Friday, December 01, 2006

TLS: books of the year

The Times Literary Supplement runs a round-up of this year's favorite reading by Alberto Manguel, Marina Warner, Paul Muldoon, Craig Raine, A. N. Wilson, and Elaine Showalter.

Here are Showalter's picks:

In a great vintage year for books, two stood out for me. First, Irène Némirovsky’s posthumous novel about the Nazi occupation of France, Suite Française (Chatto), brilliantly conceived and artfully composed along the lines of War and Peace, fully deserves the Tolstoyan comparison. Shortly before her arrest and deportation to Birkenau, where she was gassed in August 1942, Némirovsky noted in her journal that she must try to write about the everyday details of life in Occupied France that would fascinate readers in ten, or 110, years. Tragically unfinished, Suite Française, with its dispassionate portraits of the psychology of collaboration and the persistence of hope, is a timeless masterpiece.

The American science fiction writer who is the subject of Julie Phillips’s biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The double life of Alice Sheldon (St Martin’s Press), was by no means a great artist, but this account of her life and especially the ten years or so she spent publishing under a male pseudonym that became a fully fledged male persona, is riveting in its illumination of the psychological conflicts and contradictions of modern female authorship. Phillips’s insightful treatment of a “writer who – like many women writers – concealed herself in order to tell the truth” makes this a thought-provoking and paradigmatic book.

--Marshal Zeringue