Ripping, gripping and slicing yarns

THE NOVELS of 1992 were brilliant, unforgettable, gripping, dazzling, enthralling, even 'morally slicing' - at least, according to the literary pages' nominations for 'books of the year'. Nearly 500 titles were featured, with almost as many superlatives.

Adam Thorpe's Ulverton, for instance, is 'warm, funny and very moving', 'a unique blend of talent, virtuosity, energy' and 'uncanny, accomplished'. All these recommendations are from Hilary Mantel, in the Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement and the Daily Telegraph respectively - but full marks for consistency.

Despite Ms Mantel's solid support, Thorpe is well beaten into second place in our 'poll of polls' by Philip Larkin's Selected Letters, which received 17 nominations. Victoria Glendinning's biography of Trollope and Iris Murdoch's latest philosophical treatise come equal third with nine votes each.

What is most striking about 'books of the year' features is the dominance of literature, biography and history. In the year when scientists claimed to have cracked the origins of the universe, when political leaders gathered for the Earth Summit in Rio, when Britain fell catastrophically out of the ERM, no book on science, the environment or economics got more than a single mention - unless you count Robert Skidelsky's biography of J M Keynes, which received five nominations. But then Keynes, like Ottoline Morrell (eight for Miranda Seymour's biography), was a member of the Bloomsbury set.

Veteran observers like to catch the reviewers nominating their friends. Alice Thomas Ellis neatly got round this by insisting that the only books she read were by friends, while Julie Burchill said that people became her friends because they were good writers.

Jeanette Winterson went further and nominated her own Written on the Body ('this year's most profound and profoundly misunderstood book') . . . which was just as well, since otherwise it would have received no votes at all. Also unplaced was Christopher Hope's 'morally slicing' (A S Byatt) Serenity House.

Few reviewers were so unseasonal as to respond to invitations from the Spectator and the Sunday Times to nominate the worst books of the year, but sometimes the recommendations seemed waspish. 'Much of it was beyond me,' Rupert Christiansen wrote of Iris Murdoch, 'and some of what I did faintly comprehend seemed rambling and repetitive, but there is real wisdom there.'

Patrick Skene Catling 'admired rather than enjoyed' A N Wilson's Jesus, and confided that this and another Wilson volume had sent him into a monastic library to read about transsexual developments.

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient topped the list of 'worsts' with three nominations, against seven in the 'bests'. (This, we decided, should take him out of our Top 10.)

The prize for the rudest nomination goes to Julian Symons in the Sunday Times. He described Hugh David's biography, Stephen Spender, as 'ill-written, often ignorant, inaccurate and pettily malicious'.

Other prizes:

All-round generosity: Christopher Hawtree (the Spectator) who nominated 18 books including one that he 'eagerly awaited'.

Least helpful nomination: Kate Kellaway, in the Observer, who put forward Elizabeth von Arnim's All the Dogs of my Life before remarking that it was out of print.

Least inviting nomination: Jilly Cooper (Sunday Times) who proposed a novel 'about the backstage loves and intrigues of an Australian operetta company'.

Most superior nomination: Not those who recommend untranslated works in foreign languages (an old trick), but Nicholas Shakespeare (Daily Telegraph), who nominated a novel so unputdownable that he had to finish it on 'a glacier 16,000 feet up in the Andes'.

Most honest nominations: Craig Raine (Times Literary Supplement) who proposed Garrison Keillor's Radio Romance, Nicholson Baker's Vox, and Susan Wicks's Singing Underwater, because 'I enjoyed the sex'.

Least honest nomination: Chris Dunkley (Financial Times) who liked Madonna's Sex because it was 'a striking departure in concept'.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence