18 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 54

D. J. Taylor

My fictional discovery of the year was Ben Richards, a writer whom, to my shame, I had never come across until reading a review in the TLS. A Sweetheart Deal (Headline Review, £9.99), his fourth out- ing, is a kind of 'alternative' London novel, featuring the sort of people who rarely make it into fiction these days (the feisty heroine works for a trade union). Serious, sharply written and at times savagely funny, it is worth ten of most of this year's Booker list.

Elsewhere, I was engrossed by Edmund Dell's posthumously published A Strange Eventful History (HarperCollins, £24.99) a feline dissection of the British Labour movement in the 20th century by a man who, in happier times, would have played a more commanding role within it. Alan Jenkins's The Drift (Chatto, £8.99) was far and away the best poetry collection I read in 2000 — wry meditations on dead friends, old loves, the present's inability to live up to past hope, all enveloped by the rueful- ness of middle age.