Books of the year 2011: Rachel Cooke

The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst


The best books I read this year were the fattest: Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (Picador, £20) and Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: a Life (Viking, £30). The Hollinghurst is bliss - a family saga, a page-turner, an investigation into the unknowability of other people. Tomalin's you would buy for her accounts of Dickens's novels alone, for they are superb, but she captures the man, too. And what a man! I loved him, then I hated him, and then I loved him all over again.

There was also The Professor and Other Writings (Tuskar Rock, £20), a hilarious, teeming, antic and powerfully intelligent collection of essays by the American academic Terry Castle. Read her account of her friendship with the dreaded Susan Sontag and laugh out loud. Who could resist a woman who says that her dachshund is "as slutty and insouciant as Lynndie England - all she needs is a tiny cigarette and a tiny pair of four-legged camouflage pants"? Not me.

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