The Godfather: Peter Corris on his best books of 2017
This year I’ve listened to 70 audio books and read two on my Kindle – very slowly, at about 25 words per screen and mostly in doctors’ waiting rooms. Here is a list of the five books I’ve valued most highly, in no order than that in which I came to them.
The Romanovs, 1613 – 1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2016). Narrative history at its best, detailing the centuries of Romanov rule – occasionally for the good (the freeing of the serfs) but mostly bad; an unfeeling, autocratic and ultimately impotent tyranny. Anecdotal when required, provisional when evidence is lacking; wars, diplomacy, sex and intrigues: a heady mix.
Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow (2015). A compelling and involving novel that moves skilfully between three time periods with a focus on an archaeological investigation on the Greek island of Lefkas. We learn of the initial dig early in the 20th century and follow the careers of the people involved through the German invasion of the island and the partisan resistance to a modern scholar reinvestigating the original expedition. Believable characters, exciting and emotionally rewarding stuff.
The North Water by Ian McGuire (2017). A novel about the last days of whaling in the waters north towards the Arctic circle in the early years of the last century. At once a murder mystery with graphic and unpleasant sexual aspects and a tale of survival in the frozen wastes, this is Maxwell’s debut novel. An author to watch.
A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré (2017). Here is le Carré, after some lapses, in my opinion, back in form with a ‘retrospective’ – a story harking back to earlier days in the life and work of George Smiley and his associates. The book is essentially a memoir by Peter Guillam. Alec Leamus makes a welcome reappearance along with Hans Dieter Munt, Bill Hayden, Control and others. Every page is stamped with the characteristic tone and style of the master.
Sweet Caress: The many lives of Amory Clay by William Boyd(2015). An excellent book with a dreadful title. This novel gave me all the rewards I hope for from popular fiction. It traverses a majestic sweep of history from Edwardian England through post-World War I social change, the rise of Fascism in Britain, World War II, the Vietnam War and beyond into post-hippy USA. Amory Clay begins as a ‘bright young thing’ society photographer and toughens up into a wartime photo-journalist. She survives the wars, deals with troublesome lovers, a drunken aristocratic husband and a difficult child. No saint, she is at times boozy and caustic but this first-person narrative (superbly read by Jilly Bond) gripped me from first to last. A great deal of research must have been needed to construct the book but the story and characters are convincingly etched.