Books of the year 2011: A N Wilson

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress - Beryl Bainbridge


With her posthumous novel, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (Little, Brown, £16.99), set in the hot summer of 1968 and culminating in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, Beryl Bainbridge returned to the comedic form at which she so distinctively excelled. Oh, the sorrow that this is the last book. She agonised over this short work and I had been so afraid, before I read it, that it would be a dud: but, on the contrary, it is as sparky and weird and funny as anything she wrote.

China Miéville's Embassytown (Macmillan, £17.99) is the cleverest work of fiction I read this year. Avice the space traveller reaches a planet where the Hosts (spookily and hilariously evoked, though Miéville never fully describes them), like Swift's Houyhnhnms, are incapable of saying anything untrue. Much more than this, they do not grasp that language, in essence, is a metaphor. Contortedly inventive, this linguistic firework display and philosophical parable has introduced me to a marvellous writer who must be one of the most interesting at work in Britain today.

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