Books of the Year 2011: Anita Desai

Charles Portis

 

I'd like to name not just one book but a writer I discovered this past year who has given me the most unexpected delight. I first learnt of Charles Portis, as did many others, when I saw the film based on his novel True Grit, and was so impressed by the spare, powerful, almost Biblical language he employed that I searched out some of his other books and found Gringos and The Dog of the South. He is so little known, and so little talked of, and yet a writer of originality and strength, with a gift for comedy that has been compared with Mark Twain's, also of Gogol's in Dead Souls. Utterly authentic and without a shred of pretention. (It was odd to come across the same strange blend of sharp-eyed realism with an elusive touch of surrealism in Beryl Bainbridge's posthumously published The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress. Was she reading Portis when she wrote the book? She couldn't have chosen a better model). Portis does have a band of ardent admirers, cultists they might be called, and yet remains somehow a kind of secret pleasure.

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