Thursday, 23 December 2010

and that was that

so, it's the time of year when i like to reveal my best and worsts except that this year as i started getting into good flow about those films, especially films, and books i hadn't enjoyed (or downright loathed) i found myself becoming drawn into the relentless net of girniness that seems to have accompanied the cold weather in scotland. icy frowns, frigid moaning, it's not for me so, entertaining as a good rant can be, i can't bring myself to it with any enthusiasm. and so to the film and book highlights of the year...

it's a reasonable certainty i'll pick up an epistolary novel so the year was off to a good start in the form of teru miyamato's kinshu: autumn brocade. a divorced couple meet by chance and exchange letters that explain the roots of their separation and the course of their lives after. nothing much happens other than that and it's not the less for it. the characters behave like adults and the exchanges are so well balanced it's easy for the reader to be drawn in.

similarly i enjoyed yoko agawa's the diving pool, described as three novellas but really just big short stories. but again a focus on getting the job done, telling a story, rounding out a narrator, drawing the reader in rather than focusing on a theme or location and letting that do the work. in both of these the reader's left to make up their own mind rather than getting beaten round the head with the writer's leaden point.

the selected works of t.s. spivet found much favour with me, even if i wasn't fussed for the ending. it concerns a young boy with a penchant for mapmaking who manages to win a competition at the smithsonian without anyone realising he's a child. off he goes across america. normally i can;t be doing with these quirky american journey novels but i loved the first half of this and the dodgy ending was more than made up for by the design of the book itself which is clustered with maps and footnotes made by the protagonist (who surely must be loving joseph cornell). it's a beautiful thing to idle thru on a rainy day and if you're ever short of a book for the map afficionado in your house then this'll fit the bill.

another thing that made me smile was grandville by brian talbot which is an anthropomorphic conspiracy tale set in a steampunk britain defeated by napoleon and featuring as its main character the bodybuilding badger, lebrock of the yard. not only is this the only british fiction that made it anywhere near my faves for this year it was very nearly top of my list and was easily the most entertaining from the daft (but curiously compelling) set up and a graphic style from cover to finish that was old school but never old.

sadly i finished all my wllliam maxwell's this year after managing to eke them out over the course of a couple of years. the chateau is possibly the weakest but that's only in comparison with the others. collected stories adds valuable insight and the element of lavishness, his collected letters, which i've gone on about on here before is a classic which everyone should own. buy them, but them all and then off and read them, preferably on a verandah.

a tail end surprise was intuition by allegra goodman. usually if a novel has anything to do with lecturers, universities and the like i feel a twinge of depression but this one appealed to my inner geek set as it was in a lab and featuring debatable results. sure there were the usual relationship shenanigans but these didn't overwhelm the plot and served in large part to illustrate the central dilemmas. i think a lot of my entertainment from this came from its recognisability but i wouldn't let that put the non-anoraks amongst you off.

but there was only one winner for fiction. and that winner was moby dick. no, not the melville (that was a favourite years ago)one but this one. yes, it's in french but it's illustrated by bill sienkewicz who is perfect (have a look at the images) for capturing the psychological elements of moby dick that you'd imagine the truncated form of a graphic novel couldn't. the effect is mesmeric, so much so that the language is incidental - of you know the book you know what's being said anyway but even for t, who hasn't read it before, the effect was visceral. even better just to get you in the mood there's a cd of incidental music. you could strip out the dialogue, play the cd and show this as an installation. best book of the year by a country mile.

on the non-fiction front my year was more reassuring. i got peter hill's stargazing early in the year and it found a lot of favour with both me and t. it details the author's experiences as a trainee lighthouseman in the days just before the system was automated. a grand read and the best £1 i spent in a charity shop this year.

i followed the whale theme with philip hoare's leviathan which was worthwhile. graham robb's parisians and simon winder's germania got me thru the holidays while at the same time, with any of these three, perhaps contributed to my lack of fiction reading by proving that true stories are often more interesting.

there were many cycling books as usual but the standout among them was laurent fignon's autobiography we were young and carefree. poignancy was added by fignon's recent demise but he came out as an engaging and mercurial figure. which is pretty much how i remember him!

but really it was the year of eduardo galeano. i read a few of his but it was mirrors that stood out for me. still polemical but historical as opposed to football or overt politics. kind of like watching a coked up slavoj zizek in its delivery but, if anything, more entertaining. like having a distant, well-read uncle in your house sitting in a corner having a rant and all of a sudden you realise he's not drunk. each segment comes fragmented and not necessarily connected but there's a passsion and a joy in it that had me laughing out loud.
non fiction book of the year. accept no other.

films. i have to say that for mainstream american cinema this was the most dire year i can remember with a truly staggering lack of imagination on show. one might be forced to conclude that notions of narrative, character and the ability to make an original film as opposed to a remake or sequel were absent. thankfully they have alternatives.

thomas mccarthy's the visitor and also the station agent. the first of these concerns damaged lecturer going to a conference in new york to find that his apartment has been sublet to an immigrant couple. i can't say more for fear of spoilers but this is the best film i've seen that deals with contemporary american domestic policy in years. it is brilliant. but, if you're not so much in for a bit of drama, check out the station agent which, if anything, is even better. peter dinklage is a young guy with restricted growth who inherits a railway wagon that he goes to live in. he meets other people and becomes less isolated. that's it, that's all you get. i adored this film, as did t. a proper couplet of films to watch if you want to see no car chases, nothing blowing up and actual characters!

stuff did blow up in district 9 and we liked that. i sold the selkie theme for ondine which despite a hasty and non too satisfactory end saw something of a return to form for colin farrell and an excellent supporting cast but still a beautiful and well balanced wee gem if a film.

not so much as a return to form as a total shock to the system was colin firth in tom ford's a single man. ignore any impression you may have had of him as mr darcy or his many clones, firth is nothing short of amazing in this. like the last film i wasn't fussed for the end but who cared. this film was staggering beautiful to look at and firth burns up the screen with pathos and loss. julianne moore is great in a support role also. find this and watch it. if you don't like you should most likely be watching the expendables, or maybe 27 dresses. or space chimps. whatever, if you don't like this you're just plain wrong.

also in my top three is jacques audiard's a prophet. i took my time getting round to this having roundly hated the beat my heart skipped but it was worth the wait. sure there are prison drama tropes in here but so what, this was powerful film making. uncomfortable, unsettling and definitely not the most enjoyable experience i totally lost myself in this. off the top of my head i can't think of a prison film that better explores the notion of what a prison is about (no, shawshank doesn't count!).

but my favourite film of the year? kick ass. yes, you can watch it as a (kind of) standard action film, though i don't see how, but for me it had some of the care and attention to detail of a single man both in terms of use of colour and placement of artworks while not flinching away from the detail of violence that was present in a prophet. but at the same time undermining both. yes, it was laugh out loud funny but, for me, there was never a moment (and esp on repeat watching which it bears) when it wasn't engaged in our culture's fascination with violence and the consequences of that. not the easiest film to get your head round in that context but worth the effort to do.

and poetry you ask,seeing as there's some amount of that on here? i don;t usually include much of that as i'm no good at finishing poetry books and to be on the year end list a thing has to complete rather than just looked at. but of those that i did....

mario susko's eternity on hold. lovely.
small expectations by donald s. murray. which wasn't just poetry and did involve an exhibition called the net mender parts of which we saw and enjoyed rather a lot
and i also rather enjoyed child of nature by luljeta lleshanaku, which you can read more about here
but my favourite poetry came late and in the form of a pamphlet rather than a book, courtesy of mariscat press at the scottish poetry pamphlet fair. it is r. v. bailey's the losing game and concerns the death of her partner, u.a. fanthorpe. doing poems about dying and loss is always going to be a hard sell for someone like me but this is poetry that sears off the page. it is staggeringly good.
and you can get it for the stupidly reasonable price of £4 here


Dominic Rivron said...

I don't know how people find the time to read so much. Mine would be a short-ish post!

Fignon's autobiography sounds interesting - I'll give it a go.

swiss said...

that's because the rest of it are, how shall i put it, enthusiastic rather than skilful with the musical instruments!