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Five books that I read last year because I had to

January 22, 2024

There were five books that I read last year because I had to, having been commissioned to review them for various newspapers and magazines. Those reviews should all be on this site somewhere and you’ll easily discern that my favourite was ‘Politics On The Edge’ by Rory Stewart. It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to know what ministerial life can be like and /or for someone struggling to understand how Britain could have been governed so incompetently over the past thirteen years. It also has the merit of being beautifully written.

Harold Macmillan is said to have advised his MPs to go to bed with a good Trollope. I’m also a huge admirer of a writer who in my opinion rivals Dickens as our greatest Victorian author. I read Trollope’s ‘The Way We Live Now’ last year and by comparison with ‘Hard Times’, which was my Dickens read of 2023, Trollope is actually the better novelist. But there again Dickens great depiction of a fictional Coketown (actually 19th century Preston) is rightly considered second rate by his standards.

I had my usual fix of Maigret in ‘23, reading five of Simenon’s little masterpieces. However, my crime novel of the year is ‘Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper’. It’s an almost forgotten gem first published in 1943. Its author Donald Henderson died four years later. The book has been revived by Collins in their Crime Club series and carries a glowing endorsement by Raymond Chandler, who calls it “one of the most fascinating books written in the last ten years.” It is of course a contemporary statement, Chandler having died in 1959. I read one of his classic American thrillers, ‘The Long Goodbye’ again last year and found it every bit as absorbing as when I first read it as a teenager. Unlike yours truly, it has matured nicely.

As usual, I’m only mentioning books I liked. I’ve read some stinkers this year as we all do occasionally, but to end on a positive note, ‘An Uneasy Inheritance’ by Polly Toynbee is part social history, part memoir, part biography and entirely captivating. A single recollection of her meeting with a naked Boris Johnson is worth the purchase price.

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