How to describe this book? Poetic novel, adventure story, the author’s version of the Marlowe/Shakespeare legend? Whatever it is, it’s probably not a book I would have immediately chosen, but being a good book group member, I dived in.
I had to tell myself to persevere, as it’s quite a culture shock to read a novel that’s written in verses, not chapters, especially when the verses are more like a Tudor tragedy than a collection of poems. But it didn’t take long to almost forget about the form of the text, as the voice of the ‘author’ comes through clearly, presenting his version of his life story. And Marlowe’s story is full of action, events, people and places.
As I read on I felt I was learning more about the Marlowe story than I knew before, and finding out about the man himself – not necessarily the most sympathetic character, but clever and complex. And little details about life in Tudor England and on the continent gave an insight into reality and an indication of the writer’s depth of knowledge of her subject.
I don’t usually mind notes in a book, but somehow I found the extensive notes in an extremely small font at the end of this book very annoying. The fact that they weren’t numbered is a minor niggle, but it niggled all through the book. I can’t stop myself from reading the notes supplied, but in this book I found them a bit too scholarly and distracting, and decided that I should have stopped referring to them so conscientiously. That being said, it’s not a reason not to read this book – the story is gripping, the writing is brilliant and the delight of a novel in verse makes me think that perhaps I’ll return to this book and read it without referring to the notes next time.
Awarding the prize, the Costa judges described this collection as “A tour de force by a poet at the height of his powers – these poems buzz with life and intelligence. The stand-out collection of the year.”
40 Sonnets is the new collection by Don Paterson, a rich and accomplished work from one of the foremost poets writing in English today. This new collection from Don Paterson, his first since the Forward prize-winning Rain in 2009, is a series of forty sonnets. Some take a more traditional form, some are highly experimental, but what these poems share is a lyrical intelligence and musical gift that has been visible in his work since his first book of poems, Nil Nil, in 2009. Addressed to children, friends and enemies, the living and the dead, musicians, poets and dogs, these poems display an ambition in their scope and tonal range matched by the breadth of their concerns. Here, voices call home from the blackout and the airlock, the storm cave and the sance, the coalshed, the war, the ringroad, the forest and the sea. These are voices frustrated by distance, by shot glass and bar rail, by the dark, leaving the ‘sound that fades up from the hiss, / like a glass some random downdraught had set ringing, / now full of its only note, its lonely call . . .’In 40 Sonnets Paterson returns to some of his central themes – contradiction and strangeness, tension and transformation, the dream world, and the divided self – in some of the most powerful and formally assured poems he has written to date.
I tried to whittle my list down to just a top ten, but I couldn’t do it. So here’s my top 14 books of 2014! I read a lot more books published this year than I normally get around to, so my list has more of the 2014 big hitters than I would have expected it to. There’s some non-fiction; poetry and young adult books get a look in too.
The Goldfinch – if I had to pick a single book of the year, this would be it.
Americanah – difficult to sum up, this is a magnificent book.
MaddAddam – a fitting end to the brilliant Oryx and Crake trilogy. Well worth waiting for!
Flight Behaviour – A wonderful return from Barbara Kingsolver. I adore her books.
Bone Clocks – bonkers yet brilliant complicated fiction from David Mitchell.
A girl is a Half-formed Thing – brutal, distressing, hard to read and outstanding.
The Martian – The best page-turner of the year, a cracking space-set thriller.
Shadow and Bone – Book One in a fabulous Young Adult trilogy which gets better and better! This deserves to be the next Hunger Games, the films are already in the works.
Orlando – I’m trying to get around to all those classics one ‘ought’ to read – I didn’t expect any of them to be this much fun! What a wonderful book.
All the birds, singing – A book that toys with all your expectations to deliver a fine and ambiguous read.
Spillover – Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about infectious diseases which spread to humans from other animals. A fantastic read, scientific yet accessible. Although written before the current Ebola outbreak, it will teach you a lot about that virus.
Incognito – A mind-altering book about the subconscious. Wonderfully thought-provoking non-fiction.
The history of the world – the first time I’ve willingly picked up a book on history since I left school. Impressive and maybe even enjoyable!
Unincorporated persons in the late Honda dynasty – Simply the best book of poetry I have read in a very long time. Outstanding.
Tony Hoagland writes in a way which is very accessible and informal, but the poetry he creates is astounding. If you enjoy poetry at all, I can’t recommend this enough.
Strongly contemporary, using everyday imagery, tackling everything from the big issues to how there seem to be fewer crisps in a ‘big grab bag’ than there used to be (and that in a wonderful poem!).
The best poetry I’ve read this year.
I never thought I’d do this – but I’ve actually read and enjoyed a poetry book!
Letford is a Scottish roofer turned poet. I loved the language and tone. I was imagining the cast of Still Game in my head until I discovered you can hear the author read at http://www.carcanet.co.uk/data/audio/audio82.mp3 .
I laughed most at ‘It’s aboot the labour’ and ‘Moths’ and the wise words of ‘Be prepared’.
Here’s a taster of how fab these poems are…
‘It’s aboot the labour’
heh Casey did I tell ye a goat
a couple of poems published
An interesting experience! Not used to reading poetry, just read many, many books, and the intellectual effort needed to understand the poems was very noticeable. I had to revisit my memories of classic tales too, to understand about Ovid, Pushkin, Mithra and others. I need to read more poetry to exercise my mind!
Not my cup of tea I am afraid. Did read most of the poems. The subject was an interesting one to pick as it is one most people avoid.
Sorry, couldn’t get to grips with this poetry. Found some poems morbid.
Liked some of these poems, particularly ones about the trees. Very descriptive about the feelings about dementia in Unraveled. I enjoyed the poem about the scorpion as there was a lot of analysis about why she has killed it, showing how one action can have a lot of reasons why it is carried out.
Confusing. I really need to read the poems a few more times.
Did not enjoy this at all.
I picked this up after reading an interview with the poet saying that she’d written the majority of the poems on the number 588 bus from Norwich to Bungay!