Although we are now in a new decade, we haven’t yet reached Chinese new year. I am taking comfort from this fact, since I am still putting up Books of the (past) Decade choices. And of course the books that were worth reading in 2009 are still worth reading in 2010.
Enough self-exculpation. I promise that if you contributed to the series, your contribution is greatly appreciated and will appear on the site before long. Today’s guest chooser is Luke Brown.
Luke Brown is an editor at Tindal Street Press, where he’s worked since 2002, publishing such authors as Catherine O’Flynn and Anthony Cartwright. He was born in Fleetwood, Lancashire, and has lived in Birmingham for over a decade.
“This is a dive-bar in the American style.” Carmel narrates a barmaid’s life of “wild disingenuousness” in some of the most beautiful, poetic prose I’ve read. Surrounded by romantics and fantasists, afflicted by a painful childhood and endless Manchester drizzle, she keeps herself together with superbly poised wit and her openness to the magic of friendships and love.
Short, melancholy and with descriptions that make you want to stand up and applaud, this is as perfect a novel as I’ve read.
Everyone talks about 2666, but my favourite is The Savage Detectives. It’s a long, polyphonic novel bookended by a virtuoso first-person from Madero, a cocky, seventeen-year-old student poet, who challenges his teacher with questions like “what is a rispetto?” in between describing multi-orgasmic sex with various girlfriends. The first section’s very funny.
Between his two sections, the novel tells the story of Madero’s two poet-heroes, the fathers of ‘visceral realism’, from something like fifty different characters’ voices, over thirty years in Mexico City and in their wanderings of the globe. It’s frequently absurd and often as sad as can be, with superb set-pieces; the overall effect is exhilarating.
A novel about warring werewolf gangs in LA written in blank verse? I was suspicious, but it’s incredible. The verse works perfectly – quick to read, imagistic and hard-boiled, it flicks quickly between the perspectives of Barlow’s ensemble cast. There’s a noirish comic-book feel to it, but it’s serious too – about power, belonging, love and death. I didn’t think twice about the verse or the fact that many of its characters were werewolves – it’s very moving. I read it at a whacking great pace, completely enthralled by the plot. The novel that most surprised me this decade.