by Eric Idle
Tuesday, 5 August 2003

Seeing how as a PythOnline redesign is still forthcoming, sometimes things slip through the cracks. Case in point: Eric Idle's favorite books of 2002. Eric's "favorite books" list had become an annual tradition on PythOnline. Not one to muck with tradition, here is the list... at last.

Hard to single out a single book this year I read so much good stuff. I would, however, recommend Jake Arnott to you. I've been a little prolix this year - so here's what I thought about some of the books I loved most.

- Eric Idle

When the Women Come Out to Dance
Elmore Leonard
Longish short stories from the master. He is at the top of his game. He evokes story character and plot effortlessly. Any one of these could have developed into full length novels. Three or four of them are disappointing only because they're short….He seems brimming with creativity.

Power & Greed: A Short History of the World
Philippe Gigantes
A short history of the world. A great reach and a damn fine overview. A book about human power, greed, warfare, theocracies and the realities of world history. Including September 11th. Very very interesting

The Book of Illusions
Paul Auster
A damn fine novel. Elegantly written and breathlessly told story of the re-awakening of a shattered human.

Paris to the Moon
Adam Gopnik
Wonderful story of Americans in Paris. Excellent memoirs of life in Paris for a young writer and his wife and child. Makes you want to catch the first plane.

Farewell My Lovely
Raymond Chandler
Second and most wonderful novel. A true classic. I became aware how well he wrote, how much he set the scene with poignant details of colour and smell and weather and texture of clothes, and cars and weather-beaten houses with tiny details like a big radio set so that we see the scene very much as in a movie. It is novel as movie, building up to almost unbearable tension as he goes out alone to face a gambling boat. The moral value of the self effacing hero is what shines through the mess. The lone gunman is the lawman is the private detective, the final moral arbiter in a city of corrupt cops, mayors and gambler where the weak are preyed on and the foolish deceived.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932
William Manchester
Part one of William Manchester's superb biography of Churchill, a man who led at least three full lives before the end of this first part. There is the insecure and ignored boy who matures into the young dashing Churchill, the hero of Africa, who boldly escapes from the Boers. There is the trench Churchill, the Naval Minister who conceives of the Dardanelle's plan and is then held responsible for others inability to see it through, and there is the witty parliamentarian. Superbly researched, consummately written and deservedly a classic.

Michel Houellebecq
Highly eroticised novel by a French writer of his father's death and subsequent affair and the place of Islam in sexual tourism. Outspoken and frankly arousing. I quite liked this his third book. Very sexy. Quite contrived ending, but he has good strong hatreds, and he has been accused of racism, but his attack is on radical puritanical fanatical Islam.

Gardener to the King
Frederic Richaud
An exquisite book. Pithy, wise and beautiful. The gardener of Louis XIV. A must read.

Any Human Heart
William Boyd
As usual I really loved this latest from the prolific Boyd. He seems to write so intimately, so honestly and so much! This is a brilliant idea - the diaries of one Logan Mountstuart, who lives to a ripe old age, through most of the 20th century - indeed the book is almost several books, so many lives does Logan lead, all fascinating, and all interesting. From a gawky schoolboy, through Oxford, disappointments in love, bad first marriage, tragedy in war, even the sixties art scene in New York, Logan is Everyman is everywhere - and thank God for it. I really enjoyed the whole thing. A definite must read.

The Reader
Bernhard Schlink
A fascinating and brilliant novel. An erotic youth memoir transmutes into a book about an elderly observer of a Nazi camp failing to adequately defend herself in a war crime trial in the most unexpected way. Illiteracy becomes the subject. Highly satisfactory well considered novel.

The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars
Stephen O'Shea
The best book about the Cathars. A wonderful history magnificently told, a great read about the horrible Simon de Montfort and the pogroms instituted by the Catholics against their fellow French in the South West of France. It took 150 years to suppress this kindly gentle version of Christianity. One ought to remember that the RC Church's survival is no accident and has entailed mass murder and evil throughout its history.

A Way of Life, Like Any Other
Darcy O'Brien
An immaculate beautifully written book of childhood memoirs of a boy who grew up in Hollywood, with his father a star of Westerns and his mother a screen goddess. A fine, ironically observed brilliant book. Wonderful.

The Long Firm
Jake Arnott
Definite book of the year candidate. Effortlessly written, a brilliant gangland tale which powerful evokes the London of the early sixties with all the Rachmans and the Krays and the Mandy Rice Davies figures carefully and semi-fictitiously recreated, which, paradoxically, makes them even more real. I thought it was fabulous and long to re-read it.

He Kills Coppers
Jake Arnott
Of course I had to rush out and buy his next book, which is not quite so densely written, though still in the same sixties world of coppers and "verbals" - a retelling of the Harry Roberts saga, quite unusually sympathetic to all elements - coppers and the bad ones.

Testaments Betrayed
Milan Kundera
One of the most pleasant discussions to re-read - combining his love of musical form and the highest form of novel. I love his appreciation that parts of the world are not in The Modern Era - which is the age of the individual. Filled with excellent and wise perceptions and a great hatred for superficial criticism and subjective biography, which attempts to make literature nothing more than failed attempts at autobiography. Three cheers for Kundera.