Books of the year 2011: Adam Thirlwell

The Empty Family - Colm Tóibín


Colm Tóibín's stories in The Empty Family (Vik­ing, £17.99) and Nicholson Baker's porn novel House of Holes (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) showed two virtuoso things you can do with fiction: malign and moving gaps in the construction, like Tóibín, or manic overshowing, like Baker. Both of them, I think, are ways of dismantling the old, orthodox modernism. Talking of which, I read Saul Bellow's Letters (Penguin Classics, £30) a year late and adored them all, with their grand, patient, aggressive energy, and then made up for my lateness by reading the second volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett (Cambridge University Press, £30) as soon as it came out and loved this opposite record of bicyclette rides, hole-digging and French self-constriction. As for the future, the essays collected in Jonathan Lethem's The Ecstasy of Influence (Doubleday, $27.95; to be published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in March 2012) sketch one of the cleverest projects I have seen for what novelists should be doing next.

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