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Proof of Pudding


What discerning judges have said about The Coffee Story

'It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story' - Toby Litt

'I was constantly intoxicated by a sense of desire & loss' - Jake Arnott

'Wild and raucous... an extraordinarily accomplished debut' - Niall Griffiths

'Reminiscent of Phillip Roth's Everyman. But it's much, much funnier' - Sydney Morning Herald

'An exceptional debut' - Martyn Bedford

Hard Sell

My Top Ten Books of 2015, Numbers 6-10

Books, eh? What’s that all about?

Anyway, enough of that. Here’s my top ten books of 2015. As you’ll recall from last year, these aren’t books published in 2015, but books I’ve read in 2015. And they are in no particular order, except that of merit. Books 6-10 today, and 1-5 tomorrow. Reverse order – that builds tension, innit.

death of virgil10. The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch
Picking this off the shelf I am reminded that a) I didn’t finish it and b) I didn’t finish it even more than I remembered didn’t finishing it – according to the natty London to Didcot Parkways ticket that serves as a bookmark, I only got through 104 of the 488 pages, which doesn’t seem a lot. And yet this is a book which has haunted my imagination all year (since Feb 23 anyway, again according to the train ticket). The opening procession, bringing Virgil down the river and then to the palace of Augustus is one of the most brilliantly sustained passages I have read – the long, complex sentences creating a world of darkness that mimics the night through which the poet is transported. I gave up in exhaustion, but know it will suck me in again sometime soon.

 

 

furies9. The Furies by Janet Hobhouse
I remember reading this shortly after seeing the documentary Grey Gardens, and both chronicle with almost overwhelming intensity a relationship of co-dependency between a mother and her adult daughter. Hobhouse, as the title suggests, is filled with rage, and does not always make a pleasant travelling companion through the travails of her mother’s suicide and her own fatal illness. But there is a grandeur to someone – as Philip Roth writes of it – ‘turning their suffering into a confession’. It is a poetic investigation of a childhood that never has the opportunity to end, except in death.

 

 
lives saints8. The Lives of the Saints by Alban Butler
I’ve spent a fair bit of this year obsessed with saints, and this was the book that kicked it off. What started a parlour game, noting the saint of the day and considering mimicking their actions, became for me an interesting intellectual exercise in imaging a world in which belief was a core aspect of being, and the extremes to which an individual is willing to go in order to sanctify it.

 

 

 

 
history christianity7. A History of the Christianity by Diarmaid MacCulloch; The Primary Chronicle by Nestor the Chronicler
These two books are linked in my mind as I was reading the first when I visited Kiev in late 2015. MacCulloch’s book manages to be both comprehensive and opinionated – at his best he reads like Gibbon. By surveying all of Christianity and its development, he shows how mercurial the belief systems of the followers of Christ – and, crucially, St Paul – have been, and the range of practices they have inspired. One such system I encountered while visiting the cave monastery of Lavra Pechersk, where, among others, the body of Nestor the Chronicler is interred. His Primary Chronicle narrates the foundational myths of Ukraine, and are a wonderful insight into a culture of which I knew little. (My article on my visit to Lavra will appear in The Tablet in February. Just so you know.)

 

 
lives artists6. The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari
Not given to audiobooks, except when they only cost a pound from a charity shop, this was a revelation to me. Funny, irascible, opinionated and thorough, Vasari brings the Italian Renaissance to life through those who made it. It’s led me to an obsession with Giotto and notions of perspective. It can keep you awake at night, that stuff. And now I can’t look at a painting by Rosso Fiorentino without thinking of baboons, or baboons without thinking of Rosso Fiorentino’s paintings. And my next novel is based on an anecdote from the book. I’d tell you which, but then you’d steal my idea and grow rich, so I’m not going to. You can fuck right off.

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