This was my first reading of Angus Wilson’s 1961 novel The Old Men at the Zoo and I confess I was disappointed. When, a few years back, I wrote my dissertation on the influences of Margaret Thatcher on contemporary literature [The Blue River of Truth is available to read and download on my website.] I discovered a group of seemingly very right-wing novelists who were writing in the sixties and seventies of the last century, and who wrote dystopian predictions of both Communist and Fascist revolutions taking hold in the Disunited Kingdom as a continuation of and/or reaction against post-war militant trade unionism. I called them Pre-Thatcherist novels and they were examples of what the able critic D J Taylor labelled ‘bourgeois hysteria’. I cited novelists like Kingsley Amis, Anthony Burgess, Margaret Drabble, Piers Paul Read and the lesser known Julian Fane. To this list I must now add Angus Wilson on the evidence of The Old Men at the Zoo.
The Beautiful and Damned is F Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel. His modest output, with only four of the five published in his lifetime, is dominated by the justly famous The Great Gatsby which everyone has either read or seen on screen, but all of them deserve more than one reading. It is said, by some, that this novel is something of a roman à clef with the principal characters Anthony Patch and his wife Gloria being modelled on himself and his wife, Zelda, and their troubled marriage. It could be so: authors do not write in a vacuum. However, the sad story stands up to scrutiny in its own right without needing any external rationale.
Brought up on a sombre diet of Strindberg plays, the films of Ingmar Bergman, and Wallender on TV, I’d be hard pressed to name a Swedish comedian – until now. Author Jonas Jonasson must be a contender with his light-hearted caprice about The Hundred-Year-Old Man who climbed out of the window and disappeared.
Just to show how efficient I can be when I want to, here is a table of the baker’s dozen best reads of 2013 with links through to the reviews. I have taken time to marginally adjust the scores out of 100. I see that one publisher, Sandstone Press up in the north of Scotland, has two runners. Well done Bob! My top three, and six out of thirteen are American writers. Let’s see how my massive reading programme for 2014 works out.
This is a video adaptation of my recent text blog, reviewing the latest Victorian-style mystery novel by Charles Palliser.