Denis Donoghue’s books of the year

Emeritus professor of English at New York University

Julian Barnes's Levels of Life (Knopf) is a love story surrounded by meditations. Barnes keeps talking about other things while wanting to talk only about his dead wife, Pat Kavanagh. Still, the meditations keep coming back to me. "You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed."

Stephen Klaidman's Sydney and Violet (Nan A Talese) is a genial footnote in modern literary history, about Sydney and Violet Schiff, another happy marriage, wealthy keepers of a salon in London and everywhere else, with doors wide open to TS Eliot and his wife Vivienne, Proust, Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Katherine Mansfield and Aldous Huxley, getting in reward a thumping by Lewis in The Apes of God.

George Saunders's Tenth of December (Random House) is a set of 10 short stories. Home is my favorite. The narrator is a soldier, back from the war, damaged, to whom everybody keeps saying, "Thank you for your service."