Sunday 30 December 2018

Best and Worst of the Year - 2018

When I did my last post I realised that it had been a great year of reading. In the eight years of Excelsior I have only awarded the sublime rating thirteen times. This year I rated four books as sublime. I choose to believe that my critical faculties have not deserted me and that these books were genuinely brilliant. Two were collections of short stories: Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges and Store of the Worlds by Robert Sheckley, and two were novels: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima. Truth be told I cannot separate them and collectively they were the best literature I read this year and indeed, for many years.

None of the above were book club books, but the best of those was definitely Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, read way back in January. The book club was responsible for the worst book of the year, which was by far and away The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason, which was one of the dullest novels I have ever read, although the writing was technically proficient, which ultimately saved it from the rare occurrence of a reprehensible rating.

This year also saw the adoption of a new method of choosing books to read. I realised that many of my unread books were never really considered because they were stored in parts of the house that I didn't really go to when choosing something new to read; so I began selecting one book from the six main areas where I store books in a systematic fashion. Books that I've had sitting there unread for years are now getting a look in and I even suspect that this is why I've had a cluster of sublime ratings; the gold has been sitting there and I haven't been digging it up! Now - ever upwards into 2019....

Sunday 23 December 2018

Runaway Horses - Yukio Mishima (1970; English translation 1973)

Rating: Sublime

Yukio Mishima has been lodged in my imagination for some time, mostly due to David Bowie's admiration for his writing, something I was aware of from a few decades ago. Mishima is an absolutely fascinating character and after reading Runaway Horses it occurred to me that he must go down as one of the most intense novelists in history. Mishima was born into a samurai family and positioned himself as a nationalist in post-war Japan, believing in total loyalty to the Emperor and resisting western influence in Japanese culture. Researching his life and work it would be fair to say that his novels explore the ramifications of his world view and values. The manner of his death makes for intense reading as well.

Runaway Horses is the second novel of Mishima's The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. Although I have not read the first novel, Spring Snow (1969), it did not present any difficulties when reading Runaway Horses. The novel is almost perfect, featuring an absorbing plot, beautifully lyrical prose, psychological intensity and finely tuned characterizations. Runaway Horses is satisfying in every way and I deliberately read the novel with care, resulting in the curious phenomenon of its world bleeding into my own, imbuing me with a sense of discipline and clarity with my own moral outlook. Runaway Horses represents literature at its most powerful and I thoroughly recommend the novel for those seeking something tangible from their reading experience. As Bowie sung in his 1977 song Blackout, 'I'm under Japanese influence and my honor's at stake!'

Bowie with his painting of Mishima circa 1977

Yukio Mishima