She felt something similar, but worse in a way, about hundreds and hundreds of books she’d read, novels, biographies, occasional books about music and art – she could remember nothing about them at all, so that it seemed rather pointless even to say that she had read them. Sometimes a book persisted as a coloured shadow at the edge of sight, as vague and unrecapturable as something seen in the rain from a passing vehicle: looked at directly it vanished altogether.
I know exactly how Daphne feels in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, a book I do currently remember rather well, it being the last book I read. I will forever wish I had kept a record of all the books I’ve read from, say, the age of 11 upwards. A little later in life, in 2011, I started a list in a lovely Paperblanks notepad. For 2012 I recorded 22 books here and now also on this Pinterest board. My biggest read of last year was Grossman’s wonderful Life and Fate, for once successfully recommended to me by my sister; if only her most recent recommendation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot had gone down so well. I also set off on a Robert Macfarlane pilgrimage which took me via J. A. Baker’s The Peregrine. I reread Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle as I had the pleasure of handing this book out for World Book Night 2012. Of course, a number of authors hosted at CRASSH recently also feature: Posy Simmonds, Adam Thorpe, Amitav Ghosh and Stefan Collini.
In Milan Kundera’s essay in seven parts The Curtain – which I read some years ago in Trinity Hall library – he identifies what for him are some of the greatest novels of Central Europe:
- The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
- The Trial and The Castle by Franz Kafka
- Ferdydurke and Pornografia by Witold Gombrowicz
- The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
Inspired, I spent much of 2011 stuck in Musil’s The Man Without Qualities and The Sleepwalkers is one of my big plans for 2013. Musil’s tome is one of Robert McCrum’s 10 most difficult books to finish, of which I’ve read three so far (Musil, Finnegans Wake and Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled). Best not to ask about them in too much detail though, as it’s a while since I read them so they’re moving into the edge of coloured shadow.