Books of the Year, 2013

by John Harvey

Of the new novels I’ve read this year, four stood out …

  • May We Be Forgiven : A M Homes
  • N-W : Zadie Smith
  • The Testament of Mary : Colm Toibin
  • Benediction : Kent Haruf

The single most absorbing book I read was Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel, about Henry James and the writing of Portrait of a Lady, which led me to re-read that novel and will bring me to another re-reading, in 2014, of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

And if I began many days without dipping into The Apple Trees of Olema, Robert Hass’s New & Selected Poems, they wouldn’t add up to more than a month’s worth.

A photograph of my friend Patrick in his I Would Prefer Not To t-shirt persuaded me to read, at last, Melville’s Bartelby, the Scrivener – a small masterpiece (and, according to the book about Edward Hopper’s drawings I was just reading, one of the first prose depictions of American office life).

Speaking of small, with Others of My Kind, James Sallis showed, once more, that he can squeeze more refracted meaning into 150 or so pages than most others manage in twice that number.

Probably the most significant thing to happen this year in the world of crime fiction was the republication by Cannongate of William McIlvanney’s three Laidlaw novels, Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties.

Thanks to Kentish Town library – use it or lose it – I came, somewhat belatedly, across Denise Mina’s books featuring DS Alex Morrow – proof that in the right hands there can be life in the old police procedural yet; proof that was made positive almost at the year’s end by an advance copy of Eva Dolan’s first novel, Long Way Home, set amongst the migrant workers of Peterborough and the Fens.

Finally, has anyone noticed how much more space Michael Connelly has been giving over to jazz in his most recent books? The Black Box, the most recent Harry Bosch, has references to both Art Pepper and Frank Morgan, with Mike thanking them both for their inspiration. Enough to make me get hold of two recordings that Mike/Harry mentioned, Art Pepper live at Ronnie Scott’s and the Fairlfield Hall, Croydon. (Hang on, didn’t someone have a cat called Pepper?)

Happy New Year’s reading …