Magazine article The Spectator

Philip Hensher

Magazine article The Spectator

Philip Hensher

Article excerpt

Book of the year has to be Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's Mao (Cape, £25), a book of quite extraordinary importance, as well as excellence. Some people found it relentless in its arraignment; in my view, they were following a moral imperative of the highest order. Kathryn Hughes wrote a brilliant and long overdue life of Mrs Beeton (Fourth Estate, £20). Hilary Spurling completed her life of Matisse (Hamish Hamilton, £25); that certainly won't need to be done again for very many years. I've always wanted someone to write a history of that madhouse in Brooklyn where Auden, Britten, the Bowleses and Gypsy Rose Lee lived together, and Sherill Tippins's The February House (Scribner, £14.99) was just as amusing as one had hoped. (My favourite moment: Salvador Dali politely asking Auden over the dinner table whether he spoke English. ) Richard Taruskin performed an absolutely incredible feat by writing all 4,000-plus pages of the Oxford History of Western Music (OUP, £450), the sort of book which is really only ever written by committees -- and it was quite astonishingly good.

Personally, I didn't think the year produced as many brilliant novels as some people claimed, but Ali Smith's The Accidental (Hamish Hamilton, £14. …

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