deserves a revisit, but probably not immediately. Have you read his Magic Mountain?
As erudite a list as I’d expect Anthony. And yes, you have had a fine reading year. Enviably so, but then as we all learned you have that wonderful reading space…
Hello Max and thanks for the comments.
Magic Mountain was my first Mann, even before Death in Venice. I will reread it one day but want to get around to Joseph this year.
Espedal is lightly fictionalised non-fiction, at least that’s how I read it given my inherent distrust in the relative truth of autobiography.
I look forward to seeing what you make of Welch and Brophy.