The triumph of 'Freedom' and a hare-raising journey
Commenting last Saturday about the books of the year selections that have been published in various newspapers and periodicals, I noted how favourably disposed some of our best writers were to their compatriots in prose and verse -- Roddy Doyle raving about Emma Donoghue and Joseph O'Connor, John Banville and Colm Toibin lauding Seamus Heaney, and so on.
However, a less partial and probably more accurate indicator of the year's most admired books has gradually emerged from a thorough scrutiny of these round-ups, with Jonathan Franzen's (pictured) Freedom getting far more approving mentions than any other novel and Seamus Heaney's Human Chain dominating the poetry choices.
These successes were predictable enough, but the non-fiction book that has caused the most excitement was written by a ceramicist and concerns, of all things, a collection of miniature Japanese sculptures called netsuke.
In The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal traces their century-long journey across the world as they passed into various hands and the book has received ecstatic reviews for its blend of personal memoir and socio-cultural history.
I haven't yet read it, but it certainly seems like an intriguing Christmas gift for a friend or family member who loves reading but would welcome something other than the usual bestsellers that are being peddled in bookshops.
Or, to put it another way, it should be welcomed by anyone who's been mystified by why every second person in the bus or on the DART over the past year has been reading the Steig Larsson trilogy, which began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
I thought I was alone in finding the late Swedish writer's plots impenetrably murky, his pacing turgid and the translated prose execrable, and so I was cheered when, writing in last Sunday's Observer, novelist Edward Docx lambasted them as "amateurish" and "mesmerisingly bad".