the m john harrison blog

Month: December, 2016

2016 reads

Lots of Penelope Fitzgerald, especially The Bookshop and Offshore. Some Maeve Brennan, whose “I See You, Bianca” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. All of Tom Drury. Beast, Paul Kingsnorth and The Gradual by Christopher Priest tied with Maylis de Kerangal’s faction Mend the Living (tr Jessica Moore) as the best extended metaphors I reviewed this year. Turning Blue, Benjamin Myers, very grim & Yorkshire upland; Underlands, Ted Neild, very geology. Permitted and Forbidden Stories, Valeria Ugazio. The Messiah of Stockholm, Cynthia Ozick and–speaking of massively clever & entertaining–Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself.

Books I meant to read but didn’t get round to: Ishiguru, The Buried Giant.

Most disappointing re-read, JB Priestley, Saturn Over the Water–loved that book when I was young, should have left it there. Best re-read, LP Hartley’s The Go Between, another blast from the deep past (of which I seem to have more & more these days). Opened out more and contained more and told me more about myself than it did when I read it in 1966 or whenever.

The most dangerous reads this year were women. The last few pages of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun made me cry. The whole of Olivia Laing, but especially The Lonely City, reminded me of more things than I wanted to know. & if you haven’t read it yet, Lara Pawson’s This Is the Place to Be will leave you in shock–seriously, men haven’t written like this for decades. OK, she’s my friend, and we all know her here: but it’s true.


not made in 2011

Note made in 2011:

“I began to feel as if I had learned a lesson in a language I didn’t–-but might soon–-understand. It had something to do with how you are in the world, how you control, or don’t, its access to you. In the light of that, conflicts between characters would be viewed less directly, less in black and white, and seen as less important because they are less conflicts than failed attempts at co-operation. The horror would be located in the ideological fabric of the constructed “world”, while the characters did their best to be human without understanding how they were failing. That was the big idea I was going to take away from 2009, anyway: but because Empty Space wasn’t the best vehicle for an understanding like that, it only shows through in patches and little bits of testbedding. And because I haven’t been working hard enough on short stories, nothing has come of it. I have to file the lesson under ‘ephemeral’. I feel as if I wasted a chance. It’s frustrating to know that something important won’t now find the kind of articulation that led to Climbers or Things That Never Happen.”

Well, wrong. I went back to testing, wrote more short stories, and now this book, though it’s not half the book I imagined in 2009, looks as if it will do the job.