Best Books of 2012: 8 of 12

In alphabetical order of authors, I am posting the details every day over twelve days if my best reads in 2012. As ever, the year was one of delightful discoveries and occasional disappointments. Today it’s non-fiction with a couple of connected events as a bonus. Do please comment and offer me your own best reads of the year.

Now all roads lead to France: the last years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis is the first prose work by one poet recounting beautifully the final years of another; yet another poet, who was slaughtered in the Great War. We all remember ‘Adlestrop‘, but Thomas might never have become a poet and remained an insightful literary critic and hack prose writer if it had not been for his friendship with Robert Frost whose work he greatly admired. Frost in turn was responsible for encouraging Thomas to begin writing verse and, once started in 1914, for the next three years he produced a steady stream of image-packed poetry that still manages to use language as straightforwardly as does Frost.

Hollis’s picture of Thomas has both light and shade. Like Wordsworth, Thomas was an obsessive walker but he may have been using his hikes as a means of walking out on his problems with family life. Like many driven men, Thomas was selfish, even cruel at times to his nearest and most dear. His decision to volunteer, after agonising internal debate, was so impulsive that he only told his wife after the event. So, we have a flawed character, always more interesting to read about than a saint, and an almost flawless poet whose work deserves rediscovery if you do not know it well already.

And now, Nick Dear has written the play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky which premiered at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2012 and draws on the Hollis account and other sources for a profoundly moving play. Read the book and, if possible, see the play, then read his poetry. Verdict 10 out of 10

Look out for the ninth book tomorrow. Happy reading!

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