James Miller – Collected Stories

Not quite short stories but fragments of short stories, mainly about rich Americans with horses and divorces. The stories demand repeat reading, simply to understand what happened.

Miller pares down a life to a few key scenes and edits out their contextual, connective tissue; so if you skip a sentence, the effect of the story can be invisible.

But give each line care and attention, and you can suddenly glimpse the raw emotional secrets of a failed banker, unhappy neighbour or confused student shine through like an uncut diamond. As with Cezanne’s last paintings, not every thing is filled in, but the parts convey more than you could imagine.

L’amica geniale – Elena Ferrante

Oh, Elena, I tried. And to everyone else that loves the book, yes I tried.

But there are only so many school reports you can take. What did you get for Greek this year Ms Greco? And Latin? By third year I was pummelled into submission by the web of dreary diary entries about school, boyfriends, breast development etc.

The interdependence of their friendship was good; the grimy poverty of cementified Naples was good; and Lenu was a character that brimmed with charisma. But the plot had the speed of a traffic gridlock of a million diesely Fiats.

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante

Contra almost everyone, a better book than the above. Anxious, fast-paced, on the move, style and description brilliant catching the dark whirlpool that the abandoned wife has abruptly been cast into.

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride

From afar, a melodrama: a budding (and damaged) Irish student arrives in London and falls for an (incredibly damaged) English actor. Wounds open up, passions flare, sex, fights, cheating, reconciliation etc etc.

But Eimear McBride is an author who is all abut getting up close, getting inside.

Channelling James Joyce, she employs broken sentences, stream of consciousness, minimalised grammar, reduced or damaged syntax. Her characters do not describe their world, rather the staccato waterfalls of words are closer to their inner feelings, caged and confused like a dog in a hot cage.

This is writing as empathy, as closeness, as getting under the skin.

There are few current better writers at depicting sex on the page; no gratuitous words or pneumatic mechanics. Rather, the searing bolts of lightening inside that is propelling the whole thing forward. And, frankly, there are few better current writers at getting the intensity of emotional compression. At the end you know these characters well, and are breathless.

Never Mind – Edward St Aubyn

An English country house play about despicable upper class types that’s been turned into a novel – brandy before dinner, social oneupmanship, doors slamming, claret and contacts at Oxbridge, and the application of cruelty wrapped in English ennui (with jokes and irony for decoration)