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Posted on 19 Dec 2014 in The Godfather: Peter Corris |

The Godfather: Peter Corris on his best books of 2014

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peternewpicI’ve read 44 books so far this year. Not a lot, but not too bad given my eyesight. I make a brief note of each book read and give it a mark out of ten so that I can single out the books I’ve most valued. This year, in no particular order, they are:

Peter Ackroyd Civil War: The history of England volume III

The Stuart kings were a mixed bunch. James I (and VI), known as ‘the wisest fool in Christendom’, was a sloppy eater and speaker but an incisive and pungent writer. He embarrassed people by fawning over and fondling his male favourites, but he was shrewd enough to avoid European wars and didn’t bankrupt the country or himself. His son, Charles I, was runty, obstinate, martially inclined without any talent in that direction and brought himself into such contempt that he lost his crown and his head. Charles’s elder son, Charles II, was as shrewd as his grandfather; his second son James II was as pig-headed and obtuse as his father and deservedly got the boot. Peter Ackroyd charts these events but also writes compellingly about the lives of ordinary people and the social, economic and scientific forces at play in the 17th century. I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.


Ian McEwan The Children Act

I’ve always admired Ian McEwan’s narrative skill and economy and both attributes are on display in his latest novel The Children Act. Fiona Maye is a high-powered family court judge with a troubled marriage and concern about her childlessness. All her abilities and experience are put to the test by the case of a 17-year-old boy suffering from cancer. A blood transfusion is essential to his treatment but his fundamentalist Christian parents are opposed on religious grounds. Musical and a poet in the making, young Adam challenges the judge professionally and emotionally in an intensely contemporary story, brilliantly and concisely told. McEwan is a top-flight writer.


Ben Macintyre A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the great betrayal

I’ve shaken the hand of a man, Phillip Knightley, who shook the hand of the 20th century’s most famous spy. Knightley, at one time a journalistic colleague, interviewed and wrote an insightful biography of HAR ‘Kim’ Philby (The Master Spy, 1989). In A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the great betrayal, Ben Macintyre has drawn on new material and approaches the Philby story from a different slant – his relationship with those he worked for and with while actually working against them. Charming, chain-smoking, functionally alcoholic, Philby held his nerve to the end in the most dangerous game of all. He did great damage, particularly to American intelligence interests, and is said to have ‘picked clean’ American high-flying agent James Jesus Angleton. But the intelligence world is a swill in which there are no innocents as this well-researched and written book makes clear.


Hazel Rowley Tête-à-Tête: The tumultuous lives and loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre

This book was, to stay in the mode, a tour de force by the late Hazel Rowley, who grew up and was educated in Australia. Published in 2008, Tête-à-Tête captured not only the flavour of post-World War II intellectual life in Paris, but the intricate intimacies of the major Left Bank players. For all their personal shortcomings (de Beauvoir arrogant, selfish, self-promoting and Sartre alcoholic and domineering), the pair managed high-pitched emotional lives, literary achievements and sexual freedom most of us could never aspire to. They made their mark and defined an age; Hazel Rowley understood this and showed how it was done.


Michael Robotham Life or Death

Michael Robotham says he once read a news article about a man who escaped from prison the day before he was due to be released. This intrigued him for years until he finally found a way to frame a story around this extraordinary fact. The result was Life or Death, which is far and away the best crime novel I’ve read recently. Unlike Robotham’s previous books set in England, the story of Audie Palmer and how and why he performed this apparently irrational escape takes place in America. Incorporating an African-American buddy, Moss Webster, a good FBI agent, diminutive Desiree Furness, bad cops and FBI agents and a youth whose problematic past is the key to everything, Robotham has forged a story that is dramatic, violent, funny and redemptive. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.


For NRB Editors’ favourite books of the year click here.