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3:AM Books of the Year

Darran Anderson

Alex Blight, Valorium Dreams (Wake Press)

Imagine the 80s happening again, only in the future. I felt at the point of cackling hallucination at the sheer number of things I recognised.

Emmy-May-Sparrow-Furnace, The Hattifattener’s Daughter (Maccabee Hare)

Dark magic-realist fable for our times. Unlike life, anything can happen. Gripping.

Anon, Wynt & Other Stories (Norse)

Brave.

George Glaciate-Furbisher, Flenge’s Dictum (Silly Bugger Press)

A literature professor is entranced with a mysterious young exchange student, but can he complete his magnum opus before the ethics committee intervene? And is she even real? And is the real even real? Daring writing from the septuagenarian enfant terrible of English letters.

John (Kill John) art collective, GGgG (Codex)

Thought-provoking.

Houman Barekat

Sima Nitram, I Fucking Hate Don XL (Woke Press)

Piqued by its unflattering portrayal of their industry, the critics unanimously disregarded the year’s most provocative novel, I Fucking Hate Don XL. Sima Nitram’s debut is an autofictive portrait of a louche, ruthlessly Machiavellian literary agent, the mercurial philanderer Don XL, as seen through the eyes of his ingenue intern and erstwhile inamorata. The narrator, who is denoted throughout the text by a mysterious double-underscore joined by a hyphen (_-_), struggles to reconcile her burning animus with the effects of an iron deficiency that causes her to write in the kind of listlessly insipid prose that an untutored reader might mistake for juvenilia.

A veritable triumph of form, Nitram’s bloodless narration is the most convincing rendering of dead-eyed anaemia in recent literary history. This translucent, hyper-listless account of one woman’s bland obsessive turmoil is punctuated by unaccountably captionless photographs, in a clever nod to the work of the late W.G. Sebald. Although _-_ never once leaves her bedroom, the visual mélange of Trip Advisor reviews, Deliveroo notifications and Chatroulette screen-grabs complements her plaintive monologues of dull despair to produce a powerfully immersive psychogeography of inertia.

Susanna Crossman

Diana Smith-Higglebury, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion

From the author of the sensational bestseller, Build A Wall Around Our Island, comes, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion. This no-nonsense, comprehensive guide is full of delightfully giddy chapters: Family Morality (think diagrams explaining Corporal Punishment, Sex with Remainers), Special Occasions (look out for full-page glossy photos of Cheese-Rolling, Dickens’ Carols), Craft Activities (such as instructions on how to knit an egg-cosy celebrating Article 50) and a Recipe chapter devoted to Beer and Bacon. Striking a balance between playful and serious, the author also gives extensive advice and helpful instructions on how to set traps and eliminate hunt-saboteurs, the metropolitan elite and foreign neighbours. A perfect post-Brexit stocking-filler by Diana Smith-Higglebury, hailed as ‘the new Mrs Beeton’, much-loved wife, mother and presenter of the reality TV show Our Local Shop. Free with every purchase: a Jean-Claude Juncker doormat.

Kit Caless

Non Jiven, Afgakistan

I loved this book, like I love a bit of flake in the Groucho on a Tuesday night. Daring, controversial, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And guns. Lots of ’em. Reading this made me feel like a man. A real man, like Ross Kemp. Not an alcoholic loser like Phil Mitchell. Jiven takes you right into the action of soldiers of blow — almost as if he has done loads of chop himself in the past.

This is state of a broken nation stuff. What Jiven manages to do is elicit no sympathy for these alpha male hogs of war, who hoover up the gak like it’s dust on a fancy carpet, before going out on the rampage and murdering children in Basra. The thrill of this book is how well he describes taking coke, it makes you want to rack up a line there and then and get bang on it. And he does this every ten pages. I ploughed through six grams of the old Bolivian marching powder in just the first half. I was gurning so much I thought I’d turned into James Corden.

Afgakistan is probably the first post-Lexit novel to be published. It’s a tour de force — literally! They are in the force, and they are on tour. You couldn’t make it up. Unless you’re Jiven, in which case you did make it up and it’s fabulous. A thrilling ride of packet, packet, and more packet. A packet tour. By Thomas Cooked. Oh, and there’s some stuff about what it’s like to be a bloke and masculinity and what have you. But don’t let the heavy stuff weigh you down, that’s just what the editor wanted to put in to bulk out the story.

Bravo! (bravo, two zero) Non — you’ve cracked (aha!) a new genre: War… On Drugs.

Thom Cuell

Fernando Sdrigotti, The Situationist Guide to Parenting

Since the arrival of twins, Spirulina and Ocelot, I have been indebted to my great friend and editor Fernando Sdrigotti for his invaluable parenting guide, inspired by the philosopher and alcoholic Guy Debord. No more awkward silences during the hours it seems to take the au pair to dry her hair — Sdrigotti’s guide provides no end of suitable conversation topics for bright 2 year olds, from Peppa Pig’s role in mediating social interactions between toddlers in the nursery to detourning the playground. Can’t afford another holiday abroad this year? Just remember, as Sdrigotti tells us, beneath each playpen lies the beach! The Situationist Guide to Parenting shifts the paradigm of the self-help genre, reinventing Sdrigotti as a Dr Spock for the modern dad.

S.T Havoc, Scumbunker

His words dripping with misanthropy and latent threat like a drunk outside a kebab shop at midnight, ST Havoc represents the authentic voice of twenty-first century Britain. Coming on like Chuck Bukowski wrestling Rabelais in Hemingway’s basement, Havoc rails against ‘crazed fools’, ‘scumbunkers’ and ‘cum scandals’ alike in this staggering indictment of post-millennial mores. What Scumbunker lacks in coherent narrative and consistent punctuation, it makes up for in belligerence. Not since Amis’ late-period masterpiece Lionel Asbo has a writer so successfully channelled the spirit of toxic masculinity and 24-hour drinking and bought it howling into the living rooms of the great and good. His spirited hijacking of the BBC’s Man Booker Prize coverage is worth an award in itself.

Renton Carmichael, Pampas Grass and Empty Parking Lots: A Tooting Odyssey

Renton Carmichael’s latest psychogeographical adventure sees him explore the outskirts of Tooting, a territory which almost exactly corresponds to the area he is forbidden to enter under the terms of the restraining order taken out against him by a former research assistant. While his previous work has been criticised (unfairly in my view) for the inordinate amount of time spent on descriptions of fucking trees, here Carmichael focuses his critical eye on human affairs: perfidious man, even more perfidious woman, midlife crises, swingers parties, departmental rivalries, thinly veiled accusations of bribery, drunkenness and harassment, divorce, unemployment and an extremely detailed (if somewhat partial) account of academic disciplinary procedures. The sight of a burger wrapper tangled in pampas grass in an apparently ordinary suburban front garden sparks a Proustian outpouring of memory, from which this odyssey takes flight. Carmichael has boldly stepped beyond the artificial boundaries of so-called ‘nature’ writing to produce the definitive account of the embittered and insecure masculinity in the twenty-first century.

Tim Etchells

Krise Plötzliche, Saint Cyanide (Fitzgeraldo)

Krise Plötzliche’s latest in translation involves a former special-Olympics swimmer, a misunderstood unpopular Hackney Grime DJ, a deaf-and-dumb trainee landscape gardener, an improperly-qualified railway mechanic, a stubborn Italian ex-cop, a gender-fluid Gazprom executive, an ailing Welsh hill farmer, a vivacious wannabe Cuban reality TV star, a partially psychic small-time Washington political fundraiser, an alcoholic French midwife, a recently-divorced Iranian crystal therapist, a depressive football hooligan and climate-change sceptic, a mysterious but lonely Nigerian waitress, a drug-addled Serbian chess prodigy, a philandering small-town Moroccan butcher and a shady intellectually impoverished selfish forgetful short-sighted bigoted English humanities academic all of whom are sought out by an unknown assassin with apparently unlimited travel budget and no discernible motive. Weaving such loose threads in terse vivid prose, Plötzliche aces the tapestry, the whole job accomplished with her typical mix of impeccable plotting and completely impenetrable psychology. I read it in a single sitting on a delirious endlessly delayed and diverted train up to Glasgow this summer. In the end New York is burning, London is snowbound, Paris is under water, Istanbul is abandoned, Havana is booming, Zagreb is waiting, Casablanca is forgotten, Shanghai is under bombardment, Sheffield is divided, Accra is almost-completely deserted and all of the protagonists are dead.

Heidi James

R Bewley, Fish pools and Concubines (Maccabee Hare)

This extraordinary novel is practically Orwellian in scope and interrogatory verve. Bewley’s work never fails to razzle and dazzle me in equal measure and Fishpools and Concubines doesn’t disappoint. It is perverse, rotten to its core, and better yet, moving, illuminating and experimental. Combining the watery worlds of competitive carp breeding and a protagonist unable to experience the act of love without economic exchange, this is an incisive challenge to masculine claptrap, fish hooks and sexual slavery. You need never read another book, this one is so marvellous.

Sam Jordison

George Henry, Academicon (Puffin)
James Maunder, Atrophy (Ladybird)

I’ve been too busy melting-down on social media to properly engage with what we used to call ‘the novel’ this year. I’ve had to limit my reading to one piece of fiction a day (or two if the books are less than 500-pages long). As this annus horribilis has ground on I’ve also found it increasingly rewarding — and apt — to read books written in languages that aren’t yet invented. This too has placed certain boundaries on what I can take in. The problem is that the books that exist in our heads tend to be more interesting than anything anyone else is doing. Don’t you think so? There don’t seem to be enough writers doing enough real work nowadays.

Anyway, I did find sustenance in George Henry’s Academicon. (I’m assuming it’s still permissible to nominate a white male?) George Henry’s lead character — Henry George — speaks to the struggle we all go through. He is that Everyman, the older but mysteriously attractive thinker, who can’t help but bring into his orbit (and bed) beautiful, but mysteriously difficult, young women. I thought: ‘At last!’ Here was someone prepared to speak truly and openly about how powerful an effect on others you can have with simple intelligence and an aching and important soul. George Henry is also good on all the frustrating papercuts of existence. His Henry George is rightly renowned, but, like so many of us, is also forced to lower himself to doing paperwork and clock-punching by unimaginative pen-pushers within the great crushing bureaucracy de la vie. Fortunately I read this one while on sabbatical, exploring the less commonly frequented beaches of Albania, otherwise it would have felt a bit too close to home. Would it be too optimistic to compare him to Saul Bellow?

Talking of Bellow, I also must put a word in for James Maunder’s Atrophy. Once I had got over my blushes at realising he had based some of his lead character’s more attractive traits on a certain not-as-well-known-as-he-should-be writer and publisher, I couldn’t help but lose myself in his energy and anger. ‘Why can’t we have more from the world?’ he asks and I can’t help but wonder too. I hope next year is better.

James Miller

Stacey DoWeavil, The Russian Bot’s Wife
@______, Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage
Luca, Mort: Other Poems

Ever since I met my wife on Friends Reunited I’ve been intrigued by the ways in which social media facilitates human interaction and in the weeks following my operation I’ve been persuaded that of all the book trends this year the best by far is ‘up-lit’ — novels that manage to combine a strong story and fun, relatable characters with some feel good self-help. Best of these is by far is The Russian Bot’s Wife by Stacey DoWeavil. It’s a beautiful story, really, about Perry an intersectional feminist spokesperson who seems to have it all: the platform, the online cred, the verified Twitter account. But Perry feels her life to be hollow and after posting a piece she wrote for Teen Vogue about transgender travel blogs she is ruthlessly trolled by sexist and racist Twitter bot accounts. Initially overwhelmed by the abuse she receives, Perry bravely decides to engage with her detractors and soon finds herself involved in a meaningful dialogue with PureBlood3574. PureBlood3574 turns out to be more than just an angry crypto-Nazi; he’s actually a lonely Russian called Sergei whose job it is to programme the algorithms for over 5000 far right and Pro Trump bot accounts and lives in Vladivostok. He tires of the hate and just wants some love. A great twist comes in the final quarter of the novel when Perry flies to Russia and, after some initial funny misunderstandings, marries Sergei and gives up feminist punditry in favour of making homemade pickles and generating ironic not ironic Putin memes. Sergei, meanwhile, learns important truths about male and female friendships, biological essentialism and consent. The fact that much of the book was composed by reconstructing abusive tweets sent by actual Russian bots to Stacey herself was, for me at least, a bonus.

In a similar vein I also recommend Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage by @______ which shows how to not to digitally detox. The scene where the main protagonists ‘live Tweet’ their break up and are mainly concerned about who gets the most retweets while a kitten slowly suffocates in the background was quite harrowing: a searing indictment of our contemporary narcissism and solipsism.

Of course, I don’t read poetry anymore (who does?) but if I did my book of the year would be Mort: Other Poems by Luca, a series of blank poems in the style of a David Harsent lament, if David Harsent was really a Cold War spy doomed to permanently relive tense transitions through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin circa 1983.

Sam Mills
Lord Erectimonious, Woodland Pleasantries

Lord Erectimonious has written numerous books celebrating Nature, birdspotting and woodland walks over the last decade, but Woodland Pleasantries is surely his magnum opus. I have had the good fortune to partner him on many a stroll across Hampstead Heath and watch in awe as he pauses to pluck Japanese knotweed for his legendary gourmet green stews, or specify rare ferns by their Old English nomenclature. Woodland Pleasantries takes the genre of nature writing to dizzying new heights by exploring the curious, fricative union that has evolved between the natural world and homo sapiens. In a series of essential lessons for budding naturalists, one learns that dead sparrows can be useful aids for onanism whilst reciting lines from Catallus; and that the correct etiquette for a carnal response to the flash of a rabbit’s ears should be the cry of, ‘Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo!’ You’ll never look at – or, indeed, caress – a helix pomatia gastropod in the same way again.

Not long after reading this inspirational tome, I found myself enjoying an exquisite orgiastic commune on the Heath with several millipedes, a toad and a hedgehog, all conducted with an ethical respect for the leafy milieu around us. In a world where our population is reaching uncontrollable levels, Woodland Pleasantries suggests new and thrilling ways to expel our desires, in sentences that unfurl and shiver with tremendous concupiscence.

Benjamin Myers

Peeter-Karl Umlaut, My Very Long Life
Romilly Redditch, Her Name Was Probably
Ian McEwan, The Hairy Toe
Chattalus the Elder, Dialogues (trans. Lord Whopper)
Ted Punnet, Stoic Farmers

Described as the ‘first post-Brexit’ novel, My Very Long Life by Peeter-Karl Umlaut was the subject of a seven-way auction at Frankfurt, and is a dazzling debut about a Danish boy who jumps out of a tree, told from the perspective of a cat. I laughed, I cried, I read all 800 pages in one sitting, and was hospitalised for dehydration shortly afterwards. Volume II is described as ‘a Proustian response to “99 Red Balloons” by Nena’. Can’t wait.

Romilly Redditch’s biography of artist Gillian Omelettes, Her Name Was Probably, is a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the overlooked proto-punk ‘faecal artists’ who exploded onto the New York scene in 1967. No Omelettes, no Acker, Basquiat et al.

I also found Ian McEwan’s latest, The Hairy Toe, about an ageing academic who has an affair with a young artist in post-Brexit Finchley, narrated by a sardonic abscess, to be deeply moving. It really tells us something about who we are today. A pre-late career highlight.

One guilty pleasure that I shall be taking away is the long-overdue reissue of Lord Whopper’s 1929 translation of 4th century philosopher Chattalus The Elder’s Dialogues. If I’m feeling mischievous I might translate them back again; I’ve bought copies for all my young nephews so that they might join in.

For light relief, former poet laureate Ted Punnet’s final poetry collection, Stoic Farmers, will be revisited on Boxing Day.

Lara Pawson

Lauren Cottenham, The Prime of Mala H. (Maccabee Hare)

Mala is not appealing. In her early 50s, her memory comes and goes like a mobile phone connection in the Peaks. She has lost her looks and her grip and is shedding friends like a yellow Labrador sheds hair. She says things she doesn’t understand: ‘My birthday is in Germany’. She writes notes she can’t interpret: ‘Collect the shia’. Sometimes she even speaks in (what she understands to be) tongues: ‘Hees moyse nay’. This obsessively repetitive novel opens in a packed theatre. From her seat in the fifth row, Mala is shouting, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ On stage, a woman dressed as a chicken stands between two men, one of whom wears a tangled wig. Three young women from the audience are leaving the auditorium at speed. Mala’s laughter segues into screams. The show goes on. And on. And on. There are sentences you will not understand and flash chapters that make only the slightest sense. You will be pleased when it’s over, yet glad to be back. You will seek out Mala again and again.

CD Rose

Eric Borstal, The Taj Mahal Does Not Exist

A delight for me this year has been the time spent waiting for public transport in the West Midlands. When the 50 from Maypole or the 1E from Acocks Green eventually arrive, I hop on board and enjoy the pleasant distraction of a dip into Eric Borstal’s affecting travel memoir, The Taj Mahal Does Not Exist.

Using the Situationist technique of the dérive paired with the operations of chance, Borstal roams the world, ever submitting it to his withering and (occasionally) hilarious glance. The lucky reader is thus able to revel in Borstal’s adventures and impressions without ever having to go to the discomfort of actually experiencing them. While some of his observations may seem dated (if not outright bigoted) to the modern eye, it is a pleasure to be constantly challenged by Borstal’s strident opinions. His daring claim that the Taj Mahal (along with the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and other such ‘pure — virtually empty — signs,’ as Barthes would have it) really do not exist is quite bracing, especially when the editor’s note informs us that Borstal wrote the book without ever going any further than the saloon bar of the Twelve Pins in Finsbury Park. Whilst Eric Borstal’s novels are, it is universally agreed, utterly awful, this travelogue is a dazzling gem of the genre.

Christine Fizelle, Phrt

Searching through a skip in Sparkhill earlier this autumn, I was delighted to chance upon a rare copy of Christine Fizelle’s legendary 700-pager. First published by John Calder in 1961 only to then disappear completely, Phrt is nominally the tale of the eponymous character, a man lost in an unnamed totalitarian state who resorts to developing his own private language in an attempt to cope with or confront his situation. Phrt has often been described as ‘difficult’ by its admirers (of whom there are few) and ‘unreadable nonsense’ by its detractors (of whom there are many). This long novel’s reputation for complexity is surely due to the mere fact that it is in large part utterly incomprehensible, and not because of any literary failing.

Lee Rourke

Tristan Bradley Saunders Jr, Flying Paper Aeroplanes in A World Filled With Pain You Cannot See (Norse)
Gus Benson, The Hole in the Whole (William Herschmann)

Whilst ensconced in Oldham for a week to visit a gravely sick relative, who had offered me the most charming Box Room at the front of their terrace house, I read Flying Paper Aeroplanes in A World Filled With Pain You Cannot See by Tristan Bradley Saunders Jr, possibly one of the most moving books of real human pain I have ever had the happiest deep pleasure to read. Based on TBS Jr’s own real, truthful experience, and his grandfather’s recently found travel journals documenting his time travelling through Afghanistan, when it was a beautiful, beguiling, and safe place for Westerners to live and travel cheaply, FPAIAWFWPYCS charts the tumultuous, troublesome, and deeply moving lives of three upper-middle-class brothers forced to travel to exotic, far-flung corners of the globe in search of not only themselves, but their shared past. Reunited at a family wedding in Zurich, we are dealt the devastating aftermath of their sorrow: a family secret so overwhelming (involving their grandfather) it nearly tears them apart. I was gripped, and as my relative slowly faded from this world, I felt like a new world was opening up before me in my own hands. The perfect succour for our troubling times.

Although nothing has come close to FPAIAWFWPYCS this year (and I read a lot of books, in fact I literally breathe literature on a daily basis) I feel I can’t finish this end of year list without mentioning Gus Benson’s The Hole in the Whole, a book I’ve read at least one and a half times now and still I feel it has so much to teach me about ‘Literature’, ‘Form’, the ‘English Language’, and ‘Humanity’. THITW is a great thing; one of those ‘Experimental’ works of fiction, published by a ‘Mainstream’, ‘Traditional’ publisher that doesn’t read like an ‘Experimental’ work of fiction at all, but like a beautiful, lyrical, breathtaking work of humanist fiction, the type you find short-listed on the new ‘Experimental’ writing prizes, glowingly reviewed in the broadsheets, and stacked high on ‘3 for 2’ tables in your local High Street. Benson is a magician: how can a book so ‘Fragmented’, so ‘Brave’, so ‘Out There’ in terms of ‘Form’, be so complete in terms of ‘Beginning, Middle, and End’? I had a good rummage searching for many holes in Benson’s whole and I can honestly say there aren’t any. THITW is a truly ‘Experimental’ feat of astonishingly pitch-perfect ‘Literature’ that makes, beautiful, concise, chronologically precise, easy-to-read, common sense. A book that perfectly illustrates our troubling times.

Fernando Sdrigotti

Pablo Katchadjián, The Thinned Aleph

Following from the experiment that got him sued by Jorge Luis Borges’ widow, María Kodama, Katchadjián embarks once more on a project of Borgesian overtones. The Thinned Aleph presents a thinned version of Borges’ The Aleph. Adjectives, adverbs, unnecessary conjunctions are cut out here and there, with no clear logic. Whole sentences are edited out or replaced by shorter versions of the same sentences. Pretentious quotes are removed. Whole paragraphs are deleted. Critical references to the Argentine literary scene are done away with. The result is a Borges that sounds pretty much like Raymond Carver. That is, a completely irrelevant Borges.

S.T. Havoc (editor), The Ultimate Aphoristic Style Guide for Writers of the Social Media Age

Havoc is an unlikely arbiter when it comes to questions of style (literary or of any kind). And to be fair he is an unlikely arbiter of anything and he should have never been released from prison. Yet this collection of aphorisms on the topic of writing surprises greatly. Havoc becomes here the driving force behind a great number of mediocre idiots writing idiotic truisms about literature, in abridged form. From the expected ‘show not tell’ to the more outlandish ‘don’t masturbate and write with the same hand, particularly not at the same time’, every writerly commonplace can be found here, delivered as an absolute truth. The recurrence of the term #WritingTips after some of these aphorisms seems to suggest Havoc might have lifted the aphorisms from Twitter, and why not? The Ultimate Aphoristic Style Guide for Writers of the Social Media Age is the perfect book for anyone wanting to write just like everyone else. Recommended.

J. M. E. Oliver, I Love Duck (revised)

Cuisine and necro-zoophilia are an unlikely topic for a novella. Yet here J.M.E. Oliver combines them successfully, creating a short masterpiece — an epicurean tale of lust, despair, and unchained obsession. The story begins when J, a fictional chef in a fictional restaurant called Twenty Three, cooks a Roast and Glazed Duck with Spiced Red Cabbage and Cranberries, as part of his new menu. A torrid and unhealthy love affair soon begins, between J and one of the ducks — dead obviously. The very graphic novella — made up of the unhinged letters drunk or extremely coked-up J.M.E. writes to his dead duck lover — is a sharp indictment of the human and the aviary conditions. The collection of duck recipes in the appendix is a welcome addition, as is the inclusion of the court proceedings in this revised edition. A perfect Christmas gift for any duck lover with a very sick mind.

Christiana Spens

@______, Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage (Blue Hut Press)

Too Many Characters: How Twitter Ended My Marriage by @______ is a searingly honest and unwittingly hilarious memoir (of sorts) about losing love in the modern age. When the author met her husband-to-be, he did not even own a smartphone, but with personal technological advances came distraction, fame, and ultimately, divorce. Told through ironic fragments of 140 characters, this Twitter-inspired ‘auto-fiction’ protests everything that is wrong (or merely confusing) in modern life, and probes the deeper motives for living a life primarily online. At times sad, lacklustre and annoyed, the memoir nevertheless displays genuine compassion for its antagonist, and for the human desire to escape reality (however promising), and champion illusions. A love song out of earshot. An ode to paying attention. An elegy for the blocked.

Adelle Stripe

Aubrey Wilson-Burke, Her Thoughts
M.R. Collins, Palimpsest
Arabella Jones, The Cold Winter

I read three books during my extended stay in Tuscany which have captured my imagination in 2017. The first, a dazzling annotated study of Rita Sackville East, Her Thoughts, contains over 789 of her personal letters, including shopping lists, recipes, doctor’s prescriptions and childhood musings. It is a thrilling and genre-defying experiment in form that evokes her Sisyphean struggle with language. Aubrey Wilson-Burke’s is the 28th book on this subject and is by far the most refreshing literary biography I have come across since Rita: My Gardening Year.

The sophisticated musings of Hampshire’s M.R. Collins provided much inspiration throughout the long summer days by the pool. His remarkable wit and daring ambition in his fourth collection, Palimpsest, reveals the inner turmoil of a traveller abroad. His formative experiences at Marlborough are explored through the exceptional ‘In Love with My Bedders’, an unforgettable Keatsian ode which will stay with me for years to come.

I was struck by the devious and compelling unreliable narrator of Arabella Jones’ YA debut The Cold Winter. It is the first in a series of nine books bought for a seven-figure sum, and one can see why the publishing world is alight over this young Oxbridge talent. The novel is set in the tense surrounds of Chelsea, funnily enough, just down the road from where I live. The dynamic pursuit of protagonist Ziggy reveals her secret life as a psychic-sleuth, set against the backdrop of a Dystopian future; Jones’ captivating tale really tells us who we are as a nation. Recommended.

Joanna Walsh

Here are my books of the year, created by feeding various end of year reviews (mostly from the TLS) into a text randomiser, and messing with the app’s parameters (tho I’d like to note that even a bot can’t be persuaded to score high on the VIDA count: could this be something to do with the text available for me to feed it 🤔) to ensure that the busy seasonal reader has no need to read, critique, buy or gift the volumes in question: we can read it for you wholesale.

Fiction: The Brilled Marticles

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Poetry: Mort Poems

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Biography: House

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Tony White

Anonymous (Eds.), There Never Was A Light (Or If There Was It Went Out Long Ago) (Codex, £50)

Disappointment drips from every entry in this crowd-sourced compendium of complicity and regret, based on the celebrated blog and social media campaign that simply sought answers to the question: is Morrissey really a racist, and what might your answer say about you? The anonymous editors — surely fans themselves — are to be praised, for without them the subtle sensitivities of so many wounded souls might have been lost, like teardrops in the rain. Preserved in these pages, and fragile as pressed flowers, the cumulative effect of so many tiny epiphanies may just break your heart. Not so much a ‘music book’, then, but with impressive sales, and a wide readership that (despite the price point) has proved not to be limited just to Smiths fans and footsoldiers, There Never Was A Light… is the best of this year’s Morrissey-related titles, and sets the bar for 2018’s inevitable crop of reappraisals very high — or low — indeed.

Illustrations
Too Many Characters painting by Christiana Spens.
Saint Cyanide cover designed by Tim Etchells.
All other cover artwork by Yanina Spizzirri, a Los Angeles-based artist and experimental prose editor at minor literature[s].

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, December 4th, 2017.