Pleasures of reading and viewing, 2011
by Lesley Hall
I also managed to consume a fair amount of fiction. Perhaps even more impressive on a re-read than on the first devouring when it came out was Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) - I was incited to this re-read by the BBC mini-series that appeared earlier in the year, which was good in its way but I felt left out a lot of what I remembered from the book, which certainly repays a second reading. In the realm of television adaptations of novels, however, the rushed and skimpy 2011 version (in a meager three episodes! focusing on the romance plot which in the original is just one of many intertwined threads) of Winifred Holtby's wonderfully rich 1934 novel South Riding is not worth wasting one's time with - I strongly advocate trying to get hold of the infinitely superior 1974 Yorkshire TV adaptation which gave it thirteen lengthy episodes of appropriately leisurely and expansive development.
There were few new discoveries in fiction, although I did get turned on to Megan Abbott's wonderful female-centred noir thrillers - Queenpin, Die a Little, The Song Is You and Bury Me Deep. There were a number of very strong works by writers I already like - any year in which two of Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January mysteries come out is a good year! I don't normally particularly go for short stories (or horror, come to that), but I was completely stunned, in the best of ways, by Sarah Monette's Somewhere Beneath Those Waves as well as by the limited edition chapbook of several of her uncollected Kyle Murchison Booth stories.
In other art forms, while I don't seem to have seen many movies that have stayed with me this year, the production of Terence Rattigan's Flare Path in the West End this spring continues to resonate, and while I had some problems with the final outcome of J B Priestley's They Came to a City this was a striking production of a seldom-seen play at the Southwark Playhouse, located under one of the arches in the entangled and labyrinthine railway bridges around London Bridge and making imagination use of the space.
During my three weeks in the USA in May and June I managed to spend some quality time with Louise Nevelson sculptures in several cities, even though I was a bit miffed that museums which I know hold several of her works didn't have them on display. I was particularly glad to have made it to her eponymous Plaza in NYC.
Another pleasure that I should perhaps mention was eating - I visited some excellent restaurants in the course of this year, and the one that took the crown was undoubtedly Heston Blumenthal's new London flagship, Dinner, which lived up to all the hype. My only regret was that I wish I had dined there before the nights drew in in order to get the benefit of the view over Hyde Park.
Lesley A. Hall is a London-based archivist and historian, and author of several books on the history of gender and sexuality. She has also published the Aqueduct Press Conversation Piece, Naomi Mitchison: A Profile of Her Life and Work (2007). Her biography of a pioneering British feminist sex radical and campaigner for reproductive freedom, The Life and Times of Stella Browne, feminist and free spirit was published by IB Tauris early in 2011. Lesley's website can be found at http://www.lesleyahall.net.