Six Books of 2012

I thought I might write a post of my top ten reads of 2012, but two stood out so far above the rest that I thought I might make it five, and one of those will be a reread.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel was, in my eyes, the deserved winner of this year’s Booker Prize. Her prose is so deft, her lyricism, her down-to-earthness all built a believable world with Thomas Cromwell as the unlikely hero at its centre. I was concerned it wouldn’t be as good as the first book in the trilogy, Wolf Hall, but it emphatically is. The only thing that stops me champing at the bit for the third volume is that Mantel has managed to make me rather fond of Cromwell, and of course the third volume is where it all goes horribly wrong. Perhaps that is something of an understatement for his fall from grace, trial and execution.
My second top book was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Jeannette Winterson’s powerful memoir. Like Bring Up the Bodies I started reading a library copy, but a few pages in knew it was a book I had to own. It is Winterson’s very own self-help book, how she survived an extraordinary childhood, succeeded against the odds in being herself, made it to Oxford, wrote a fictionalised account of her life in her début novel, had her own fall from grace, depression, attempted suicide, rebirth. Which makes it all sound rather dull. But it isn’t, no it isn’t at all. Her comments, her reflections, her humour, her absolute drive for survival make this a compelling and wonderful book. Her remarks about the importance of well stocked public libraries, or the power of language, the connection between the language of the King James version of the bible and understanding Shakespeare should be engraved on the eyelids of Michael Gove and anyone who thinks education is simply what we put in the National Curriculum. Oh, and she likes cats and dogs too.
In another year, Michèle Roberts Ignorance, a novel about collaboration, occupation and resistance in France under the Nazis, would have been higher up my list. It is a subject the French have not yet really faced, and is thought provoking and often painful stuff. Continue reading