Books of the year 2011: Alexandra Harris

Verdi and/or Wagner - Peter Conrad

 

It's been a great year for bringing statues to life. Peter Conrad's stupendous Verdi and/or Wagner (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) begins with busts of the two composers sitting quietly on pedestals in a garden in Venice. By the end of the book, those two stone heads have come to represent competing and equally mesmerising visions not just of music but of love, war, heroism - and life itself.

Shelley's Ghost (Bodleian Library, £19.99) by Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C Denlinger starts with the creepy memorial chamber in Oxford where a marble Shelley has been languishing naked since 1893; the ensuing exploration of rites and relics is stranger than many a supernatural ghost story. Like many, I'll be haunted for a long time to come by Cecil Valance and his memorials in Alan Hollinghurst's restless elegy The Stranger's Child (Picador, £20) and I've had the luxury of rereading Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, (Oxford World's Classics, £7.99), prompted by colleagues at the University of Liverpool who have organised a festival celebrating 400 years since Hermione's statue first spoke.

Next: Simon Heffer

Previous: John Gray

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