Wednesday, 23 December 2009

2009 - A quick review of my year

I wasn't sure whether to bother with this having published my books of the decade last week but this blog has always included more than the written word so I hope you'll indulge me a little further. I was pleased to be able to continue reviewing generally, what with the arrival of baby No.2 into our lives, and only hope the quality of what I have to say hasn't dipped too dramatically. I'll try to keep the reviews coming as quick as I can next year but if there's a bit of a pause in between posts you'll know why.


You already know that I picked Lark and Termite as my novel of the year (other notables include Simon Mawer's The Glass Room, Stefan Zweig's Beware Of Pity and Fred Wander's The Seventh Well) so I'll draw your attention to some short and non-fiction if I may.

Plenty of other bloggers as well as the mainstream press have been queueing up to praise David Vann's collection of stories, Legend Of A Suicide. It is a book which almost defies categorisation and indeed has been presented differently here from the US (where each section is numbered as you might chapters in a novel rather than headed with story titles as it is in the UK). A fictional exploration of his father's own suicide, the stories are like broken fragments that reflect something unique about the experience. The facts change in each story but remain linked by their common themes and inspiration. The book is dominated by its central tale which makes the book worth buying on its own; a thrilling and horrific short that has a twist in the middle that will take your breath away.

Another collection of shorts is worthy of a mention firstly because of its beautiful production. Twenty-six separately bound booklets brought together in a box, An A-Z Of Possible Worlds by A C Tillyer is the kind of book you wish someone would give you for Christmas. Inspired by her own repetitive commuter journeys Tillyer has created a series of journeys into the mind, each to a separate world where you might find anything from archaeologists to strippers as expressions of power, repression or rebellion. I was surprised by how powerful the collection became as I worked my way through from A-Z and that is a testament to the writing. It is also worth noting that the book is published by new independent Roast Books

I really should read more non-fiction but one of the consolations of my low reading rate is that my hit-rate is pretty much 100%. Philip Hoare is one of those writers like Geoff Dyer who you should keep an eye on; always be ready to read whatever they write, no matter how far away from your normal remit or pattern that might be. Hoare's latest, Leviathan or the Whale is a genre defying biography of Earth's largest creature and Hoare's lifelong obsession. Informative, enlightening and personal, you'll have huge respect and admiration for the animal at the end if you haven't already. It is also a valuable companion to Melville's Moby-Dick which is its own reference material I know but Hoare's background on the man himself as well as the time he was writing in add more flesh onto that considerable beast.

I've also begun to get a handle on finding those neglected classics to accompany the glut of new titles published each month. The trick of course is to discover the right publishers and let them do the hard work for you. Pushkin Press, Oneworld Classics and New York Review Books Classics have been great guides so far and I look forward to latching onto some more in the year ahead (please feel free to tell me of more in the comments section below).


I wish I'd been able to listen to more music this year. I don't know why, but finding the time to enjoy music has become harder and harder, actually I do know why - pesky kids. It may be just as well however because trying to pick a favourite album has had me somewhat stumped. If you were to force me to name just one then I'd have to mention the album that I have come back to more than any other, the stunningly titled 'Album' by Girls. The story behind singer Christopher Owens is almost to extraordinary to ignore (read my original review for details) but the music on the album is joyous, infectious and unpolished.

What I'd rather do though is pick a few tracks from some of my favourite albums as a kind of Just William's 2009 EP (upload problems are the reason for the videos). Enjoy.

Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear from Veckatimest

White Blank Page by Mumford & Sons from Sigh No More

Laura by Girls from Album

Keep The Streets Empty by Fever Ray from Fever Ray


It was released right at the start of the year and remains the film that made the biggest impact on me at the very end. Darren Aranovsky's film was a comeback for him as much as its star in my eyes and the unflinching honesty of this portrayal of a former wrestler's comeback makes it uncomfortable but essential viewing. We are so used to watching polished film stars being beautifully lit and shot from angles that compliment, dare I say it - enhance their features that the harsh daylight and shadow of this film, the way that every imperfection on that pummelled face and body is highlighted make it all the more extraordinary. It isn't only Mickey Rourke who allows himself to become the object of our scrutiny, Marisa Tomei is just as brave in her own performance and both are to be commended for the way they open themselves up for our perusal.

I won't bother about Theatre and Art as I've done virtually none of either. Suffice to say that theatre wise you should all come and see me in War Horse. As for Art, all I can suggest is that you give the latest installation in Tate Modern's turbine hall by Miroslaw Balka a miss. You make your way up and into the vast shipping-like container via a ramp, the light gradually disappearing inside, the sound deadened by felt-lined walls. In theory you would be tentatively feeling your way forward, afraid of colliding with others, scared of bumping into the dead end of the space, unsure of where that is. Balka hasn't taken into consideration the mobile phone however. There are two types of people: those that would turn off their mobile phone when going into a gallery/theatre etc in order to enjoy the experience and those that wouldn't even consider doing that and certainly have no worries about using them. Despite a sign saying that phones and cameras are not to be used I'd be surprised if you could find a time of day when that black space isn't being illuminated by someone taken a picture/video, texting, or simply finding there way about via their mobile phone screen. It's a shame but I'm not convinced that I'd have got an awful lot more from the installation if rules had been observed or I'd been on my own.

So, 2010, that futuristic date is suddenly upon us, and what do I hope to achieve? Well, to keep it up for one thing, but to try to find and review books from smaller publishers and more works in translation too. If you publish books like that then please get in touch, if you're a reader of this blog and would like to recommend books/publishers then you get in touch too. Happy Christmas everyone and all the best for the New Year...


kevinfromcanada 23 December 2009 at 20:37  

Will: Any chance of a post on how the show is going? In the meantime, best holiday wishes to you and all your family. Thanks for wonderful thoughts -- and signposts -- in 2009.

William Rycroft 27 December 2009 at 00:14  

Hi Kevin, I hadn't thought of doing a War Horse post but your wish shall be my command. You may have to wait a little bit though, what with the festive season and all. I'll give you as sneak preview though: The show is going really well!

kevinfromcanada 27 December 2009 at 04:39  

Thanks, Will -- and do wait until the festive season is over. I'm quite intrigued by what it is like to be part of what is obviously a very successful production.

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