Books of the year 2011: Toby Litt

The Coffee Story - Peter Salmon


It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story (Sceptre, £12.99). World, voice, humour, everything is in place. I was a bit surprised when so little notice was paid to such an obviously good book. Because of its subject (raging against the et cetera), people will compare it to Coetzee's Disgrace but I thought it was better - Coetzee has a tin ear; Salmon's ear is quicksilver. Perhaps it's that thing of readers wanting likeable narrators only. Salmon's narrator is a devil of a man but the more diabolical he becomes, the more fascinated we become.

Andy Kershaw, a man more demonised than most, ranks high among my personal saints. I wouldn't say this of many people but I think he's got better taste in music than I have. He's also got a huge, friendly, life-affirming heart that is absolutely in the right place. All his best qualities are on display in No Off Switch (Serpent's Tail, £18.99). Within any kind of broadcasting bureaucracy, Kershaw's instinct-trusting passion is going to get him labelled as "difficult". Put simply, sometimes he's going to make a complete arse of himself. But he knows that. He sees it as his job description. It's a crime that his bullshit-free voice isn't speaking out of radios across the nation.

Next: David Marquand

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