Happy New Year! We’ve just been for a picnic in our beautiful Botanical Gardens; ducks, dogs, kids on their new Christmas bikes, blankets spread on the banks of the (very small) lake in the shade of willow trees under a brilliant blue summer sky. Couples, small groups, large extended families with proper tables and chairs and full-on buffet-style lunches. These made our thermos of tea, packet of chips, Aldi cake and sliced apple seem pretty ordinary, but who cares? We are lucky enough to live 10 minutes walk from the park, so an ordinary picnic is a readily available pleasure.
I was going to make a list of my best books of the year, but I can’t be arsed. Or is that bollixed? I have been reading the Tana French Dublin Murder Squad series and enjoying the Irish vernacular. Faithful Place, narrated by an undercover officer whose career in policing meant he’d inevitably left his inner city working class family behind, was particularly rich in swearing and slang. Reminds me of an occasion many years ago, when an Irish short story writer gave a workshop here in Castlemaine. Her speech was full of ‘feck’ this and ‘feck’ that and one dear old lady finally asked what she meant. When the writer explained, the old lady packed up her notebook and pens and left.
Anyway, no top hundred or top ten or ranking or listing or anything. I know I’ve read lots of books this year – there’s always at least two on the go – but I haven’t been keeping notes, and my memory is terrible. Two recent things bob up; Sheridan Jobbins’ laugh-out-loud memoir Wish You Were Here, and Elizabeth Strout’s quiet, moving, linked short story collection Anything Is Possible. But the year, for me, has ended in a crime wave. Australian, with Jane Harper’s The Dry and Force of Nature. And Irish, with Tana French. I haven’t got into the Scandinavians as yet, but with hot weather on the way, it’s probably the right time.
It’s funny how crime novels have gradually become my favourites for holiday reading, or insomniac nights, or as a method for riding out pain or anxiety. It’s great to find a good new writer, but good old ones are worth revisiting, too. On a recent short break at the coast, I found a Sue Grafton ‘Alphabet Murder’ B is for Burglar and an early Patricia Cornwell in seaside Op Shops. Perfect for beach reading, and Sue Grafton in particular stands up well. I’ve also recently read the latest in Ben Abromovitch Rivers of London series, The Furthest Station. It’s a novella, therefore short, but also sweet and satisfying.
New Year’s resolutions? Again, can’t be arsed. But I do have a lazy kind of plan to work my way through the unread titles on my shelves. There are heaps, and I wonder, how can that be? How did I get fired up enough to purchase a book but then neglect to read it? I have no idea. First up is H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald.
A Canadian friend sent me this photograph of my novel having a cafe outing in Halifax, Nova Scotia.