The most extraordinary book I read this year is Richard Hughes’ A High Wind in Jamaica, originally published in 1929. A peculiar fantasia on the nearly impenetrable and certainly alien world of childhood, the novel is at once highly lyrical and poetic fable and an implicit critique of pat moral systems and the blindnesses of colonialism. It functions almost as a trompe l’oeil, inviting you to see the landscape around you one way, then another. In his excavations of the subterranean shifts in perspective that are so much of anyone’s childhood, Hughes also reminds us of the virtues of whimsy: One of the best passages consists of the author’s attempt to differentiate the inner life of a baby from the inner life of a child – and involves a fabulous encounter with an octopus. What isn’t here is the explanatory language of psychology; what is here is an eccentric vision of humanity so particularized as to be really convincing – almost a Lord of the Flies for grown-ups who didn’t like the original all that much.
With the year drawing to a close, so too is our Year in Reading series. We at The Millions would like to thank all of those who contributed to the series as well as those who helped us put together such a great group of people to participate.We’d also like to thank all of our readers for a great year at The Millions – the best ever in terms of visitors, but also in more qualitative respects. We touched on many great books and many great topics and our readers were always there to offer their insights. We hope to make The Millions even more of a “must read” destination in 2008, so stay tuned.Meanwhile, we’re going to take a break around here for a couple of days, but, in the spirit of the Year in Reading, we invite all of you to finish this sentence in the comments: “The best book I read all year was…”
Dom Moraes: Selected Poems. Edited with an Introduction by Ranjit Hoskote. (Penguin India, Modern Classics, 2012)
For a season, Dom Moraes (1938-2004) was one of the most famous poets in Britain. He was 19 when he won the Hawthornden Prize. He is still the youngest poet to have won the prize, as well as the only non-Englishman. But the early fame may have been his undoing. He produced three good books and then encountered a writer’s block that lasted 17 years. With a selection of 80 poems from a long and turbulent career, a 77-page introduction, and detailed notes on each poem, the volume is a long overdue appreciation of Moraes in his native country. And it is unusual in at least one respect: it enacts a hopeful sign for a literature that doesn’t set much stock by its own history.
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