I’ve been away in Oslo. Not the world’s most exciting destination, I have to say. And the locals really do talk and smile exactly like Frances McDormand does in Fargo.
Anyway, as there’s still a few days left before Christmas I thought I’d mention a couple of my favourite books of the year, just in case any of you are still looking for ideas. Engel’s England, by Matthew Engel, is a survey of the old English shire counties, including those which have ceased to exist (such as Middlesex) and a whole bunch which have little more than ceremonial function. Engel mourns their passing, as should all right-thinking people, much as he mourns the homogenisation of our towns. It’s a lovely book, hugely funny at times – he is quite magnificent on the general awfulness of Surrey and delightfully sniffy about Cambridgeshire. I think he gets Northumberland wrong (likening one of our most elevated counties to, er, Minnesota), but that’s a very minor quibble.
And there’s Paper Aeroplane, by our Greatest Living Poet, Simon Armitage. It’s his collected poems from 1989 to the present. He’s one of very few poets who can write in the demotic without it seeming forced, twee or condescending; there’s scarcely a bad poem in the book.
And finally and surprisingly, The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis, a meditation on the banality of evil and set in Auschwitz. It’s probably his best since London Fields.