Alan Clark's memoirs win critics' vote

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The Independent Online
A TORY politician was the most popular choice among literary reviewers for their 1993 'book of the year' - but it was not the one you may have expected. Despite J H Plumb's eulogy in the Financial Times - 'compulsive . . . generous . . . superb . . . splendid . . . what a fighting spirit, what a sad loss' - Margaret Thatcher's memoirs failed to make the top 10. The clear winner in our 'poll of polls', with 18 nominations, was her former defence procurement minister, Alan Clark.

Several reviewers admitted only grudgingly to enjoyment of Mr Clark's politically incorrect diaries. Miriam Gross thought they were not well-written but was 'gripped by the revelation that someone can attain high office while displaying quite such relentless cynicism and frivolity'. Malcolm Rutherford thought they were 'snobbish, self-indulgent and not written from the inside' but recommended them because 'so many other people seem to have enjoyed them'.

Lady Thatcher would just have made it into the top 10 had we included all the hostile mentions. For example, Ben Pimlott in the Independent on Sunday thought this 'ghastly . . . mean- spirited work' suitable only for people 'still affected by the Eighties gush about the Thatcher miracle'. Since these cannot include IoS readers, the nomination is disqualified.

The runners-up to Mr Clark, with 12 nominations each, were Richard Holmes's Dr Johnson and Mr Savage and Blake Morrison's memoir of his father, When Did You Last See Your Father? Mr Morrison is literary editor of this paper, though no IoS or Independent reviewer gave him a shout (he got six nominations in the Sunday Times).

In the top 10, six places are taken by fiction, three by biography or autobiography, one by political diaries. Several reviewers submitted nominations to more than one paper, though only Michele Roberts sent identical copy - to the Sunday Times and the IoS in consecutive weeks.

Hilary Mantel nominated the same books but varied the adjectives. Thus Glyn Maxwell's poems were 'supple, witty, ambitious and - quite important, this - comprehensible' in the Spectator, but merely 'ambitious, graceful and mature' in the Daily Telegraph.

A good stock of adjectives is, indeed, essential for anybody wishing to contribute to 'book of the year' features. A novel by John Banville was 'poetic, painterly and delicious'; one by Peter Ackroyd was 'vigorous, ingenious and arresting'; Shusaku Endo, being Japanese, had managed something 'sparse, detailed, intensely Japanese'.

Reviewers are now so alert to accusations of nepotism and self-advertisement that most have opted for the bare-faced approach. Nicholas Mosley could 'imagine no better Christmas present' than The Green Book of Poetry, 'compiled, and with a bold running commentary, by my son'. Alice Thomas Ellis referred archly to a book published by 'someone to whom I have been married for so long'. Lindsay Anderson took the prize for special pleading: 'Surely the fact that my own name - and words - appear in Jocelyn Herbert: A Workbook doesn't disqualify me from choosing it.' Other prizes:

Most backhanded compliment: Frederic Raphael on Hugo Ott's biography of Heidegger which, he said, 'lacks literary resource but . . . has a thudding force'.

Least helpful nomination: John Jolliffe, who chose 'Osbert Lancaster's Classical Landscape with Figures (John Murray, 1947, out of print).'

Least inviting nomination: A tie between Margaret Forster who chose a novel 'about the workings of the League of Nations in Geneva between the wars' and Andro Linklater who preferred 'a sado-masochistic odyssey through the sweat-bars of San Francisco'.

Most superior nomination: John Patten, who had bought Caitlin by Paul Ferris because 'my wife and I once leased . . . South Leigh Manor' where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas lived in the late 1940s.

Most rhetorical nomination: Timothy Garton Ash on Browning's poems: 'I won't ask, even rhetorically, why they don't make them like this any more.'

Special come-off-it award: Patrick Skene Catling on Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy: 'I was sorry to find that page 1,349 was the last.'

THE TOP TEN

1 Alan Clark: Diaries (18 nominations)

2 Richard Holmes: Dr Johnson and Mr Savage (12)

Blake Morrison: When Did you Last See Your Father? (12)

4 Roberto Calasso: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (11)

5 Roddy Doyle: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (9)

Andrew Motion: Philip Larkin (9)

Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses (9)

8 Vikram Seth: A Suitable Boy (8)

Carol Shields: The Stone Diaries (8)

Sebastian Faulks: Birdsong (8)

Based on Books of the Year nominated in the Independent on Sunday, the Independent, Spectator, Times Literary Supplement, Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Telegraph, Financal Times and Evening Standard.

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