Books

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Mourning a fine poet and a charming man

Published 05/01/2013 | 05:00

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For anyone who knew him, whether casually or well, news of Dennis O'Driscoll's death at Christmas came as a great shock.

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He was the most charming and solicitous of men, as well as being a fine and accessible poet and a generous encourager of the verse of others.

It was the suddenness of his death that was most upsetting – an unexpected passing such as that addressed in one of his earliest and best-known poems, Someone, which now makes for especially poignant reading.

Itemising the humdrum actions of a person who doesn't know he's about to die ("Someone is dressing up for death today"), it concludes: "Someone today is seeing the world for the last time/as innocently as he had seen it first."

*****

The No 4 bestseller of 2012 in the UK market, according to The Guardian's annual top 100 survey, was Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, which shifted 832,350 copies. A very impressive figure, you might think – or at least until you consider EL James's Fifty Shades trilogy, which occupied the No 1, 2 and 3 slots and which achieved whopping total sales of 10,509,988 copies in the UK.

JK Rowling's first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, only made it to 12th place and probably wouldn't have figured at all if she hadn't written the Harry Potter books.

Indeed, teenage and children's fiction proved huge sellers, as did erotic novels trying to cash in on the Fifty Shades phenomenon – Sylvia Day's Bared To You shot up to sixth place within five months.

Literary fiction didn't fare so well, though Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies achieved a respectable 30th placing and Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child was more popular with readers than critics, coming in at 53rd place.

However, it wasn't a good year for the Irish. Usually there have been about 10 Irish novels – mostly chicklit – in the top 100, but the only writer to make the grade in 2012 was Cecelia Ahern, although far down in 93rd place with The Time of My Life.

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