Nicholas Rothwell’s The Red Highway is my book of the year for 2009. No surprises to anyone who’s heard me talk about this strange and beautiful book which is part travelogue, part biography, part history, part autobiography.
It hasn’t been universally loved. One reviewer wrote, in faint praise, that this book will appeal to “Readers who respond to a romantic, secular spirituality, who like stories laced with dream or reverie or who thrill to the idea of ‘the strange, assertive harmony of chance”, another talked about it as ‘implausible nonsense’.
But that’s missing the point. This is fantasy, nonsense, spirituality, art, history, memoir, fiction and invention.
In the non-fiction department I enjoyed Mark Tredinnick’s The Blue Plateau, a ‘landscape memoir’ about history and landscape in the Blue Mountains and Mark RIchardson’s Zen and Now: On the trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is pretty much as the title suggests, a
Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder
This is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. And the fact that I found it in a New York bookshop and had my first dip into it on a park bench in Washington Square didn’t hurt its appeal either! But it’s still a beautiful meditative, philosophical book of nature poetry and didn’t disappoint even though it’s been on my Amazon wishlist for years. Gary Snyder was the first real international poet I every saw read live, at Melbourne Uni in the 1970s, and I’m still reading him.
It was also nice to revisit a Melbourne elder statesman of poetry with the relese of Vincent Buckley’s Collected Poems. I’ve always liked the more personal, lyrical side of Buckley more than the passionate Irish patriot but I was surprised in this new collection at just how passionate and heady those sectarian days must have been for those living them.
Finally, Dorothy Poter’s posthmously published The Bee Hut, reminded us what a loss that was. Porter made a name for herself with her narrative poems: mystery, history, detective poetry. But I like her small poems just as much (more?) and that’s what this book contains. Smaller, humbler moments that are quite beautiful.
FICTION: NO AWARD
I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year. So little in fact that I can’t give an award. At the start of the year I read The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. It put me off fiction pretty much until the end of the year when I read The Infinities by John Banville, which confirmed it. Since Banville won this award with The Sea in 2006. I was prepared to be impressed. Alack! I described Condon’s book as a kind of indulgic conceit, a self-conscious, portentous author trickery of the kind that has given fiction and story a bad name. Unfortunately, that also pretty much applies to Banville’s latest, which is only redeemed by the last twenty pages. Sighs. Let’s hope for more from the novelists next year!