Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part I

I always struggle with this every year, which books will go into my top books of 2011 and why? I am following the form of the last few years and giving you my top ten books actually published in 2011 and, in this first post, the top ten books I have read this year which were published prior to 2011. I was going to try and rewrite the reviews in a succinct paragraph but in the end have decided to take a quote from the review and if you want to read more pop on the books title and you will find yourself at the full book post. So without further ado here are the first ten…

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier

“…the psychological intensity du Maurier weaves through the pages along with the constant sense that she could pull the rug from under you at any given moment is incredible. Before Rachel even appears herself, around 80 pages in, she is quite the presence and the reader has quite possibly made up their mind about her through Philip’s utter jealously and then suspicion of this woman. Daphne then brings in a character quite unlike the one we would imagine. It is this game of Rachel being a misunderstood sweet if tragic innocent or magnificently manipulative calculating monster that makes you turn the page, are you right about her or utterly wrong?”

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

“I myself was bullied at school, I think most kids are at some point, so maybe that’s why this rang so true with me, but I simply couldn’t shake the feeling of it and it really, really got to me. To me, though rather uncomfortable, that is the sign of a wonderful book and a wonderful writer. Through Elaine’s often distant and removed narrative I was projecting my own experiences and emotions and it, along with Atwood’s creation of course, drove ‘Cat’s Eye’ and hit home. I can feel the emotions again just writing about the book, it’s the strangest and most emotive reading experience I have had in a long time, possibly ever.”

Moon Tiger – Penelope Lively

“The other thing, apart from the clever way it is told and the great story I cant say too much about, that I loved about ‘Moon Tiger’ was Claudia herself, even though in all honesty she is not the nicest woman in the world. I found her relationship between Claudia and her daughter a difficult and occasionally heartbreaking one. (‘She will magic Claudia away like the smoke.’) She gripes about her life, she has incredibly loose morals (there is a rather shocking twist in the novel that I didn’t expect and made me queasy), isn’t really that nice about anyone and yet I loved listening to her talk about her life. I think it was her honesty. I wanted to hear and know more, even when she was at her wickedest.”

Love in a Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford

“What I love about all of Nancy’s writing (and I have also been reading the letters between her and Evelyn Waugh alongside) is her sense of humour. Some may find the setting rather twee or even irritating as she describes the naivety of the children, which soon becomes hilarious cheek and gossip, and the pompous nature of the adults in the society that Fanny and Polly frequent, I myself haven’t laughed so much at a book in quite some time.”

Up At The Villa – W. Somerset Maugham

“…a perfect book when you want something slightly familiar and yet something that completely throws you. There is a comfort in Maugham’s writing that is rather like finding a wonderful black and white film on the telly on a rainy afternoon. That probably sounds ridiculous, or a big cliché, but it sums up my experience of this book the best way I can. You can’t help but lose yourself in it and find you are left wanting to turn to the next one as soon as you can.”

Hallucinating Foucault – Patricia Duncker

“From the opening pages Duncker pulls you into a tale that at first seems like it could be one sort of book and then becomes several books rolled into one whilst remaining incredibly readable. She also shows how many tools a writer has, the book is written in first ‘unnamed’ narrative for the main but also features dream sequences, letters from Michel to Foucault and newspaper clippings and reports. It’s like she is celebrating language and its uses.”

Blaming – Elizabeth Taylor

“Her writing is beautiful yet sparse, no words are used that needn’t be. Initially though there doesn’t appear to be a huge plot there is so much going on. We observe people and what they do and how they react to circumstances learning how there is much more to every action, and indeed every page, than meets the eye. along the lines of Jennifer Johnston and Anita Brookner, whose books I have enjoyed as much, Taylor is an author who watches the world and then writes about it with a subtly and emotion that seems to capture the human condition.”

The Queen of Whale Cay – Kate Summerscale

“It is not only the life of Joe that is so fascinating, the fraught relationships with her parents, the sham marriage for inheritance, her role driving ambulances in the war (her I wondered if she was the inspiration for Sarah Waters ‘The Night Watch’), the endless affairs including with some very famous women, the obsession with a small doll called Lord Tod Wadley (who even had his named engraved on the front door so people would actually call for him), the buying of an island ‘Whale Cay’ and it ruling… I could go on and on.”

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

“As Hanff and Doel’s friendship blossoms she starts to send packages of food to him and the other workers in the store during the war, getting friends to visit with nylons etc, thus she creates further friendships all by the power of the pen. Initially (and I wondered if Frank himself might have felt this) Hanff’s lust for life, over familiarity and demanding directness almost pushed me to annoyance until her humour and her passion for books becomes more and more apparent along with her thoughtfulness during the war years as mentioned. I was soon wishing I had become Hanff’s correspondent myself.

The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn

“It would be easiest to describe ‘The News Where You Are’ as a tale of a local tv news reader, who is obsessed with the past and lonely people being forgotten, trying to discover the mystery behind his predecessor, and now friend’s, hit and run whilst also trying to deal with his parental relationships I would make it sound like modern day mystery meets family drama. It is, yet that summation simply doesn’t do this superb novel justice. This is a novel brimming with as many ideas and characters as it brims with joy, sadness and comedy. It’s a book that encompasses human life and all those things, emotionally and all around it physically, and celebrates them.”

So that is the first half of my list. Have you read any of these and what did you think? The next lot of lovely literature I have loved this year will be up in the not too distant future…


Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2011

9 responses to “Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part I

  1. Had to come out of lurkdom to tell you how much I like your list! 🙂 I reread 84 Charing Cross Rad this year and it was as delightful the second time around as the first. Daphne du Maurier never fails to please and this is a reminder that I need to read Moon Tiger soon, too! Happy New Year and Happy Reading in 2012!

  2. Nice list — I’ve read a few, not all — much approve of My Cousin Rachel, a wonderful novel. I didn’t get on at all with Moon Tiger — not sure why, as I’ve loved many of her other books. Glad you loved the Taylor, though I remember it as rather a sad book. Happy New Year!

  3. I’ve read five of them and I am chuffed because I do not always get to the best. I am enjoying reading everyone’s top lists and adding to my TBR pile.

  4. Unsurprisingly, this is the half of your list that I am most interested in, and I love it! I have read and much liked the du Maurier, Hanff, and Maugham. I didn’t really ‘get’ the Duncker, got to admit. And I really want to read the Taylor and Lively. Thanks for a wonderful list!

  5. Pingback: Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II | Savidge Reads

  6. I tend not to follow brand new books especially avidly, so I think most of the books I’ve enjoyed this year pre-date 2011. But the absolute best I’ve read this year are:

    ‘The Narrator’ by Michael Cisco,
    ‘Teattro Grotesco’ by Thomas Ligotti,
    ‘The City and the City’ by China Mieville,
    ‘Inherent Vice’ by Thomas Pynchon,
    ‘The Centauri Device’ by M. John Harrison,
    ‘Hamlet in Purgatory’ by Stephen Greenblatt,
    ‘After Theory’ by Terry Eagleton,
    ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace
    ‘To the Lighthouse’ Virginia Woolf,
    ‘The Colour out of Space’ by H.P. Lovecraft.

    I think that’s 10.
    Great post, as always.

    Happy New year, etc.

  7. Bet

    I also read Moon Tiger and Blaming this year and absolutely loved both of them. I have to say that MT is my favorite Penelope Lively book (and I’ve read a lot of them). Blaming is not my favorite ET, but I love all her books. Her characterization is unparalleled.

    I read Cat’s Eye several years ago and it has remained my favorite Margaret Atwood read. I read Love in a Cold Climate every year– so funny!

  8. An interesting list, Simon. The only one I have read is 84 Charing Cross Road and I remember loving it very much. I have Moon Tiger in my pile, so must dust it off for a read, and ditto for The News Where You Are.

  9. Great list, Simon! It’s been too long since I last read 84 Charing Cross Road and Love in a Cold Climate but I adore them both. And seeing Elizabeth Taylor appear here reminds me that I really must try her again for myself (our first encounter not having gone so well).

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