Books of the Year – 2021

The problem with never updating my blog is that I can’t remember any longer what books I’ve read, or when; so I’m just going to assume that the last book I read was the best book of the year. (Actually, the last book I read was John Wyndham’s Chocky, but I’m going to discount that). This was Antonio Lobo Antunes’ psychiatry-baiting Knowledge of Hell.

Perhaps this is my favourite ALA novel so far. It has a lot of themes I’m beginning to find recurrent (the war in Angola, breakdown of relationships), this time bound into chapter-long rants, which reminded me a lot of Juan Goytisolo. The plot is: a man drives home after a holiday in the Algarve. (The opening in the Algarve, which ALA conceives as not real but a theatrical production put on for English tourists, is particularly remarkable). This plot is not important though, since the whole novel is taken up by the man’s thoughts and fantasies. – Anyway, he doesn’t like his job. He works at an asylum as a psychiatrist (an occupation Lobo Antunes also pursued). His view is that all psychiatry is nonsense, and all they’re really doing in subjecting people to it is torturing them and driving them to suicide. (If you’re ever thinking of checking into a health clinic, it’s certainly worth a read).

What else do I remember reading? – I read Proust’s In A Budding Grove (which must be the weirdest title translation of any of his volumes). My opinion of this was much the same as the first volume: some of it (the early passage about his strange love for Gilberte and her mother; and the later pages about Albertine and the young girls in flower) were extraordinarily good; but the middle section, where he dissects the social world of (damn, I was going to say Combray) whatever the name is of the seaside resort they go to, is incredibly tedious. I’ll go on with the next volume some time next year (or the year after).

I also read the Strugatsky brothers’ The Doomed City. This is one of those enclosed world SF novels, where a mysterious group of overlords are running a society on unknown principles, which involves changing everybody’s job every few months. It seems a typical critique of communism / fascism, but with the twist that it sees little difference between the two (so similar to Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate, which I’m also somewhere in the middle of).

A book I read which was very bad was Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. An implausible idea, incredibly badly conceived and written.

That about wraps up 2021. I’m sure I read a lot of other things.

As for 2022, I thought I’d return to the roots of this blog, and review only obscure books. My definition of obscure for this purpose is: writers who are really famous, but generally unavailable in English / completely ignored by the English-speaking literary establishment.

This might well include Antonio Lobo Antunes, for instance. Of the ten or so of the books I have of his, I’d say nine were books I’ve “imported” from the United States (mostly discarded from public libraries). In the UK, I’d say very few of his works were formally published. But then Lobo Antunes is at least vaguely known (perhaps because he’s still alive, which is always a help), although, aside from a few (mostly non-UK) literary blogs, I’ve never heard anybody even mention him.