Best Books of 2012: Blog 6 of 12

In alphabetical order of authors, I am posting the details every day, over twelve days, of my booker’s dozen best reads last year. As ever, the year has been one of delightful discoveries and occasional disappointments. A major personal discovery was the writing of an American writer. Richard Ford wrote the sixth of my twelve choices.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford came to my attention while listening to Radio 4’s Book Programme, when Mariella Frostrup interviewed Ford about his latest novel, Canada and a few days later when I heard him give a lively talk to the Royal Society of Literature. The Sportswriter is the first of his Frank Bascombe trilogy.

The narrator, Bascombe, is both introspective and self-deprecating: not an untypical combination. As the book blurb tells us, “he suffers from incurable dreaminess, occasional pounding of the heart, and the not-too-distant losses of a career, a son, and a marriage.” It is this capacity to dream in very poetic prose that carries the reader along while preserving our empathy with Frank Bascombe, who once wrote a book of short stories but never finished his novel, leading to his becoming a sportswriter.  Bascombe comes over as the laureate of the American suburbs and an American Proust in the sense that his entire full-length novel takes place over one Easter weekend in and around fictional Haddam, New Jersey. Bascombe is aware of his faults, his problems and his unfulfilled potential but (like almost everyone reading the book) he is unable to take the decisive action that would alter the drifting course of his life. The novel’s language is a joy: the story meanders as the narrator’s introspective mind wanders but never finishes up in an oxbow, always returning the reader to the main flow. I am already reading, with great enjoyment, the next of the trilogy, Independence Day, which is another account of an action- and inaction-filled long weekend in July. Verdict on The Sportswriter 7.5 out of 10

Look out for my seventh book tomorrow. Happy reading!

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