Books of the year 2011: A S Byatt

There But For The - Ali Smith


One new novel, and one reread in the past month. The new novel is Ali Smith's There but for the (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99), which is dazzlingly inventive, both funny and moving, the tale of a man who locks himself in a spare room at a modish dinner party and refuses to leave.

There is nothing quite like it and the title is brilliant. The book I reread was Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (Vintage Classics, £9.99), vast and almost endless. Mann recommended that people who didn't understand it should read it again immediately. It peculiarly repays rereading - once one has a mental map of its discourses on science, humanism, nihilism and so on, it comes into focus and one can see how wickedly funny it also is. There is a ghoulish side to Mann that I increasingly appreciate.

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