The castle was rebuilt at public expense, Sarah's body is of far less concern than what her ex-husband did with his to whom, and Brenda's children appear still to be influential, rich, married and dissatisfied once more. 2019, however, has few saving graces. Unless I missed some bright spots while I lounged around at home nursing a broken collarbone (thanks, inattentive driver!), a year of political misery, homelessness, food banks, economic decline and political cynicism looks set to be followed by another recession and the willed isolation of a nation that prefers xenophobia to actually accepting that modern life is (as Blur didn't quite put it) complicated. A friend's father, for instance, has been made redundant as a direct result of Brexit: he is still all for 'getting Brexit done' in the same way that the white American peasantry was persuaded that white hunger was somehow superior to being black and hungry. There's absolutely no solace in 'I told you so', and schadenfreude is best enjoyed from a considerable distance, but here I am - a citizen of an EU state determined to stay on with my friends and family (and also, it turns out, not wanted in Irish university jobs that have come up) while being uncomfortably aware that for a year or two at least, my middle-class income and occupation will keep me insulated from the worst effects. Black humour will also help when turnips become the national dish…and currency.
So anyway, I've finished teaching for this decade with a Friday afternoon class on Chris Mullins's A Very British Coup. The module is Populist Texts, examining how popular culture takes on current affairs and social issues - we started with Black Panther and finished with this politician's conspiracy novel to discuss how art and issues affect each other. In retrospect, perhaps it was an overly optimistic choice: Harry Perkins actually gets elected, whereas the current moderate-to-serious left can't even get over that initial hurdle. Mullins's novel (adapted twice for TV) was published in 1982, a period when the Thatcher government went from dead-in-a-ditch to triumphant, thanks to the Argentinians. Winning the Falklands ironically led to their dictator being overthrown, while a Tory hegemony was established. A Very British Coup is many things, including a consolation to the suffering left: there's a kind of carrion comfort in assuming that the permanent state or Establishment are what's preventing you from winning rather than your own beliefs, strategies, or the electorate. We discussed why Mullins wrote a dystopian novel rather than another socialist utopian one, and why it ended in defeat - perhaps it was a product of its time, or a sales gamble, or a genuine belief. If I ever get the chance to write my book on politicians' fictions, I intend to ask him, and explore why so many MPs from both sides wrote conspiracy thrillers in the 80s and 90s (Helen Liddell's Elite sticks in the mind as being the last one, and the most baffling, but also a harbinger of New Labour and the Third Way).
I felt physically sick for a few days after the election result, which has never happened before. It wasn't surprise, and I'm generally far too insensitive to let things affect me at a gut level, but the knowledge that things are going to get immeasurably worse on all fronts and that those who'll suffer most voted for it in droves left me nauseous. My immediate response was to take solace in my students (we were looking at Watchmen that Friday, which counsels against trusting in super-men of any sort), friends and in coping mechanisms. I listened to the recent Trinity Wall Street recording of Philip Glass's Symphony No. 5 several times, especially this movement.
Also on my playlist at the moment is Donnacha Dennehy's Grá agus Bás and Herbert Howell's Cello Concerto – escapist I know, but I'm in the mood for solace. Once the new year starts I'll be militant for lost causes once more. Climate change and electoral reform will be my focus, I think. I've also retreated into books (surprise!), though not particularly challenging ones. I've just started AS Byatt's The Children's Book which balances a shockingly bad attempt to render Stoke-on-Trent's dialect as Standard Northern with an evocation of Edwardian radicalism which fascinates me. Arts and Crafts, William Morris, Guild Socialism, Rational Dress and bicycles (talking of which, I also assuaged the savage breast by buying a six-year old, heavily upgraded Boardman Elite AiR 9.0 - my first carbon fibre bike: it's no Moulton but it's wonderful). I've long thought (and indeed blogged when Ed Miliband lost his general election) that evoking the utopian optimism of the late Victorian socialists would be good for the Labour Party and its left/liberal fellow travellers.
Other things I've read recently include Gillian Cross's pointed but slightly shaky teen novel After Tomorrow (British refugees in France find themselves unwelcome), India Knight's anthology The Dirty Bits – For Girls (the introduction is perfect for my session on women, reading and Jilly Cooper); the first Tracy Beaker novel for Children's Literature - superb; Armistead Maupin's Babycakes, which allowed me to talk about serial novels and non-heterosexual plot structures, Terry Pratchett's Dodger which I found too laboured, Beloved again, which never fails to move and horrify me, Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection which I thought was fun but too self-conscious without going the full Auster that would have justified such self-consciousness, Jeff Noon's first crime novel Slow Motion Ghosts which I thought was magnificent and Brian Aldiss's debut, Non-Stop. I've rather avoided Aldiss, put off by his late career as a crusty gammon, but Non-Stop is brilliant - a compact novel stuffed full of interesting ideas, satirical gestures and a great twist. It came out in 1958 and presumably was one of the earliest in the generation ship genre. I've read lots of them and none of them beat his novel for economy and wit. Its sexual politics are very dated and the satire on Freudian psychology feels a tad old-hat but everything else holds up really well. Oh yes - I also read Perrotta's The Leftovers which was rather a good exploration of public and private grief in the wake of 9/11 but really didn't need the Rapture-like framing (or an extensive TV adaptation).
I seem to have read quite a lot this year, partly due to being off sick for a few weeks. The texts that most stuck in my mind were Djuna Barnes's Nightwood, Stevie Davies's Impassioned Clay and Awakening, Melissa Harrison's All Among The Barley which I found problematic but was in retrospect too harsh about, Emily Dickinson's poetry – re-reading it for teaching just plunged me back into a wondrous world, Emerson's essays, Milkman (predictably), Sophie Mackintosh's The Water Cure, Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier, Emma Dabiri's Don't Touch My Hair (extra marks for the Solange reference), Kate Charlesworth's joyous but also moving Sensible Footwear, Niall Griffiths's Broken Ghost (disclaimer: we're friends and I'm in the acknowledgements for no reason I can imagine) and Pullman's The Secret Commonwealth even though it needed pruning. I've definitely read more books by men than women this year but the ones that stayed with me are mostly by women.
Musically, the ones I mentioned above were recent purchases, but I've also listened to a lot of Kate Bush, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Julia Kent's Temporal, Audiobooks' Now, In A Minute, the new Nick Cave, The National and Sleater-Kinney albums. Speech Debelle's Speech Therapy feels like a forgotten classic already; Pauline Oliveros, quite a lot of medieval music and polyphonic choral work and Chvrches also featured prominently.
So that's it for 2019. I'll be in the office on Monday, then I'm going to lie down in a darkened room for a few days hoping that it will all have been a fever-dream. Nollaig shona duit, Nadolig hapus i chi, Happy Christmas to you all. All I want from Santa is enough students to keep my course open.