And the Oscar goes to … oops, sorry, wrong golden moment. Just as the stars were celebrating winning an illustrious bald statue, 15 authors were having their own, quieter, moment of pleasure having been named on the longlist for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Sir Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist and poet, is considered by many a founding father of the historical novel with Ivanhoe, one of the collection known as the Waverley Novels, amongst his most famous books.
In coming up with the award longlist, which increased from 12 last year, the judges did a considerable amount of time travelling from 11th Century England (The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth) to 17th Century Amsterdam (The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton) to 20th Century Europe (The Zone by Martin Amis) and occasionally, even further afield. The shortlist will be announced next month with the final winner being revealed at the Borders Book Festival in June. Previous winners are: Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Andrea Levy (The Long Story), Sebastian Barry (On Canaan’s Side), Tan Twan Eng (The Garden of Evening Mists) and Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy).
The full long list is:
For the first time I kept a list of the books I read during past year and looking back over the months, 2013 was a rich year for literary pleasure. In total I read 76 books. That averaged out at about six books a month I only managed three in June yet nine in May (that’s the luxury of holidays). Apart from reading all the books on the Booker Prize shortlist there was no particular rhyme or reason to my selections. Sometimes I would just see a book in a book shop, other times it was the book selected by my book club. Sometimes it was a review or a news item in a newspaper or magazine or because an author was appearing at a literary festival I was attending (Dublin, Hay-on-Wye in England and Byron Bay in Australia).
Despite all that, I when I read other people’s end-of-year Best Of book lists I was stunned at the number I had not even heard of let alone all those wonderful authors whose books are sitting on my bedside table or in my e-reader but which I haven’t got around to reading yet. I did live up to the promise I made myself to read more collections of short stories and was richly rewarded. I read a pathetically small number of non-fiction which I hope to remedy in 2014. There were one or two which, if it were not for the “I’ve started so I’ll finish” rule, would have immediately been relegated to the bottom of the book pile but thus is the delicious serendipity of reading.
So, before the clock ticks over to a new day and new year, here is my top ten for 2013
Robert Harris has, in An Officer and a Spy, brought vividly alive one of the most infamous periods in French history, known as The Dreyfus Affair. It is January 1895. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a wealthy Jewish officer in the French Army, is convicted of being a spy and publicly humiliated in a carefully orchestrated public event, then incarcerated in barbaric conditions on a remote island.
An Officer and a Spy is told from the viewpoint of Colonel George Picquart, who appointment as the Statistical Section (the Army spooks) he becomes the youngest colonel.The promotion places him tantalizingly in the military’s inner sanctum with personal access to the Minister. But it brings him into head-on clash with a close-knit department that disapproves of his methods and envious of his position.
When Picquart uncovers a German spy operating within the Army he is surprised, then