15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 38

Jane Gardam

The most impressive book I've read this year is Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory (Fontana Press, £16.99) which is a series of journeys through space and time examining the historical imagination and our relation to landscape: bold, learned, uncategorisable. John Aubrey would have loved it. Mavis Gallant's Selected Short Stories (Bloomsbury, £25) is a tome for a lifetime's bedside. Stories span many years and countries and are particularly good about threadbare, suffering Europe just after the war. Style and voice all her own. The most recent Paris stories are very funny. In The Brontës: A Life in Letters (Viking, £20) scholarly but never ponder- ous Juliet Barker continues to treat her subjects with good fresh air. A light on the gloom. New wine for — begging their par- don — old bottles. And 29 new letters.

Clare Boylan's Room for a Single Lady (Abacus, £16.99) is a novel about a Dublin childhood. Love, pain and Dickensian dottiness. As ever, Boylan is like the sun coming out. For a chill to follow, a short French novel translated by Hilda Coverdale, Class Tnp by Emmanuel Car- fere (Quartet, £9). It is the nightmare story of a nine-year-old boy in terror, told with icy certainty. It won the Prix Femina. It may be a classic. But the most enjoyable and comforting has been Word from Worm- ingford by Ronald Blythe (Viking, £17). These are essays and notes through a parish year written from John Nash's old house deep in the Suffolk fields; water still from the spring. Illustrations, Nash wood- cuts not previously printed. The same sweet spirit as in Akenfield, same Jefferies- like accurate observation, full of poetry and strange knowledge, comic, quiet, optimistic. Heavenly.