UK Spectator’s books of the year

Andrew Motion

Regular reviewers choose the best — and most overrated — books of 2018

Short stories seem to fare better in the US than the UK, and among this year’s rich crop, Deborah Eisenberg’s Your Duck is My Duck (Ecco, £20.70) is outstanding.
Everything about Eisenberg’s writing is highly controlled — watchful, well-made — and everything it describes teeters on the verge of chaos or collapse. It makes for a brilliant mixture of a book — at once compact and capacious, eerily familiar and extremely strange.

Roger Lewis

One of my favourite authors is Laura Thompson. Her biographies of sundry Mitfords, of Agatha Christie and Lord Lucan (recently revised in the light of the unpleasant Countess’s demise) are brilliant and forensic. This year she published a memoir of her grandmother, The Last Landlady (Unbound, £16.99), which is a typically eclectic mix of social history and elegy, ironic comedy and indelible Englishness. It is about the pub as theatre, and like everything else worth cherishing, pubs are closing down — replaced with gender-neutral lavatories, compulsory veganism and virtue-signalling teetotalism.

A Hero for High Times (Cape, £16.99), Ian Marchant’s account of being a wild old hippie with a bucket for a toilet in a copse on the Welsh Marches, made me laugh.

Matthew Sturgis’s biography of Oscar Wilde, Oscar: A Life (Head of Zeus, £25) made me furious. How idiotic to trail this book as putting Richard Ellmann right, when it is full of copycat flourishes. Ellmann, for example, in 1987, called Bosie Douglas ‘totally spoiled, reckless, insolent and, when thwarted, fiercely vindictive’. Sturgis now says Bosie was ‘selfish, spoilt, vain, intemperate, needy and demanding’. It is like a bad translation.  Read on…