Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. Zona By Geoff Dyer (Pantheon, 228 pp., $24) NEVER MIND the writing, as superb as it so often is: as agile, as subtle, as witty, as funny, as brilliantly insightful. Never mind the breadth—a book about jazz, a book about photography, a book about a film, a book about D.H.
The Sense of an Ending By Julian Barnes (Knopf, 163 pp., $23.95) Is it worth it? Life, I mean—is it worth it? Julian Barnes isn’t sure. “I am certainly melancholic myself,” he says in Nothing to Be Frightened Of, a memoir-cum-meditation-on-death, “and sometimes find life an overrated way of passing the time.” Martha Cochrane, in England, England, thinks about “the thinness of life, or at least life as she had known it, or chosen it.” “She had done little in her time,” Jean Serjeant thinks in Staring at the Sun, and Gregory, her son, had done less.
The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life By Harold Bloom (Yale University Press, 357 pp., $32.50) With The Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom has promised us his “swan song” as a critic. Fat chance.
Nemesis By Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 280 pp., $26) I. Even before it begins, Philip Roth’s new novel tells us something interesting about his career. Longtime readers will be familiar with the shape the author’s “Books By” list—the catalogue of previous work that precedes the title page—has taken on in recent years. Instead of the usual chronological enumeration, a set of categories: Zuckerman Books, Roth Books, Kepesh Books, Miscellany, and a bit forlornly, Other Books.
The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis (Knopf, 384 pp., $26.95) Well, another civil, subtle, well-modulated novel from Martin Amis. Wait—what? British fiction’s most flamboyant word-wrangler, subtle? The celebrated character-bully and reader-molester, civil? The epicure of extremism, wellmodulated? Yes, apparently. This is a new Amis, similar in theme but different in subject as well as style. An Oxford-educated scion of the literary intelligentsia, Amis has made a career of not writing about his own milieu.
The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis (Knopf, 384 pp., $26.95) Well, another civil, subtle, well-modulated novel from Martin Amis. Wait—what? British fiction’s most flamboyant word-wrangler, subtle? The celebrated character-bully and reader-molester, civil? The epicure of extremism, well-modulated? Yes, apparently. This is a new Amis, similar in theme but different in subject as well as style. An Oxford-educated scion of the literary intelligentsia, Amis has made a career of not writing about his own milieu.
The Original of Laura By Vladimir Nabokov Edited by Dmitri Nabokov (Knopf, 304 pp., $35) So this is what we’ve all been waiting for? The last, lost work of the great master, all but complete, so rumor had it, at the time of his death, sequestered for decades in a Swiss vault, “brilliant, original, and potentially totally radical,” according to his son and heir, “the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity”--and all that it amounts to, we now learn, is a handful of crumbs, a bit of lint, a few coins.
2666 By Roberto Bolano Translated by Natasha Wimmer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 912 pp., $30) WELL, IT’S not dead yet. The modernist idea, which is really a Romantic idea, that the truest art comes from the margins, from the social depths, from revolt and disgust and dispossession, from endless cigarettes and a single worn overcoat, is still, in this age of MFA’s and faculty appointments, when Pound’s “make it new” long ago became Podhoretz’s “making it”—is still, still, however improbably alive.
The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad By John Stape (Pantheon, 369 pp., $30) Among the great English novelists, Conrad most resists our understanding. There is sense in this. His largest theme is mystery, and the heart of all his greatest work is dark. He understood this early. "Marlow was not typical," we read of the surrogate who narrates the first and most celebrated of his major works; "to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze." An empty center, then, surrounded by mist.