I enjoyed many more books this year than I can possibly list, but the following – as with all lists – is selective and subjective. Books on the list are not necessarily ones that were published in 2013; rather, they are books I enjoyed reading this year. Read more
The cover of Sebastian Faulks’s Jeeves and the Wedding Bells proclaims this return of the inimitable Jeeves-Wooster duo – a book commissioned by the Wodehouse estate – as “homage to PG Wodehouse”. Read more
Cricket fans love making lists. Often, the lists are as eclectic as they are fanciful. Which is your all-time best XI comprising only No. 4 batsmen? How about the best leg spinners to have never played for Dunedin? We are indefatigable. We can make lists of anything, but few things make our eyes light up more than a list of great Test hundreds. Read more
Solo, William Boyd’s James Bond novel, opens at the Dorchester hotel in London, where 007 is celebrating his 45th birthday on his own and in style. Read more
French novelist and screenwriter Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex opens with the brutal kidnapping of a 30-year-old woman as she is walking home after dinner on a mild Paris evening. Read more
Shiva Naipaul, the younger brother of VS Naipaul, was born in Trinidad in 1945. He died in London in 1985, of a heart attack, at the age of 40. A life cut brutally short, an end brought on, some say, by his excesses and lack of discipline. Read more
Not having written for the first edition of the Wisden India Almanack gives me the advantage of writing about it. A cousin of the legendary Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the inaugural edition is nearly identical to the original Wisden in shape, not as thick as it is, and is kitted out in blue and white as opposed to the original’s signature yellow and black. It is a treat. Read more
Deborah Levy, 53, had gone under the reader’s radar for a while. Her last novel, Billy and Girl, was published in 1999. And then, she zoomed out of as if nowhere to be shortlisted last year for the Man Booker Prize for her new, very short novel, Swimming Home. I’d been meaning to read it for months now, and I bought, as an e-book (because I was between books and wanted to start it right away) late one night last week. I had finished it by the following evening. It kept me up at night on the eve of a busy day in the office, but was it worth it! Read more
Two things written by the English poet Wilfred Owen kept cropping up in my mind as I read Nadeem Aslam’s remarkable new novel, The Blind Man’s Garden. They embrace this taut, intricate narrative like a double helix. The first is what is widely regarded as Owen’s aesthetic: “My subject is war, and the pity of war. The poetry lies in the pity.” The second is the following section from his poem, Strange Meeting: “I am the enemy you killed, my friend./I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now.”
The Blind Man’s Garden is set in the days following the September 11 attacks with the Americans having invaded Afghanistan. Aslam focuses on the havoc that invasion causes, including collateral damage across the Afghan border in Pakistan: in doing so, he shows up how, amid the brutality and bloodshed, the rapaciousness and bestiality, the overwhelmingly poignant thing is the pity of war, the numbing senselessness of it.
Two brothers leave their home in a fictitious town in Pakistan in an attempt to go to Afghanistan and help wounded civilians. But their good intentions flounder as they are kidnapped and thrust into the heart of the conflict. Only one of them is able to return home, and he, too, returns with a price on his head, and in a state unrecognizable from the one in which he had left.
Aslam’s huge success lies in creating characters who have positions of polarity (devout/atheist; liberal/fundamentalist; captor/captive; ) and reveal that in reality they are closer to each other than they would imagine. This sense of nuance, of blurring of accepted borders of thinking and being, is one of the great achievements of this novel. Added to that is Aslam’s eye for arresting images, and his loving, luminous delineation of the natural world.
Vivid, haunting and riveting, The Blind Man’s Garden is Aslam’s best work to date.
Here is a video of the author introducing his novel:
Gideon Haigh is one of the finest cricket writers at work today. His latest book, On Warne, is not a biography of arguably the greatest leg spin bowler of all time, it is an extended meditation on the magic and charisma of Shane Warne, the making and sustaining of his legend. Read more