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Latest books news, comment, reviews and analysis from the Guardian



Published: Sat, 24 Jun 2017 19:37:39 GMT2017-06-24T19:37:39Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017
 



‘I got Gryffindor pyjamas for my 27th birthday’: fans on 20 years of Harry Potter

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:00:02 GMT2017-06-24T08:00:02Z

From academics to school sweethearts, superfans raise a broom to the boy wizard

When I was eight, I got my first pair of glasses. Far from being teased at school, the only hassle I got was endless requests to try on my new specs. My father looked at me with suspicion. Had I faked the blindness, he asked, just so I could look like Harry Potter?

With my cropped hair and glasses, I did look like a tiny girl Harry. And while the similarity was not deliberate, I did nothing to avoid it, either. The Potter books were the great pop cultural event of my generation (I was born in 1991). In between Game Boys and Pokémon, kids began reading again. My school librarian, both confused by and exasperated with Pottermania, dealt with fights over the school’s few tatty copies by imposing a new rule: Potter books could be borrowed for only three days, instead of the week every other title was allowed.

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Fatal attraction – writers' and artists' obsession with the sea

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:00:02 GMT2017-06-24T08:00:02Z

From Shakespeare to Woolf, Turner to Gormley, Philip Hoare explores the eternal allure of the ocean

‘The sea has many voices / Many gods and many voices,” TS Eliot wrote. “We cannot think of a time that is oceanless.” “In civilisations without boats,” Michel Foucault observed, “dreams dry up.” It is, plainly, a fluid state, a place of transition and transmutation; the place from which we all came.

In the womb we swim in salty water, sprouting residual fins and tails and rudimentary gills, turning in our little oceans, queer beasts that might yet become whales or fish or humans. We first sense the world through the fluid of our mother’s belly; we hear through the sea inside her. We speak of bodies of water, Herman Melville wrote of “the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin”.

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Mike McCormack: ‘On my fifth book I’m a debutante’

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 11:00:06 GMT2017-06-24T11:00:06Z

The cult Irish writer is back with a prize-winning novel, Solar Bones, after a decade in the doldrums

“I couldn’t give my work away, to be honest with you. No one wanted to know.” Now in his 50s, Irish writer Mike McCormack spent a decade in the doldrums before the triumph of Solar Bones, a single- sentence novel in which the ghost of a Mayo engineer called Marcus Conway looks back on his life and death. Now out in the UK, it was originally published last spring by the tiny Irish press Tramp; hailed in the Guardian as a book for “anyone who believes that the novel is not dead and that novelists are not merely lit-fest fodder for the metropolitan middle classes”, it went on to win the Goldsmiths prize for innovative fiction. As judge Blake Morrison pointed out, “its subject may be an ordinary working life, but it is itself an extraordinary work”: taking in faith and family, politics and art, sex, death and cosmic anxiety – as McCormack says now, “life, the universe and the whole damn thing”. What marks it out is the continuous prose, surging on through memories and digressions. “A ghost would have no business with a full stop,” he points out matter-of-factly. “It might fatally falter and dissipate.”

Related: Tom McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Ben Brooks: is experimental fiction making a comeback? | Books feature

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Shirley Hughes: ‘Children are refreshingly frank in their reactions to seeing me draw’

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 09:00:03 GMT2017-06-24T09:00:03Z

The children’s author and illustrator on parks and play areas, the allure of Alfie, and undignified moments on tour

When my children were young it was always a struggle to find enough time at the drawing board. I constantly had my eye on the clock. But now I have the great luxury of going into my workroom after doing my stretches and having a leisurely breakfast, and working until I am tired, which is usually late lunchtime.

The window of my workroom looks out over a communal garden, with a big west London sky. Sometimes I can see flights of ducks commuting in from Barnes reservoir in search of richer pickings in Green Park. Good natural light is always the best to work by. At one time, I used to listen to music while I worked – nothing too demanding, 1930s jazz mostly. But now it has to be silence.

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The Secret Life by Andrew O’Hagan review – Assange and other internet outlaws

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 06:30:00 GMT2017-06-24T06:30:00Z

Three long pieces, the product of inside-track reporting by one of literary journalism’s charmers, are full of wit and confidence

How do you write a compelling book about the internet? Decades after computers started reordering our lives, it’s a question nonfiction writers are still struggling with. The speed with which the digital world changes; the difficulty of dramatising people peering at screens and typing; the less than vibrant emotional lives of key online protagonists – all these can make internet books seem rather grey and out of date compared with the Technicolor, distracting swirl of the internet itself.

Andrew O’Hagan’s solution is to write about three “outlaws” from “the wild west of the internet”: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks (right); Craig Wright, who claims to be the inventor of the online currency bitcoin; and Ronald Pinn, an almost completely forgotten Londoner who died in 1984, whose identity O’Hagan borrows to create a fictitious digital persona. “My three case studies are individual, and in many ways they are typical of nothing but themselves,” O’Hagan writes with studied modesty in his foreword. But then he can’t resist adding more ambitiously: “They might each tell a story about the times we are living in.”

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Lynsey Hanley: ‘Housing inequality kills’

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 10:00:22 GMT2017-06-23T10:00:22Z

After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the author of Estates argues for a radical overhaul of housing policy

I have long believed in the necessity for radical housing reform, and the events of recent weeks have only proved its fundamental urgency. After Labour’s increased vote on a clear social-democratic platform, followed by the disaster at Grenfell Tower, the impossible seems not only possible, but essential to prioritise. The way we build, allocate, finance and perceive housing in this country has to be transformed utterly.

I knew from experience, having grown up on a peripheral postwar estate, that treating council housing as a distinct, nominally “separate but equal” entity from private housing reinforces social stigma and the sense that you’ve been sent to live out of sight of those with power. Now we know that housing inequality kills.

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Chidren’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:00:02 GMT2017-06-24T08:00:02Z

A beautiful, heart-breaking exploration of family bereavement, how to get a knighthood and sinister goings-on during detention

For the very youngest picture-book fans this month, Nosy Crow’s collaboration with the British Museum yields two enticing board-books, 123 and ABC. The alphabet book features stylish photographs of exhibits from around the world, ranging from Japanese porcelain elephants to Austrian woodcuts of oranges; the counting book gives infant curators the delightful illusion of handling ancient hats, dolls, keys and rings.

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Historian pulls out of Chalke Valley festival over lack of diversity

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:15:09 GMT2017-06-23T15:15:09Z

Rebecca Rideal says she is pulling out of UK’s leading history event after learning that programme of 148 speakers has only 32 women and one person of colour

Revolution and rebellion are a reliable fixture at the UK’s biggest history festival, but this year there is also some fierce contemporary dissent. The historian Rebecca Rideal has pulled out of the Chalke Valley history festival in protest at the event’s lack of diversity.

The 148 speakers due to appear this year include the TV historian Dan Snow, as well as politicians Chris Patten and Harriet Harman. But only 32 of the 148 speakers are women, and just one is a person of colour: radio presenter Anita Anand, who is appearing with co-author William Dalrymple to discuss their book Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond.

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Why Iran has 16 different translations of one Khaled Hosseini novel

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 14:00:27 GMT2017-06-23T14:00:27Z

Lack of copyright has filled a nation of very keen readers with multiple versions of foreign books – doing artistic as well as financial damage to writers

If JD Salinger could see what was on the shelves in Iranian bookshops, he would turn in his grave. The Inverted Forest, a 1947 novella that he refused to republish in the US for more than half a century, is widely available in Farsi in most Iranian bookshops, for just 90,000 rials, or £2.20. (English-reading Salinger diehards hunting on AbeBooks only have the option of a $500 secondhand copy of the Cosmopolitan issue where it originally appeared).

The Inverted Forest’s publication in Farsi is just one example of Iran’s messy, complicated, yet fascinating translation scene, which has long been undermined by the country’s failure to join the Berne convention on copyright. Iranian authors who publish in their home country are offered some protection under national law, but the work of writers who publish outside Iran is completely unprotected. According to the Tehran Times, one Iranian translator has secured the copyright to produce a version in Farsi of Paula Hawkins’s 2017 novel, Into the Water. But at least five others are already working on competing translations.

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Atwood, Ishiguro and McEwan come clean about Jane Austen

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 12:00:24 GMT2017-06-23T12:00:24Z

Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan have created revealing handwritten homages about the novelist for a charity auction

An auction of handwritten homages by famous writers, to raise funds for the Royal Society of Literature, is about to reveal just what modern novelists think of Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice “set a bad example” to the 12-year-old Margaret Atwood, she has scribbled, by exposing the young girl to “a hero who was unpleasant to the heroine, but later turned out to be not only admirable and devotedly in love with her, but royally rich … Were underage readers of this book, such as myself, doomed to a series of initially hopeful liaisons in which unpleasant men turned out to be simply unpleasant?”

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The other page: the books you should take to Glastonbury

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 07:00:18 GMT2017-06-23T07:00:18Z

You’ve packed the wellies and the wet wipes – but which titles should accompany them in your rucksack?

Let’s not tempt fate, but at the time of writing, this year’s Glastonbury looks set to be a relatively sun-soaked experience, very different from the mixture of Brexit misery and mud that characterised last year’s festival. With any luck, these words will be read by people spending long, languid hours sitting on the grass, staring into blue skies – and, from time to time, reaching for a book.

But what to read? Start, maybe, with one of the best music-based texts of the last two years: Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands by Will Carruthers (Faber). A beautifully written memoir of the time when the author was a member of the neo-psychedelic bands Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, it portrays musty-smelling bohemia in the thrillingly unlikely environs of Rugby, the privations of being a musician while constantly skint, and summer weekends playing fifth on the bill at British festivals. The title comes from Carruthers’s recollection of taking LSD before a performance in Leeds, where he hallucinated that he had grown two extra limbs. “This made perfect sense to me at the time,” he writes, “Three hands are better than none, right?” Then comes the kicker: “I got paid 15 quid for that show.”

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Novel recipes: Rock cakes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 05:30:16 GMT2017-06-23T05:30:16Z

With the 20th anniversary of JK Rowling’s first book looming, Kate Young bakes a batch of rock cakes – hopefully better than the ones Hagrid feeds to Harry...

  • Scroll down to read the recipe

‘This is Ron,’ Harry told Hagrid, who was pouring boiling water into a large teapot and putting rock cakes onto a plate.

‘Another Weasley, eh?’ said Hagrid, glancing at Ron’s freckles. ‘I spent half me life chasin’ your brothers away from the Forest.’

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling

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The Cut by Anthony Cartwright review – the big divide in Brexit Britain

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 06:30:17 GMT2017-06-23T06:30:17Z

Black Country ex-boxer meets Hampstead documentary-maker – a novella sharply captures two opposing standpoints in the EU debate

If any decade could be described as low and dishonest, it’s surely the present one. First the Brexit vote, then Trump, and just recently an unnecessary and profligate general election. Given the acres of news analysis, and the glacial pace of publishing, how might a novelist address any of this? Ali Smith’s Autumn and Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land navigate Britain’s post-referendum landscape, but so far rapid-response fiction has been rare.

Anthony Cartwright’s The Cut, published a year after the vote, is unique in that it was commissioned by Peirene (better known for short fiction in translation) specifically to explore Brexit. Following logically from his novels such as Heartland and Iron Towns, set in his native Midlands, Cartwright’s diamond-sharp novella digs deep into the political quagmire, dramatising the referendum’s opposing ideological standpoints via a man and a woman from very different class backgrounds. This is England as two distinct nations, both trying, but failing, to understand the other.

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The best recent crime novels – review roundup

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 11:00:23 GMT2017-06-23T11:00:23Z

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips; The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins; Strange Magic by Syd Moore; Love Like Blood by Mark Billingham; Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson

Gin Phillips’s Fierce Kingdom (Doubleday, £12.99) begins at closing time in a zoo in an unnamed American city, where Joan is trying to hurry her four-year-old son, Lincoln, towards the exit. When she spots the dead bodies and realises that the “fireworks” she heard earlier were actually gunshots, her focus shifts from trying not to be locked in overnight to keeping herself and her child alive. Over the next few hours, a deadly game of hide and seek is played out, seen from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints that include both the predators and their potential (human) prey. Tense and harrowing scenes make for some extraordinarily haunting moments – such as the colobus monkey mourning its mate, and Joan’s thoughts as she attempts to soothe her tired and fractious boy – in a powerful, unsettling book.

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Essayism by Brian Dillon review – pure creativity on the page

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 07:00:18 GMT2017-06-23T07:00:18Z

Full of appreciation for such essayists as William Gass, Elizabeth Hardwick and Georges Perec, Dillon has written a vital exploration of a genre

It is a critical commonplace to begin an essay about essays with etymology. Essay: noun, from the French essayer, verb, to try. Next is the requisite hat-tip to Michel de Montaigne, Renaissance philosopher and one-time mayor of Bordeaux, who is considered to have been the first great essayist; his Essais, published in 1580, includes disquisitions on, among other things, idleness, liars, imagination, pedantry, the custom of wearing clothes, sleep, names, drunkenness and smells. “I know too well how that particular essay on essays gets written,” Brian Dillon writes in his new book, Essayism, refusing to rehearse these familiar ideas, even as he mentions them.

Over the course of this meditation on that most elegant and slippery of forms, he identifies some “combination of exactitude and evasion” at the heart of it, an inner “conflict”, whereby it “aspires to express the quintessence or crux of its matter … to a sort of polish and integrity”, while also insisting “that its purview is partial, that being incomplete is a value in itself for it better reflects the brave and curious but faltering nature of the writing mind”. The essay has to convey mastery while admitting partiality. This is very hard to do well.

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How do women fall in love with killers like Ian Brady and Charles Manson?

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 12:23:03 GMT2017-06-22T12:23:03Z

Pondering her own fascination with bad men of history, author Laura Elizabeth Woollett began to write stories about the women who were attached to them in real life

Entombed in my turquoise and lilac bedroom as a teenager growing up in Australia, I listened over and over to Suffer Little Children by the Smiths, featuring Morrissey’s downbeat crooning about the moors:

Over the moor, take me to the moor
Dig a shallow grave
And I’ll lay me down.

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No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein – Trump the master of disaster

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 13:00:00 GMT2017-06-22T13:00:00Z

Klein’s new study in shock politics is a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. Refusal needs to turn into resistance

Lately the pace of news has felt so fast and its volume so overwhelming that the very idea of a political book seems quaint, a relic of the gentler and more carefree time before we were all pinned to the floor by the social media firehose. Naomi Klein has written No Is Not Enough at near internet speed, a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Donald Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. As the title suggests, Klein wants her readers to move from refusal to resistance, from a passive stance of opposition to engagement in a programme of action. If the convulsions of the last year have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t wait for the dust to settle and clarity to emerge. Turbulence is, at least for the foreseeable future, our new condition, and we must learn to function within it. We have to teach ourselves to stand upright on a moving deck.

Klein emerged as a star of the 1990s social movements that were trying to frame a politics of opposition to capitalist globalisation. Was exchange value the only kind of value? What about the environmental, social and cultural formations that were being reorganised (and in some cases damaged or destroyed) by the logic of the market? Klein’s widely-read 2000 book No Logo packaged and synthesised ideas that had been circulating in anti-capitalist circles during the previous decade, helping a general readership to understand changes taking place in corporations, which had begun to outsource many of their functions and view themselves primarily as “brands”, deployers of intellectual property that did not need, for example, to do their own manufacturing or distribution. It was, as she puts it in No Is Not Enough, “a race toward weightlessness; whoever owned the least, had the fewest employees on the payroll and produced the most powerful images as opposed to things, won the race”.

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Misery loves company: why Stephen King remains Hollywood's favorite author

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:00:01 GMT2017-06-22T10:00:01Z

It’s a particularly fruitful year for the bestselling author, with big and small screen adaptations on the way – but what makes his work so consistently popular?

To say that Stephen King is “back” would be absurd. The man never really goes anywhere, permanently inhabiting his sliver of the spotlight with a steady stream of novels, short story collections, loose magazine pieces, and less formally, his alternately bemused and biting tweets. King topped the New York Times bestseller list last year with his latest novel, End of Watch, and he collaborated with his son Owen on a prison-set thriller titled Sleeping Beauties, set for a release in the fall. But because print is, arguably, dead and, for many, relevance can only be measured on screens big and small, it’s true that King’s public profile is currently enjoying something of a surge.

Related: The Dark Tower trailer: Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey go to war in the fantasy epic

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Chuck Klosterman: 'Sometimes you accidentally say something that becomes meaningful'

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 10:00:01 GMT2017-06-22T10:00:01Z

The author and pop-culture theorist talks to Lanre Bakare about peak TV, Taylor Swift, why everything is political – and how he inadvertently predicted Trump

In the introduction to your new book, you say reading your old work is the ‘worst kind of time machine.’ Is it that awful, looking back at these pieces?

Yes, because I’m just compelled to want to rewrite everything I’ve ever written. My dream life would have been if I could have written my first book forever and never have it come out … but be rich. Every time I go back and I read something that I’ve written before, I see things that could have been different.

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Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars by David Hepworth review – which songs will truly last?

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 06:30:30 GMT2017-06-22T06:30:30Z

From the meeting of John and Paul to the death of Bowie – this sharply observed book looks at key dates in the golden era of rock

Little Richard putting one of his bowel movements into a shoebox and presenting it to an elderly neighbour as a birthday present; the already married Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13-year-old cousin; the Rolling Stones on their legendarily debauched 1972 US tour; Michael Jackson’s terrified scream after accidentally dropping one of his signature white gloves into the lavatory – it must have been tempting for David Hepworth to turn Uncommon People into a rock version of Kenneth Anger’s still notorious Hollywood Babylon.

Mercifully, he resists the lure of an all-singing, all-dancing, scandal-ridden anthology. Instead, he has come up with a neat, more purposeful framework for his colourful, richly marinated survey of the phenomenon of the rock star between the mid-1950s and mid-1990s: one chapter per year, with each chapter having as its focus one particular day when something significant or emblematic happened. On 6 July 1957, for instance, those two Liverpool teenagers John and Paul meet for the first time; on 1 October 1966, Jimmy (not yet Jimi) Hendricks (not yet Hendrix) unveils his talent to Eric Clapton and other guitar aristocracy; on 16 August 1977, Elvis checks out; on 1 August 1987, a film is shot at a Greyhound bus station recreating the arrival in Hollywood five years earlier of Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses). By 1997, it is all over.

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Golden Hill wins Francis Spufford third major prize in a year

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:15:14 GMT2017-06-21T18:15:14Z

Roistering tale of New York in its infancy adds £10,000 Desmond Elliott prize to the Costa first novel and Ondaatje awards it has already clinched

Francis Spufford’s “extraordinarily accomplished” Golden Hill has scored a hat-trick, winning the Desmond Elliott prize for debut novels. It is the book’s third major award this year, after scooping the Costa first novel award and the Ondaatje prize for books with a sense of place.

Announcing the winner of the £10,000 award, chair of judges and literary editor Sam Leith said: “It is an extraordinarily accomplished book. A work of technical virtuosity that ranges from being astoundingly well-structured right down to its wonderful sentences.” He also praised Spufford for “the ability he displays of having in mind a 21st-century reader while keeping true to the 18th-century idiom. That is incredible.”

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Angolan writer José Eduardo Agualusa wins €100,000 International Dublin literary award

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 12:26:06 GMT2017-06-21T12:26:06Z

The prestigious win, for A General Theory of Oblivion, will allow the novelist to fulfil a dream of building a public library, he says

When Angolan author José Eduardo Agualusa was told he had won one of the world’s richest book prizes, it realised a dream. The author, whose novel A General Theory of Oblivion has scooped the €100,000 (£88,000) International Dublin literary award – formerly known as the Impac prize – has long desired to build a library in his adopted home on the Island of Mozambique.

“What we really need is a public library, because people don’t have access to books, so if I can do something to help that, it will be great,” Agualusa says. “We have already found a place and I can put my own personal library in there and open it to the people of the island. It’s been a dream for a long time.”

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Top 10 books about lies

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 14:20:29 GMT2017-06-21T14:20:29Z

You’ll need to watch who you believe in these books by writers from James Baldwin to Anita Brookner and Thomas Hardy to Toni Morrison

I fell in love with these books for reasons other than their lies, reading them with a guileless pleasure. They invited me into worlds that I believed in utterly.

Worlds rather like the fictional one that my father had built, which I believed in completely, too. My memoir A Book of Untruths explores his storytelling, and mine – and how memory can deceive us, while remaining one of the most precious things that we own. The untruths I tell cover every gradation of duplicity – from illegitimacy and rape, to beefeaters woken too early and lino burned by mistake.

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Derek Walcott museum closes amid row over Caribbean tourist developments

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:00:27 GMT2017-06-21T10:00:27Z

St Lucia National Trust says government funding cut forced closure of museum, housed in reconstruction of Nobel-winning poet’s former home

A museum on the site of the boyhood home of the poet and playwright Derek Walcott has closed amid a funding shortfall that has been linked to disputes over controversial tourist developments on St Lucia.

The Nobel laureate, who died in March, attended a ceremony last year to mark the opening of the museum, housed in a reconstruction of his former house in the Caribbean island’s capital, Castries.

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Major publishers move to defend Greenpeace in dispute with logging firm

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 05:30:22 GMT2017-06-21T05:30:22Z

Firms including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins have spoken out about timber company’s ‘dangerous’ moves to quash campaigners’ claims

The world’s biggest book publishers have been dragged into a bitter dispute between a US logging company and environmental campaigners Greenpeace. It follows legal action taken by the logging company, Resolute Forest Products, which campaigners and publishers fear has implications for freedom of speech.

The dispute centres on claims by Greenpeace about the company’s logging practices in sections of Canada’s boreal forest, which are home to indigenous peoples as well as endangered wildlife. Greenpeace alleges that Resolute: “Is responsible for the destruction of vast areas of Canada’s magnificent boreal forest, damaging critical woodland caribou habitat and logging without the consent of impacted First Nations.”

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Mog author Judith Kerr, 94, to publish new book Katinka's Tail

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 15:29:54 GMT2017-06-20T15:29:54Z

Story of a ‘perfectly ordinary cat with a not-so-ordinary tail’, based on beloved children’s author’s ninth pet feline, is due out this autumn

Almost 50 years after the appearance of one of the most famous felines in children’s books, Mog creator Judith Kerr is to publish a book inspired by her latest pet cat, Katinka. The much-loved author and illustrator, who celebrated her 94th birthday last week, is to publish Katinka’s Tail in the autumn.

The story of a “perfectly ordinary cat with a not-so-ordinary tail” was inspired by Kerr’s observations of her cat, the ninth in an inspirational line. “She is a ridiculous-looking white cat with a tabby tail that looks as though it belonged to somebody else,” she said. It was watching the “bizarre” behaviour of her first family pet, Mog – which included licking her sleeping daughter’s hair – that inspired the eponymous stories beloved by generations of children.

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Anthony Burgess essay on pornography to be published

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 05:30:02 GMT2017-06-20T05:30:02Z

The author’s lecture to a large audience of Catholic clergy in Malta is to be reprinted, along with a ‘punchy counterpoint’ response by Germaine Greer

A lecture about pornography, which landed the author of A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess in hot water with the Maltese authorities in 1970, is to be published for the first time, alongside previously unseen photographs. The talk, given to a packed audience of priests and government officials, so upset the Mediterranean island’s authorities that they seized Burgess’s house.

The book, to be published as Obscenity and the Arts, will also include a provocative response to Burgess’s essay by academic and feminist Germaine Greer, who knew him personally, and an essay about his years on the island. It will be the first new work by the author, who died in 1993, to appear in 20 years.

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Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals: US double in children's book awards

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 12:47:42 GMT2017-06-19T12:47:42Z

Ruta Sepetys’ novel Salt to the Sea and illustrator Lane Smith’s There Is a Tribe of Kids win their American creators the venerable British awards

A former “punk” illustrator and a refugee’s daughter have performed an American double, taking two of the UK’s most prestigious children’s literary awards. Lane Smith’s There Is a Tribe of Kids won the 2017 Kate Greenaway medal for illustration and Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea received the Carnegie medal for best children’s writing.

Chair of judges Tricia Adams described the winning books as demonstrating “the vitally important role that literature and illustration play in helping children and young people to understand the world around them, be that through a historical lens or through the natural world around them”.

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Sebastian Barry's 'glorious and unusual' novel wins Walter Scott prize

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:01:34 GMT2017-06-19T10:01:34Z

Days Without End takes £25,000 honour, the second time the author has won the award for historical fiction

Sebastian Barry has become the first double winner of the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction – just seven years after the honour was first presented. Barry’s “glorious and unusual” Days Without End beat a strong shortlist to take the prestigious £25,000 award. He previously won the award in 2012 with his novel On Canaan’s Side.

The Walter Scott prize judges included journalists James Naughtie and Kate Figes, writers Katharine Grant and Elizabeth Laird. They were joined by prize co-founder Elizabeth Buccleuch, James Holloway of the Abbotsford Trust – which manages Scott’s grand home in the Scottish Borders – and historian Alistair Moffat. Moffat, who served as chair, said: “Days Without End took the lead, for the glorious and unusual story; the seamlessly interwoven period research; and above all for the unfaltering power and authenticity of the narrative voice, a voice no reader is likely to forget.”

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Miles Franklin award shortlists five first-time nominees

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 10:00:04 GMT2017-06-18T10:00:04Z

Australia’s most prestigious literary prize recognises stories of women, outsiders, ageing and satire for $60,000 award

Five first-time nominees – including an author with a title inspired by the award’s founder – have been announced on the shortlist for the 2017 Miles Franklin literary award.

Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, established in 1957 by the estate of My Brilliant Career author Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, recognises a novel which reflects “Australian life in any of its phases”.

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Israeli author David Grossman wins Man Booker International prize

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 20:43:00 GMT2017-06-14T20:43:00Z

A Horse Walks Into a Bar, his novel about a standup comedian’s public breakdown, scoops £50,000 prize to be shared with translator Jessica Cohen

David Grossman’s “ambitious high-wire act of a novel”, A Horse Walks into a Bar, set around a standup comic’s rambling and confessional routine in an Israeli comedy club, has won the Man Booker International prize for the year’s best fiction in translation.

Set in a small Israeli town, the novel is focused entirely on the act of comedian Dovaleh Greenstein. Taking to the stage to needle his audience with vulgar and aggressive jokes, Greenstein’s repellent performance begins to crumble as he reveals a fateful and gruesome decision he once made, which has haunted him ever since.

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Michael Longley heads shortlist for Forward prizes for poetry

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 06:01:18 GMT2017-06-12T06:01:18Z

The Belfast poet is nominated for the prestigious honour alongside a diverse selection of writers including Tara Bergin, Nick Makoha and Malika Booker

A former banker who burned his suits to keep himself from returning to the day job and a poet who funded her way through university by cleaning toilets and working in a call centre join the acclaimed poet Michael Longley on the shortlists for the Forward prizes for poetry, announced on Monday.

Announcing the shortlists – for best collection, best single poem and best first collection – the chair of judges, broadcaster Andrew Marr, said: “I came away more than ever convinced that if you read journalism alone, or history alone and yet you omit contemporary poetry, then you cannot properly understand the world you live in.”

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Alice Oswald takes £37,000 Griffin prize with 'breathtaking' poetry

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 14:15:08 GMT2017-06-09T14:15:08Z

Falling Awake, already a much acclaimed collection, was cheered by 1,000-strong crowd at readings connected with the Canadian award

Alice Oswald has won one of the world’s richest poetry prizes with her latest collection, Falling Awake.

This dreamlike vision of the West Country carried off the 2017 International Griffin poetry prize, worth C$65,000 (£37,725). The same sum was also presented to the Vancouver poet Jordan Abel, who took home the Canadian prize with his long poem about cultural appropriation and racism, Injun.

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Ed Victor, publishing agent to the stars, dies aged 77

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 17:04:22 GMT2017-06-08T17:04:22Z

Agent to everyone from David Cameron to Nigella Lawson, Eric Clapton to Lily Cole, Victor was colourful and well-connected, and dearly loved a party

Ed Victor, agent to the great and the good of the literary and political worlds on both sides of the Atlantic, has died at the age of 77, his agency has announced.

New York-born Victor was one of publishing’s most colourful and well-connected figures, with a client list that ranged from showbusiness stars such as Eric Clapton, Lily Cole and Roman Polanski to political heavyweights like David Cameron and David Blunkett. One of his most recent high-profile deals was the sale of Cameron’s autobiography to William Collins last autumn.

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Understanding Trump: what can we learn from Newt Gingrich's new book?

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:39:57 GMT2017-06-20T14:39:57Z

The latest offering from the former House speaker parses the rise of the president, but ultimately says more about author than subject

When Kellyanne Conway used the term “alternative facts” in an interview with NBC, the statement went viral not just because of its brazen insincerity, but because there was a measure of transparency to it: in our current political climate, there seems to be, as Newton’s third law would dictate, an equal and opposite alternative for every fact, each weaponized by talking heads to bolster their a priori convictions.

Related: From 'covfefe' to 'the Bushkrieg': Daily Show displays Trump's best tweets

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A Confederacy of Dunces doesn't need to 'develop' – but it does

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:00:05 GMT2017-06-20T12:00:05Z

John Kennedy Toole’s novel has been scolded for its ‘reactionary satire’ of an unchanging world, which seems to get things wrong twice over

Now that I’ve reached the end of A Confederacy of Dunces, I have to admit to some confusion. Not with the book so much as some of the things I’ve read about it. I’ve already discussed editor Robert Gottlieb’s famous complaint that John Kennedy Toole’s novel doesn’t have “a reason”. Plenty of other reviewers have also said that Ignatius J Reilly’s lack of development is a problem – but I don’t get it.

With forceful eloquence, Jonathan Rosenbaum was one of the first critics to put forward this idea in the Soho News when the book was first published in 1980. A Confederacy of Dunces, he said, was a “reactionary satire” and:

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Threads: A refugee's story in words and pictures – extract

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 11:17:11 GMT2017-06-20T11:17:11Z

Graphic novelist Kate Evans travelled to the Calais Jungle to document life in the impromptu city near the French port town. While living there, Evans met Iraqi refugee Hoshyar. Here is part of his story told in Threads, published to mark UN World Refugee Day on 20 June

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 14:00:37 GMT2017-06-19T14:00:37Z

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

There, PartingShot was enjoying some post election blues:

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Poem of the week: But Those Unheard by Miles Burrows

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 08:26:34 GMT2017-06-19T08:26:34Z

In this week’s choice, academic and critical discourse – and indeed poetry itself – come in for some elegant ribbing

But Those Unheard

The next poem we can’t actually see.
In fact it may not be there at all.
But if it was there it would solve several problems
In the poems that we can see. We infer its existence
From what we believe to be its effects.
It may be a completely new kind of poem
Or something similar, that has leverage
On existing poems, being itself unreadable
And extremely heavy, and moving at a high speed.
Heavy invisible rapid poem-like entities
Which may never be seen or felt, almost certainly underlie
Existing poems, and may outweigh them
As the dead outnumber the living.
And they have an activity, as the dead
Can bend existing poems and hold them together.
But these are not dead poems
(We haven’t got a name for them yet).
They may explain shivering, wrinkles or otherwise unexplained anomalies
In poems we thought we understood. Lacunas,
Leanings, hesitations, small lapses in grammar, odd coinings,
Unexplained dashes or ashes where commas might be expected,
A wandering semicolon. Misspellings we pretended to ignore.
Two instances of hapax legomena in seventeeth century Siamese poems
Could be explained by a heavy unwritten poem-like entity (about the size of
Denmark)
Passing rapidly very close to them or through them.
In fact the whole field of textual criticism
Has become much more exciting
As we study here underground in darkness and close to absolute silence
Poems we thought we remembered.

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Mike Figgis webchat – your questions answered on Nicolas Cage, rule breaking and guilty pleasures

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 13:18:41 GMT2017-06-19T13:18:41Z

The director of Internal Affairs and Leaving Las Vegas shared his secrets to making great films, musings on the ‘sublime poetry’ of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the truth about his relationship with Nic Cage 2.18pm BST This has been very interesting for me. I enjoy this format - it gives me time to think. The questions have been very interesting, thank you. Bye!Just a reminder - The 36 Dramatic Situations is out now and available everywhere. The cards Kickstart on Monday! 2.16pm BST Kamatron asks:How much rewriting went into Joe Eszterhas’s One Night Stand script, which he allegedly got paid $4m for, and how did it differ from the finished product?My version of One Night Stand is so different from Mr Eszterhas's that he asked to have his name taken off the project. I think New Line felt they'd been landed with an expensive turkey and I was hot that week, just after Leaving Las Vegas. They offered it to me, I read it, didn't like it, they said I could do what I liked with it. One of my favourite films is Truffault's The Woman Next Door - I think it is his best film. And I always wanted to do an English language version of it, so this was a big influence on my rewrite. I originally offered it to Nicholas Cage, but I couldn't see him for dust, and I was very happy with Wesley Snipes's amazing performance. It is one of my favourite films, of my own. It got a terrible critical pasting in the states, but fared much better in Europe.Talking of writing (cheap segue into my new book), The 36 Dramatic Situations is a rewrite of a French theatre classic written in the late 19th century. I thought it was vital to update this interesting concept for cinema. In a way, I could describe it as 36 essays on the differences between film and theatre; something that aspiring screenwriters need to be aware of. Also the book examines cliched attitudes, particularly towards gender (the dominate male, the submissive female), as well as race and religion. The book clearly reminds us that "drama comes directly from the original Greek drama and biblical morality". The family is a huge deal in the book. Given the fact that there are supposedly 36 dramatic situations, I developed a pack of cards which enable the writer to use the element of chance in the creative process - take three cards, and then place them in a sequence and let your imagination run wild. I've used the cards extensively over the last year, and what is fascinating is that I find myself in areas of drama that I would never normally choose, and it has opened up so many possibilities in terms of pure storytelling.The book comes out this week, but I've had to develop the cards myself via Kickstarter and the campaign begins next Monday. Continue reading...[...]


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Will social media kill the novel? Andrew O'Hagan on the end of private life

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:33 GMT2017-06-17T08:00:33Z

Writers thrive on privacy, not on Twitter. What does a world in which our interior lives are played out online mean for the novel? It is a call to action, argues the novelist

The day was always coming when science fiction would seem like nostalgia. It wasn’t that everything became true but that everything became fake. Who knew, when reading William Gibson in the simple 1980s, or old paperbacks of Frank Herbert, that these writers were common realists, no less faithful than Charles Dickens to life’s essential changes. I still remember the ritual of turning off the TV at the end of the night when I was a child. There was always a scramble to do it, because the Queen was on and everybody hated the Queen. No remote control, so you had to go over and press the button – and there it was, the final exhalation of static as the mounted Queen hyperspaced into a single white dot. It meant the world was now at a distance, a veil of finality descended over Britain, unless you could read novels under the covers with a torch. I grew up that way, between the TV and the library book, and it described a perfect circle of private experience. Robert Louis Stevenson might have been spying on us in a moral sense, and so might our Catholic God – “only He knows what’s inside your heart,” Father McLaughlin told me – but we persisted in feeling that privacy was a personal possession and a first principle.

Related: Is the internet killing our brains?

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Misprint the legends: famous typos from James Joyce to JK Rowling

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 14:58:31 GMT2017-06-16T14:58:31Z

A proof of the first Harry Potter novel, which got the author’s name wrong, is only the latest example of an ungainly tradition stretching back centuries

Proofreaders may be worth their weight in gold to authors, but their oversights have proved lucrative for some lucky readers of JK Rowling. On Thursday, an uncorrected proof of her debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with the writer’s name was misspelled as “JA Rowling”, became the latest muddled copy to fetch four figures at auction.

It sold for just under £10,000, which means it is not the most valuable mistake in the boy wizard’s canon. That honour goes to a rare first edition with the word “philosopher” misspelled on the back cover, which was snapped up in 2016 by a London-based businessman for £43,750.

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Will Self: 'Britain needs a written constitution – I’m available to write it'

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 09:01:05 GMT2017-06-16T09:01:05Z

In a series to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the author declares that it’s high time British politicans stopped muddling and meddling

Patriotic Britons of all stripes often praise the excellence of our “unwritten constitution”. When I was at university, the key text we studied if we wanted to learn about this amazing thing-that-was-not-a-thing was a book by Walter Bagehot called The English Constitution, first published in 1867. In Bagehot’s view, it was the very provisional nature of our constitutional arrangements that made them fit for purpose: unlike those absurdly codified Americans, strapped into the rigid straitjacket of their Puritan forefathers, we muddle along in our inimitable English way. The legal foundation to our state is a strange mixture of common law and custom, together with various agreements struck to deal with historical contingencies – such as the imposition of inequitable taxes by self-deluding crypto-Catholic monarchs, or the millenarian views of our own, um, Puritan forefathers.

Related: Why Britain needs a written constitution | Anthony Barnett

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Richard Ford should swallow his pride over Colson Whitehead's bad review

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:42:14 GMT2017-06-14T15:42:14Z

With slow-brewed, writerly rancour, Ford has reiterated his urge to spit on Whitehead over a 2001 notice. In the age of social media, he should be more careful

With the possible exception of those involved, everyone enjoys a good literary feud. So it was diverting when Richard Ford took to the pages of Esquire to remind us about one of the juicier spats of the new millennium.

It started in 2001, when African American writer Colson Whitehead reviewed Ford’s short-story collection A Multitude of Sins in the New York Times.

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Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror to spin off into books – but who should write them?

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 12:25:12 GMT2017-06-14T12:25:12Z

Stephen King and Margaret Atwood are among the stars obviously suited to writing these dark satires. But lesser-known names might do just as well

After three seasons of satirical, speculative storytelling on the small screen, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is making the jump to the written word. Brooker will edit three volumes of novellas – in “high-tech ‘paper’ format”, as he quipped – that will be written by different authors, with the first due in February 2018, the second later that year and the third in 2019.

All-new stories from different authors, yeah?

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Campaign – a poem by Carol Ann Duffy exclusively for the Guardian

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 09:50:04 GMT2017-06-10T09:50:04Z

Britain’s poet laureate responds to the general election result in a work written for the Guardian

In which her body was a question-mark

querying her lies; her mouth a ballot-box that bit the hand that fed. Her eyes? They swivelled for a jackpot win. Her heart was a stolen purse;

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Fifty Shades of cuts and bruises: Hollywood’s history of hurting writers

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 16:50:36 GMT2017-06-21T16:50:36Z

EL James’s battles with director Sam Taylor-Johnson are part of a long tradition of conflicting ‘visions’. She is one of a small elite to beat the studios

Ever since Joe Gillis ended up face down in a swimming pool in the opening credits of Sunset Boulevard, it’s been clear that, Hollywood prefers its writers silent.

It’s a rule that Sam Taylor-Johnson clearly wishes EL James had heeded when she directed James’s lashing love story Fifty Shades of Grey. This week, Taylor-Johnson told trade magazine Hollywood Reporter that clashes between the two saw her unceremoniously dumped from the franchise. Likening the experience to “wading uphill through sticky tar”, the director stuck the knife in. “Every scene was fought over. It was tough,” she said of their clash. “Her thing was: ‘This is what the fans expect.’ I’d be like: ‘Well, let’s try and hit those marks but create a new universe at the same time.’”

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Cocktails, wit and activism: in praise of Dorothy Parker – 50 years on

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:00:07 GMT2017-06-16T11:00:07Z

Fifty years after her death, this master of the one-liner has survived better than the rest of her New Yorker set, but everything you know about her is liable to be wrong

A bestselling poet who moved on to fiction, Dorothy Parker, who died 50 years ago this month, single-handedly invented “the New Yorker short story”, the kind of debonair but melancholy tale later associated with JD Salinger and John Cheever. She was equally innovative as a critic, pioneering a first‑person style and busting the taboo on hatchet jobs by women when reviewing theatre – she was fired under pressure from Broadway managers after three plays that she had slated closed – and books (as “Constant Reader”, best remembered for her one-liner on AA Milne, “Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up”).

Related: Dorothy Parker showed me that it was possible to live the life I wanted | Mary Kenny

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A Confederacy of Dunces: a Pulitzer winner's struggle to find a publisher

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:00:57 GMT2017-06-13T12:00:57Z

The editor who turned down John Kennedy Toole might seem myopic in hindsight, but some of his questions about the novel remain hard to answer

Humility is something you learn quickly as an editor. If you have the good fortune to find and publish excellent novels, you are sure to miss plenty of fine work. As a co-founder and editor at independent press Galley Beggar, I wake up in sweats with the certain knowledge that somewhere in my email inbox lies a stone cold classic. Perhaps I won’t even find the time to read it, let alone mistakenly turn it down. I’ve had to refuse perfectly good books in the past and will do it again. The hard truth is that you can’t publish everything – and that every publisher is human and correspondingly flawed.

But at least I can console myself that I haven’t yet said no to a Pulitzer winner like A Confederacy of Dunces. I am yet to attain the unenviable fame of Robert Gottlieb, marked by history as the man who didn’t publish John Kennedy Toole’s cult masterpiece.

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Fair Field: Piers Plowman's Truth - books podcast

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 11:10:25 GMT2017-06-21T11:10:25Z

In the last of three original podcasts based on William Langland’s poem, our hero goes in search of an ideal Truth. But what does that mean?

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

In the last of three original podcasts produced for the Guardian, neurotic dreamer Piers Plowman sets off to find essential Truth. But what can that mean in a society driven by division and competing viewpoints?

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Brian Van Reet: 'The Iraq war feels like it happened in a past life or in a dream'

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 05:30:31 GMT2017-06-15T05:30:31Z

The author of Spoils recalls his troubling time serving with the US army, and the uneasy process of translating his experience into fiction

Fourteen years since the US invaded Iraq, and 13 since he served there with the US army, soldier-turned-author Brian Van Reet remains conflicted about the war.

“On the one hand, I view the war as a whole as an evil thing,” he says. “It was unnecessary, it caused a massive amount of suffering and there’s something evil about that. I don’t think of myself as evil, but I participated in a bigger event that could be considered evil. I haven’t figured out how to resolve that.”

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100 best nonfiction books: No 72 – Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 04:45:26 GMT2017-06-19T04:45:26Z

There is never a dull moment in this, the original addiction memoir, by the celebrated and supremely talented contemporary of Coleridge and Wordsworth

Ever since Alexander Pope’s liberating declaration that “the proper study of mankind is man”, there’s been a strong thread of intimate life-writing braided into the catalogue of English prose. Today, no bookshop is complete without its table of memoirs, reminiscences or confessional autobiographies, each owing something to Rousseau (Les Confessions) and, possibly, to Goethe (Dichtung und Wahrheit), but perhaps most immediately, above all, to De Quincey.

There is something so wonderfully modern and provisional about Thomas De Quincey that, of all the 19th-century writers in this series, he’s a figure you could imagine seeing but perhaps not conversing with – in Covent Garden (where much of Confessions was written) or on a stagecoach to London (he was incurably nomadic). The back-story to this classic memoir is simple enough.

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Jenn Ashworth: 'Morecambe Bay intrigued me because I was frightened of it'

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:00:55 GMT2017-06-20T10:00:55Z

The author explains how an uneasy fascination with the shifting, treacherous coastal sands led her to write Fell, a story of sickness and healing

Writing has become my best and most persistent way of attending to the world. Fell took me four years and, while it is a novel about sickness and healing, it is also a diary of looking – of what I paid attention to during that time. But when I try to think about what started the work of attention that writing the novel involved, it is tempting to mythologise its untidy beginnings and, in the telling, to neaten them.

I can say that Fell grew from a particular place. The unbiddable, uncanny, shifting sand of Morecambe Bay intrigued me because I was frightened of it. I had been taught to be frightened of it, to watch the sands, to never walk there alone. The bay holds its own dark histories of flux and danger. It is a place of work and leisure and rest and peril. It demanded its place not as a mere backdrop for action, but one of the novel’s most shifty characters.

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The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer by Dr Bertil Marklund – digested read

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 16:00:17 GMT2017-04-23T16:00:17Z

‘Use the Swedish concept of lagom and you will live 10 years longer – if you don’t die first’

Here in Sweden we’re getting a bit fed up with our neighbours. For the last few years, it’s been Danish hygge this and hygge that, or Norwegian “back to the land culture” and, “Sorry we are so much richer than you because we’ve got huge oil reserves.” So my publishers and I thought we should try to put Sweden back on the map – and earn ourselves a few krona into the bargain.

Related: Fancy a beer outside? There's a Scandi word for that – and so much else

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Selfie by Will Storr review – are the young really so self-obsessed?

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:25 GMT2017-06-21T08:00:25Z

This engaging book links the ‘self-esteem’ industry to Ayn Rand and neoliberalism. But is the selfie-taking generation unusually narcissistic?

Self-love is a tricky issue, and the right amount of it has always depended on perspective. I have healthy self-esteem; you’re a bit full of yourself; he’s a total narcissist. But in a world where you can buy a stick to hold your phone at the approved distance to take a photograph of yourself, has it all gone a bit too far? And if so, how did that happen?

Will Storr’s thoughtful and engaging book comes at the idea of the human self’s relationship with itself from many angles. Early on, he stays in a Scottish monastery and decides that spending one’s time this way in the hope of heavenly reward constitutes “a lifetime of self-obsession”, which seems fair enough – at least for these monks who don’t do anything useful in the community, such as brewing beer.

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The Way of the Hare by Marianne Taylor review – a quixotic, fascinating creature

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:00:26 GMT2017-06-21T09:00:26Z

This absorbing study of Britain’s fastest land mammal lacks the epiphanies of some nature writing but is replete with leporine lore

A couple of years ago, two nature writers carried out a polite but pointed exchange in the pages of the New Statesman. They were Mark Cocker and Robert Macfarlane, and the argument – which came first in an essay by Cocker, then in a lucid response by Macfarlane – was about “the new nature writing”. Cocker’s contention was that the successful books published by the likes of Macfarlane, Helen Macdonald and Kathleen Jamie were products of the library rather than the field – they privileged poetry over hard science. Macfarlane’s riposte spoke of the transformational power of good nature writing, of the way a well-turned sentence can “revise our ethical relations with the natural world”.

I thought of this reanimation of CP Snow and FR Leavis’s old “Two Cultures” argument as I was reading Marianne Taylor’s The Way of the Hare. It’s a beautiful book, with a striking woodcut cover, gorgeously illustrated with Taylor’s own sketches and photographs. The whole package summoned a certain expectation, that here was another chapter in the development of “the new nature writing”, an H is for Hare, if you will. I expected the book to do what this modern genre does best – to deliver ecstatic encounters with the natural world, each of them filtered through centuries of literature, each of them effecting some profound change on the author.

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The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden review – an insider’s account of al-Qaida after 9/11

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:05 GMT2017-06-20T08:00:05Z

Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy’s gripping history of the terrorist network, from 2001 to the present, reveals a dark web of familial and political machinations

In the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, there was a surge of interest in the family of the al-Qaida founder and leader. One son had been shot dead during the raid on the high-walled house in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad, while confused reports described at least a dozen children or grandchildren, and between two and four wives, left stunned and bloodied by the US special forces when they left.

But the story moved on. Three years later, al-Qaida was pushed into the shadows by a breakaway faction, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis). The centre of gravity of Islamic militancy seemed to have shifted decisively to the Levant. The family of bin Laden were forgotten.

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The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way – review

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 06:30:28 GMT2017-06-19T06:30:28Z

Steve Richards’s insightful new book charts the rise of the political mavericks who are forcing us to rethink what had become unthinkable

Once again, after 8 June, all is up in the air. Britain is unlikely to have five more years of strong and stable leadership from Theresa May. Uncertainty has become the new normal. Far less understood, beyond the easy rhetoric, is what lies behind the dismantling of predictable politics. Why now? Why not a decade ago, when the financial system crashed?

Thankfully, I have Steve Richards’s latest musings to turn to as I, like everyone, seek to make sense of it all. There is no more insightful observer of the British scene than this reasoned pundit turned standup. His latest book seeks to explain the rise of the maverick. More presciently, it seeks to explain how the so-called mainstream lost its way. First, the world before 8 June: Richards argues that the rot set in long ago. Politicians, so the saying goes, always fight the previous election. They are always behind the times. Harold Wilson and Edward Heath in the 1970s believed that only an incomes policy would be bearable for a public that still bore the scars of the prewar depression. They failed to see the societal impulses that would lead to the rise of Margaret Thatcher.

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Chief Engineer: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge review – in praise of New York’s master builder

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 06:59:00 GMT2017-06-18T06:59:00Z

The sins of the father dominate Erica Wagner’s paean to the man behind one of America’s most celebrated landmarks

The United States, a German ambassador to London once told me with half a smile, should really be known as “Neues Deutschland”. German migrants gave the country the hot dog, the hamburger and the Trump family. As Erica Wagner sets out in this compelling and elegant book, their country also sent over the family that built the most striking structure to rise in New York before the skyscraper.

German manners and German culture are central to Wagner’s exploration of the life of Washington Roebling, the engineer whose energy and ideas got the Brooklyn Bridge built. He did not learn to speak English until after his 10th birthday and he often worked through his calculations in his mother tongue. He shared an alternative American identity to the Anglophone one that smothered everything after the US went to war with Germany in 1917.

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Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond – review

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 05:30:03 GMT2017-06-18T05:30:03Z

William Dalrymple and Anita Anand recount the story of treachery and bloodshed that surrounds the famous stone

Size, as we know, is not everything. You might only be the 90th largest, but you can still emerge with a sizable reputation. This is one of several lessons to be learned from the story of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, way down the list in terms of size but, as this new book’s subtitle suggests, looming large in the imagination. It is probably also the world’s most dangerous diamond, described here as being “like a living, dangerous bird of prey” because so many have lost their lives over it.

The origins of the Koh-i-Noor, the “mountain of light”, are unknown, beyond the reach even of this book’s two accomplished authors, but it seems safe to assume that it emerged out of alluvial deposit somewhere in India. It may have been known in antiquity and it may have been referred to in many a romantic tale, but its first verifiable appearance isn’t until the 18th century, where it decorated the Mughal emperor’s Peacock Throne in Delhi and where it stimulated envy and greed in the emperor’s rivals. Over the following 100 years, it brought torment and tragedy to a range of people in Delhi, Kabul and Lahore.

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The Mighty Franks: A Memoir by Michael Frank – travails with a Hollywood aunt

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 06:30:05 GMT2017-06-18T06:30:05Z

Frank’s account of a childhood dominated by his aunt, a colourful Hollywood scriptwriter, is beautifully told but tinged with spite

Aunts, like monsters, are a staple of literature, and in this memoir, the two combine in the extraordinary figure of Harriet Frank Jr, aka Auntie Hankie, a childless screenwriter whose antic devotion to its author, her nephew Michael, begins as a crisp, life-giving brook, and ends as a brackish, stagnant pond out of which he finds it hard to climb. Basically, she turns before the reader’s eyes from Auntie Mame into a version of Mommie Dearest. But if such a transformation sounds enticing, a story to rival such vivid Hollywood memoirs as Brooke Hayward’s Haywire or Darcy O’Brien’s A Way of Life, Like Any Other, wait a moment. What a horrible taste it leaves in the mouth: metallic, like blood.

“More is more!” she shouts, urging another sweetmeat on her protege

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A Crack in Creation review – Jennifer Doudna, Crispr and a great scientific breakthrough

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 06:30:31 GMT2017-06-17T06:30:31Z

This is an invaluable account, by Doudna and Samuel Sternberg, of their role in the revolution that is genome editing

It began with the kind of research the Trump administration wants to unfund: fiddling about with tiny obscure creatures. And there had been US Republican hostility to science before Trump, of course, when Sarah Palin objected to federal funding of fruit fly research (“Fruit flies – I kid you not,” she said). The fruit fly has been a vital workhorse of genetics for 100 years. Jennifer Doudna’s work began with organisms even further out on the Palin scale: bacteriophages, tiny viruses that prey on bacteria.

Yoghurt manufacturers knew they were important, not least because bacteriophages can destroy yoghurt cultures. Research on the mechanism of this process began in the labs of Danisco (now part of the giant DuPont) in the early 2000s, before spreading through the university biotech labs. In 2012 Doudna and Samuel Sternberg’s team at Berkeley (they are co-authors of the book but it’s written solely in Doudna’s voice) came up with probably the greatest biological breakthrough since that of Francis Crick, James Watson and Rosalind Franklin.

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Lenin the Dictator and The Dilemmas of Lenin review – a revolution twisted?

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:00:03 GMT2017-06-16T08:00:03Z

Victor Sebestyen and Tariq Ali take a fresh look at the architect of October 1917, and his responsibility for what followed

The life of Vladimir Lenin undoubtedly lends itself to the “great man” approach to history. When, a month after the February Revolution, Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland, power was divided in an uneasy alliance between a provisional government dominated by liberals on the one hand and Soviets of socialists and anarchists on the other. In the face of opposition from the other leftwing parties and from many members of his own, Lenin argued relentlessly and effectively for an immediate end to “dual power” and for “all power to the soviets!”. As the government floundered, undone by a disastrous war and a collapsing economy, his position won increasing support within the party and among growing numbers of disaffected and radicalised workers and soldiers. Without his resolve and leadership, there would have been no October; the Bolshevik party might today have been little more than a historical footnote. It is no surprise then, that amid the welter of new histories of the Russian Revolution to emerge in this centenary year, there are also new biographies of the Bolshevik leader that promise to re-examine his life and thought.

The “personal is political”, Victor Sebestyen claims in his engagingly written biography. The author ably tracks Lenin’s career as conspirator and exile in the decades before 1917, but his story hits its stride in the years of revolutionary upheaval; it captures all the drama of Lenin’s leadership against a background of imperial collapse, the ravages of war and the building of a dictatorship.

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Collecting the World by James Delbourgo review – Hans Sloane’s ‘nicknackatory’ and the founding of the British Museum

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 07:00:02 GMT2017-06-16T07:00:02Z

Sloane, a society doctor who gave his name to the Chelsea square, gathered a vast array of objects, from a cyclops pig to a penis protector

There was nothing too small, too big, too fast or too odd for Hans Sloane not to want to put it under glass and attach a label. Setting out to collect the world in the late 17th century, Sloane packed his cabinets with gnats’ blood, Inuit sun visors, a stick to put down your throat to make yourself sick, a cyclops pig, a silver penis protector and a bit of coral that looked just like someone’s hand. Out of this jumble of natural and manmade scraps he fashioned a legacy for the nation. In 1759 the British Museum was opened for the purpose of letting plebeians, patricians and everyone in between gawp at the world as refracted through one man’s roving eye and sticky fingers.

It was more than personal pathology that made Sloane nab everything that crossed his sightline. Born in 1660 a child of the Enlightenment, he really thought it might be possible to sample all that the world had to offer. Far from being anyone’s idea of a secular radical, he always insisted that this desire to build a universal knowledge bank was to better understand God’s intentions and design. More than anything, Sloane hoped that his being-sick-stick and beaver glands would tend to “the confutation of atheism and its consequences”. It was, after all, gearing up to be the age of Voltaire.

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The Moor’s Last Stand and Blood and Faith review – the expulsion of Muslims from Spain

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 09:00:35 GMT2017-06-15T09:00:35Z

Two books, one by Elizabeth Drayson and one by Matthew Carr, investigate the harsh fate of the Moors and their heirs from the 15th to 17th centuries

For centuries, visitors from the rest of Europe were disgusted by Spain. The problem was not that city streets remained unpaved, or that its rough mountain roads could not accept wheeled carriages. What turned visitors’ stomachs was the way Spain tolerated religious minorities. Until the end of the 15th century, thriving populations of Jews and Muslims – almost 10% of the population – practised their religion openly and proudly. “We Germans call them rats,” scoffed one visitor.

The insinuation was that Spain was not a proper European country. How could it be, if it put up with such people? Europeans were meant to be Christians. So when Isabella of Castile – the remarkable queen who helped shape Spain’s identity – and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon expelled “their” Jews in 1492, they did so to loud applause from elsewhere. England, for example, had done the same thing two centuries earlier. The conquest of the last Muslim kingdom of Spain in Granada – whose king, Boabdil, is the subject of Elizabeth Drayson’s charming and eye-opening The Moor’s Last Stand – provoked even wilder joy that same year. Isabella and her husband followed this up with forcible conversions of Spanish Muslims. Yet even that was not enough for purists such as Martin Luther or the supposedly saintly Thomas More, who damned Spaniards as “faithless Jews and baptised Moors”. As if in reply, Philip III expelled 300,000 descendants of Spain’s Muslim population who had converted to Christianity, the “moriscos”, early in the 17th century. The human cost was ghastly. But, it was thought, Spain was finally pure.

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Outskirts by John Grindrod review – life in the green belt

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 08:00:22 GMT2017-06-14T08:00:22Z

Living in a housing estate on the very edge of London formed the writer in many ways. But what is the future of the buffer between city and countryside?


John Grindrod used to tell friends: “I live in the last road in London.” He grew up on the fringes of the capital, in a council estate near Croydon. His parents’ 1950s house was on the edge of the estate, facing woodland which was part of London’s green belt. It was at the edge of town and country, “the outskirts of the outskirts”. He spent the first 30 years of his life in this “intermediate nowhere”, a liminal space that profoundly shaped him: “so much of my head has been formed by it, from the outskirts, looking both ways”. Growing up, Grindrod was a loner who was bullied at school, “secretly gay and obviously gay at the same time”. The green belt became a sanctuary, a place of refuge where he could be himself: “lost in my imagination, talking to the trees and hawthorn bushes and hearing their replies”.

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Theft By Finding by David Sedaris review – diaries to make you gasp

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 06:30:20 GMT2017-06-14T06:30:20Z

The humorist’s material includes drug addiction, crazy jobs, his eccentric family and homophobic abuse – but much is achingly funny

In his introduction to the first instalment of his diaries, the humorist David Sedaris outlines the difference between the diary a person imagines they will keep, in which they rail against political and social injustice, and the one in which they find themselves “questioning fondue or describing those ferrets you couldn’t afford”. The latter is more entertaining, of course, and, in keeping with the waspish tone of his essays, it’s these types of reflection that make up the first volume.

Aside from the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, which he watches in Paris on TV with one hand on the remote and the other on the phone, political events rarely figure, with Sedaris preferring to record unusual or surprising things that he has seen, overheard, or that people have told him.

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Big Capital: Who Is London For? by Anna Minton – review

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 08:00:21 GMT2017-06-12T08:00:21Z

This survey of the capital’s pitiful housing situation makes familiar but essential reading

How bad is the London housing crisis? Very, very bad. It’s not some la-di-da first world problem of privileged southerners moaning about living in Zone 3 of the London underground, or that they can’t afford, as Mummy and Daddy did when newlyweds, to live in Chelsea or Islington. It’s not about the streets where Paddington Bear might have lived getting sold to oligarchs and sheikhs and then left half-empty. It is about mothers sharing single-room flats with their children in satellite towns, unable to afford the train fares to see their relatives, go to work or make hospital appointments. It is about victims of people-trafficking getting moved from one illegal garden shed to another.

Related: The great London property squeeze

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Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value by Michael Thompson review – what gives things their worth?

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:00:19 GMT2017-06-23T08:00:19Z

A witty and wide-ranging study of the value of items from status symbol to rubbish, from being worthless to becoming valuable again

This updated edition of the classic 1979 study contains two new chapters, contextualising and extending Thompson’s groundbreaking theoretical work into the idea that value is not a fixed characteristic of things, but changeable. Thompson divides everything from Bakelite ashtrays to houses into three categories: transient (“here today, gone tomorrow”), durable (“a joy forever”) and rubbish. After you buy something, its value declines until it reaches zero: rubbish. But then, through a mysterious cultural alchemy, some things move from being worthless to valuable. Thanks to “some creative, upwardly mobile individual” they are raised up from the bin and designated “components of Our Glorious Heritage”. Rubbish is transformed into gold. Drawing examples from such diverse fields as Stevengraphs (Victorian woven silk pictures), ceremonial pig-giving in New Guinea and his experiences as a carpenter in Islington during the early years of gentrification for “the frontier middle class”, Thompson’s witty and wide-ranging scholarly scholarly study is a fascinating contribution to cultural theory.

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Britain’s Europe by Brendan Simms review – why Brexit is neither inevitable nor an accident

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 09:00:05 GMT2017-06-16T09:00:05Z

This timely and important study illuminates the 1,000-year-old relationship between Britain and continental Europe

In this wide-ranging and thoughtful history of Britain’s relationship with continental Europe, Brendan Simms argues that Brexit is “neither inevitable nor an accident”. It was Churchill who suggested that Europe was “where the weather came from”. Across a thousand years of our history, from the pan-European “bonds of Christendom” and the growth of an English identity during the Viking invasions, to the 19th century, when British liberalism was seen as a bulwark against autocratic aggression, events in Europe have played a profound role in shaping the destiny of first England and then Britain. What we are today is the result of experiences shared across the continent, from the Reformation to the industrial revolution. But as Simms notes: “If Europe made Britain, then Britain also made Europe.” It is a symbiotic relationship and he writes that Europe has much to learn from Britain: a union of nations modelled on the UK could help resolve the euro crisis and bring long-term stability. This is a timely and important study that places Brexit and the difficulties of the EU in an illuminating historical context.

Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation is published by Allen Lane. To order a copy for £8.49 (RRP £9.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg review – lesbian love rekindled

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 11:00:02 GMT2017-06-22T11:00:02Z

Problems of sexual politics, bisexuality and authorship are explored in this sequel to the cult romance Pages for You

How many loves in a lifetime? One? Three? None? Nine? Flannery was pretty sure she knew her number ... One was plenty.” Pages for Her is Sylvia Brownrigg’s sequel to her 2001 lesbian romance, Pages for You, in which a 17-year-old student at Yale University falls passionately in love with a 28-year-old teaching assistant, Anne Arden. In the sequel, set 20 years on, Flannery is a novelist, married woman and mother to a daughter, Willa. Invited to speak at a writers’ conference at Yale, Flannery realises that Anne will be the chairperson. Under the spell of kindled nostalgia, she begins to struggle in the bonds of her family situation: “What Flannery felt for Anne, and had with Anne, was unique. A one-off ... a jewelled, irreproducible masterpiece.”

Composed in tiny chapters, bubbles of intense emotion, the earlier novel is light on plot and heady with young eroticism, evoking the sensuality of Flannery’s responsiveness to the world. Sometimes overwritten, often fresh and zestful, it is a rite of passage, celebrating the joys and pains of early love, sexual discovery and loss. But it tends to skirt moral issues raised by the age gap between the teacher-pupil partners. And in the sequel, Anne still believes that, when they met, “the cute, crushed-out freshman” had been “an adult, not a child”.

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Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe review – a timely study of a restless nation

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:32 GMT2017-06-22T08:00:32Z

The story of a Lincoln schoolgirl’s disappearance captures the fissures of a country riven by class division

In Adam Thorpe’s new novel, the story of a Lincoln schoolgirl’s disappearance is subtly enmeshed with the lives of six other characters, whose paths she crosses over several months in 2012. Seeking an escape from her chaotic home life, 14-year-old Fay is taken under the wing of Sheena, the manager of a chic childrenswear shop, who supervises her work experience and takes a shine to her feistiness. To most of the other characters, though, she is someone only half seen. 

Retired steel worker Howard glimpses her in the January mist of a local park and thinks she is the ghost of a girl who went missing years before. Cosmina, a Romanian healthcare assistant, finds Fay’s discarded coat in woodland, mistaking it for “a sheep torn apart by a wolf”. A television producer turned postulant Trappist monk, Chris, encounters the girl in a vision as he tries to adjust to his new life of contemplation and prayer. 

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The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris review – the problem with men

Wed, 21 Jun 2017 06:30:23 GMT2017-06-21T06:30:23Z

Male shortcomings snowball into slapstick, emotional cruelty and violence in short stories that skewer modern-day folly

In his first short story collection, the Man Booker-shortlisted American author Joshua Ferris presents a bouquet of egregious male doofuses. Behind a deadpan title – “Fragments”, “The Breeze”, “A Fair Price”, “The Stepchild” – each of the 11 tales in The Dinner Party anatomises a particular variant of 21st-century masculine folly.

The stories are constructed with great care, combining beady-eyed observation with farce, black comedy and occasional moments of lyricism. Ferris never tells us in so many words that his protagonists are awful – except in an acknowledgments page, where he’s careful to let us know that they don’t resemble him – but their selfishness, narcissism, neediness and moral idiocy are the recurring notes of the collection.

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Livestock by Hannah Berry – review

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 06:30:03 GMT2017-06-20T06:30:03Z

A government uses teen stars to spin the message in this timely satire on pop and politics

Imagine – and to be honest, it shouldn’t be too hard – a world in which teenage pop singers are run not by rapacious Simon Cowell types, but by political spin doctors who sign them up to this or that party, with benefits for both sides. The stars get what we might call some free content, even if they don’t wholly understand the causes they’re taught to espouse at award ceremonies and on TV shows, while the political parties are provided with an almost endless source of distraction from scandal. Worried about what that minister said in an unguarded moment? Well, put it from your mind, and listen to the gossip. Last night at the Twannies, someone had an embarrassing “nip slip”.

The Twannies are the creation of Hannah Berry (Britten & Brülightly, Adamtine), whose new graphic novel Livestock is a satire set in a not-very-distant future (think tomorrow, or possibly the day after). When the book begins, the government is worried about a leak that may imperil its plans for human cloning: the public now knows what part a dodgy corporation called Marjorie Industries played in getting the so-called Frankenstein bill on to the statute books, and opposition is mounting. But with the Twannies on the horizon, all is not lost: step forward Clementine Darling, hotly tipped to win the award for best female singer and political spokesperson yet again.

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Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple review – a sweet slice of city life

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 06:00:04 GMT2017-06-18T06:00:04Z

A mother and son’s day out in Seattle proves a warm, humorous experience

Fans of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette will be pleased to hear that Today Will Be Different presents us with another slice of Seattle life, otherwise known, in the words of Semple’s heroine, Eleanor Flood, as “one normal day of white-people problems”. It’s a story of white-people problems, for sure – and wealthy, privileged ones at that. Not that I’m judging. This is the world Semple writes about and nobody depicts it better, with tongue-in-cheek humour and genuine warmth – but normal?

Related: Maria Semple: ‘Why aren’t I a better version of myself?’

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Angel Hill by Michael Longley review – elegies on conflict, grief and nature

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 10:00:35 GMT2017-06-17T10:00:35Z

The essence of humanity is captured by one of the finest poets of his generation through the Troubles, the first world war and the beauty of wildernessAngel Hill, or Cnoc nan Aingeal in Gaelic, is a burial ground in the Scottish Highlands, a “soul landscape” that lends its name to Longley’s 11th collection, which this week was shortlisted for the Forward poetry prize. A final resting place among the clouds, Angel Hill is close to the home of his daughter, the painter Sarah Longley, who with “easel and brushes”, “big sheets and charcoal for drawing” is “looking after the headstones”. In Longley’s “Snowdrops”, the hill is peopled by ghosts who are themselves visiting the dead: “Murdo, Alistair, / Duncan, home from the trenches, / Back in Balmacara and Kyle, / Cameronians, Gordon Highlanders / Clambering on hands and knees / Up the steep path to this graveyard.”Like Yeats before him, Longley is the elegist and self-elegist par excellence of his generation. The Stairwell (2014) commemorated his late twin brother, Peter. In Angel Hill, Seamus Heaney is another kind of lost brother for Longley, the poet with whom he gave a reading tour of Northern Ireland in 1968 – a tour that Heaney described as the “beginnings of pluralism”, despite the Troubles that followed – and with whom he read in Lisdoonvarna two weeks before Heaney’s death. The friendship, with its “pilgrimages around the North” in Heaney’s muddy Volkswagen, is commemorated in “Room to Rhyme”, a powerful and intimate elegy in which the poet grieves for his subject and remembers his subject’s own grief: “When Oisin Ferran was burned to death, you / Stood helpless in the morgue and wept and wept.” In “Storm”, the “mighty beech” in the poet’s garden, a longstanding symbol in Longley’s work, has “lost an arm”; it is “Wind-wounded, lopsided now”. Where once they “Gazed up through cathedral / Branches at constellations”, now he and Heaney are “Together[...]


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The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig review – infidelity, hostility and a cottage with a secret

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:33 GMT2017-06-17T08:00:33Z

The credit crunch drives a London couple to Devon, where they struggle with infidelity, hostility and casual racism

Lottie and Quentin are, in Lottie’s words, members of the luckiest generation in British history, having come of age in an era of student grants and affordable housing. In middle age, however, their marriage has begun to fall apart.

Lottie is an architect who understands that nothing is ever built without compromise, “and yet she had expected better of marriage”. Her husband Quentin – a journalist and minor literary celebrity – has turned out to be a serial philanderer. To make matters worse, since the credit crunch both have lost their jobs and now can’t afford a divorce. Lottie’s solution is to rent a cheap cottage in Devon and let out their London house.

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The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:00:07 GMT2017-06-16T11:00:07Z

The End of the Day by Claire North, The Book of Bera by Suzie Wilde, From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters, The Apartment by SL Grey, Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon

Claire North, the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, has earned a reputation for tackling serious subjects with a lightness of touch, enviable readability and an assured narrative control. The End of the Day (Orbit, £16.99) is her most ambitious novel, taking on a plethora of major issues and offering hope. Charlie is the Harbinger of Death – whose office is based, prosaically, in Milton Keynes – and he travels the world meeting those about to be visited or merely brushed by Death, and observing events and cultures about to pass from existence. His fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, War and Famine, are normal men and women like Charlie who also jet around on business. It’s a surreal, whimsical conceit that allows North to examine bigotry, global warming, humanity’s propensity for violence – and the big one, the meaning of life and death. Every one of the short 110 chapters is shaped with philosophical panache.

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The Idiot by Elif Batuman review – life lived through a Russian novel

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 06:30:01 GMT2017-06-16T06:30:01Z

A young woman discovers the difference between life and literature in a warm, funny portrayal of university life in the 90s

Do events matter more when witnessed in real life than in books? Does language necessarily render experience second-hand? In her first book, The Possessed, New Yorker journalist Elif Batuman complained that as an incipient novelist she was always being told to eschew books and focus on life. Literature since Don Quixote had been seen as false and sterile; disconnected from lived experience. After years as a graduate student of Russian literature, she decided to challenge this by writing an account of her own haphazard attempt to live with and through books. Now she’s continued this project in a long and enjoyably literary novel, The Idiot.

At the start of the book, the autobiographical heroine Selin has just arrived as an undergraduate at Harvard and is worrying about how to live. How does she make friends? How does she fall in love? How does she come to understand the relationship between art and life, words and world? Taking a linguistics class, she disagrees with her teacher, who believes that people think in the same way whatever language they think in. Selin is sure that she’s formed by her languages – English and Turkish.

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. review – the dark art of time travel

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:34 GMT2017-06-15T08:00:34Z

Quantum physics meets practical magic in Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s farcical sci-fi fantasy

As the vector of time is deathward, time as such is tragic, at least for mortal beings like you and me. It follows from this that stories about overcoming time tend towards the comic, because at root they are fantasies of escape from mortality. The most obvious current example is Doctor Who, with a hero who evades death by the magic of “regeneration”.

Of course, there are counterexamples. The original time travel tale, HG Wells’s The Time Machine, takes a gloriously gloomy turn as its hero travels to the far future, where the monstrous crab-like descendants of humanity occupy the terminal beach beneath a dying sun. Wells is wiser than Who in this regard: no matter what technological marvels we deploy, we cannot escape death. So I propose the following rule of thumb: stories that involve going into the future will tend to be more tragic, running as they do along the vector of our own mortality; whereas stories that involve going into the past will tend to be more comic, powered by the levity and liberation we feel as we put distance between ourselves and our own deaths.

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer review – after the biotech apocalypse

Thu, 15 Jun 2017 06:30:32 GMT2017-06-15T06:30:32Z

Flying bears and diagnostic beetles: a thrilling vision of life in its most radical forms explores the question of non-human sentienceJeff VanderMeer’s deeply strange and brilliant new novel extends the meditation on the central question of non-human sentience in his earlier work. The alien intelligence that infected Area X in the Southern Reach trilogy was capable of such a profound biochemical mimicry that it shone a harsh light on the primitive nature of human cognition. Now, splicing together the DNAs of Godzilla and Frankenstein, VanderMeer gives us Borne.In a world laid waste by a biotech company called, simply, “Company”, Mord, a massive flying bear more than five storeys high, is terrorising survivors. These include humans, mutants, animals and hybrid creatures which are revealed to be failed or aborted biotech experiments. Biotech spans a huge spectrum. Diagnostic beetles can enter a human system and heal illnesses and wounds. There are artificial living creatures such as feral children with wings and poisoned claws, and transgenic species that can morph from human to bear. Only three named humans inhabit this world. Our protagonist, Rachel, is a scavenger in the dangerous post-Company landscape. Her lover, Wick, is an ex-Company employee who makes biotech in his swimming pool laboratory. And “the Magician” is a shadowy creature who, it is rumoured, is collecting ammunition and soldiers to fight Mord and wrest control of the land from him. Then there are the “Mord proxies”, hundreds of smaller Mords who see the flying bear as their god and are impelled only by a ferocious bloodlust. Details slowly emerge of the kind of depredation wrought upon the world by the Company, along with a deliberately undersketched strand on the pre-Company world, disintegrating under unnamed political upheavals and wars that turn mill[...]


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Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips review – terror at the zoo

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:30:50 GMT2017-06-13T06:30:50Z

A day out turns into a white-knuckle ride for the reader, as a mother and her son take refuge from a gunman

Joan is at the zoo with her four-year-old son, Lincoln. It’s close to closing time and they are in the Dinosaur Discovery Pit, Lincoln playing a game with his superhero toys, when she hears a series of loud cracks. “She tries to imagine what anyone could be doing in a zoo that would sound like small explosions... they could not have been gunshots.” But as Joan and Lincoln meander towards the exit, she sees bodies, and a man with a gun. They’re in the middle of a mass shooting. Joan picks up Lincoln and runs.

Fierce Kingdom is the Alabama writer Gin Phillips’s fifth novel, her imagining of how a mother would react in this blackest of nightmares. It is panic-inducingly gripping as Joan dashes in her flip-flops for a hiding place while negotiating the questions and concerns of a four-year-old. “She can imagine clamping a hand over his mouth, holding him tight, ordering him to be perfectly still and perfectly quiet. She desperately wants that, but she cannot imagine a scenario where it is possible. If she scared him badly enough for him to stop talking, he would probably start sobbing.”

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The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy review – a patchwork of narratives

Sun, 11 Jun 2017 07:00:48 GMT2017-06-11T07:00:48Z

Roy’s first novel in 20 years is a sprawling but memorable tale involving a vast castThe drama of the unforthcoming second novel is often a great deal more intense and traumatic to literary onlookers than it is to their putative creators. Marilynne Robinson, for example, whose output as a novelist paused for nearly 25 years after her brilliant debut Housekeeping, published in 1980; when it recommenced, with Gilead, it did so in Pulitzer prize-winning fashion, and two subsequent novels. But this was not writer’s block, it was a writer making choices; the academic work and essays that Robinson undertakes as well as her fiction writing are just as much a part of her creative and intellectual identity. Even when there seems to be a more straightforward matter of a writer moving slowly – as in, for example, Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers, which took a decade to write – it is revealed to be more a case of endeavour and precision rather than existential crisis (it took him five years to get the opening chapter right).In the case of Arundhati Roy, whose debut novel The God of Small Things won the Booker prize in 1997, her life as a political activist more than explains what she has been doing in the intervening two decades: protesting against ecological depredations, on behalf of Kashmir independence and against Hindu nationalism, as well as fighting charges of sedition laid against her by the Indian government, left her little free time. Her prolific career as a writer of nonfiction, from 2002’s The Algebra of Infinite Justice to books on capitalism, globalisation and democracy, has brought her to the fore as a polemicist and political philosopher. Continue reading...[...]


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A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates review – gripping fiction

Sun, 11 Jun 2017 06:30:47 GMT2017-06-11T06:30:47Z

The prolific US author has written a page-turning novel about two families on either side of the abortion debate

In 1993, David Gunn became the first US abortion doctor to be murdered. He was shot to death in Pensacola, Florida. Since that time there have been 11 more murders and 26 attempted killings due to anti-abortion violence – the most recent in 2015, when police officer Garrett Swasey, Jennifer Markovsky, and Ke’Arre Stewart were shot and killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Perhaps it was that 2015 assault that prompted the prolific Joyce Carol Oates to turn her gaze to the conflict between the pro-choice and “pro-life” movements. This expansive novel – nearly 750 pages long – explores two sides of the same story. In November 1999 a doctor in Ohio, Gus Voorhees, is murdered by Luther Amos Dunphy, a roofer and lay preacher, a man who has come to believe himself a soldier of God. The book’s virtuoso opening is narrated by Dunphy himself in the run-up to the murder, pinning the reader close to his fear of the “godless atheistical state”, his belief that “in a woman, the weaknesses of a man are doubled, or trebled”. He trains to be a minister, but finds the study required too difficult: it is then that he turns to find salvation with a shotgun.

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Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe review – gone girl in Lincolnshire

Sun, 11 Jun 2017 06:00:47 GMT2017-06-11T06:00:47Z

A teenager disappears from a council estate in the unpredictable Thorpe’s multi-voiced novel, a vibrant portrayal of life in a small townAdam Thorpe’s previous novel, Flight (2012), was a globe-trotting comic thriller about a cuckolded middle-aged pilot caught up in gun-running; before that, he published Hodd (2009), a metatextual reworking of the Robin Hood myth. You can never be sure what he’ll do next, which might explain why he still doesn’t have the name recognition he deserves. In 1992, the year of his debut, Ulverton, he was apparently an “obvious choice” for Granta’s best of young British novelists, according to AS Byatt, one of the judges; so obvious, she later said, that she actually didn’t nominate him, assuming others would; they didn’t.His new novel is a vibrant ensemble piece unfolding around the disappearance of a teenage girl, Fay, from a Lincolnshire council estate. Jon McGregor’s recent Reservoir 13 also uses a missing teenage girl as a pretext for portraying the life of a small English community. Thorpe’s​ setting​ is urban, McGregor’s rural, but the bigger difference is that the all-seeing narration of Reservoir 13, austerely above the fray, pays as much heed to the passing of the seasons as to the villagers for whom life plods on. Missing Fay, by contrast, inhabits each of its characters one chapter at a time – a more traditional but arguably more vivid approach that affords a steady pulse of dramatic irony as well as a measure of suspense, not least because Thorpe’s carousel of perspectives includes that of Fay herself. Continue reading...[...]


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Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally review – a powerful study of clerical abuse

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:00:20 GMT2017-06-10T08:00:20Z

A Sydney priest becomes embroiled in several cases of child abuse in this novel exploring the dark side of clerical celibacy

Although Christ equivocally declared that some men “have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake”, nowhere in the New Testament is celibacy enjoined on priests. St Paul, while advocating chastity as an ideal, assumed that most church leaders would be married, and St Peter, traditionally regarded as the first pope, had one of the most prominent mothers-in-law in the Bible.

Priestly celibacy, which was only enshrined in law in medieval times, emerged less for spiritual than for practical reasons. The church was determined to consolidate its property and its power: in the first case, by preventing priests from leaving their possessions to their children, and in the second by controlling their most powerful human instincts. Carnal passion was denigrated as animalistic and women as the instigators of their downfall. Priests should strive to emulate the sinless, sexless Christ.

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Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett review – a life in music

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:59:22 GMT2017-06-10T08:59:22Z

Read the novel, then buy the album: the lyrics that punctuate this tale of a songwriter’s life and loves have also been set to music

When it comes to listening to pop music, there are two types of people: those who pay attention to the lyrics and those who don’t notice them. The former are drawn to artists such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen; the latter end up choosing a song about breaking up as the first dance at their wedding. Greatest Hits is a novel for music lovers who pay attention to the words.

Now in her 60s, Cass Wheeler is an “ex-musician. Ex-mother. Ex-daughter. Ex-wife.” She is at home, in the remote farmhouse where she lives alone after huge personal loss and a spell in rehab. Spending one day forcing herself to listen to her entire back catalogue, she compiles “a very particular kind of retrospective. Her life, reflected in the songs she had written; in the songs that she, and only she, could choose.”

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A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert review – struggle for survival under the SS

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 11:00:05 GMT2017-06-18T11:00:05Z

Several characters narrate events in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in Seiffert’s tense, empathetic third novel

Rachel Seiffert’s debut novel, The Dark Room, explored the impact of the Holocaust not on its victims but on Germans struggling to understand how such atrocities occurred. In her third novel, A Boy in Winter, she returns to similar territory, addressing ideas of passive culpability, complicity and the role individuals play in history. Her setting is a small town in Ukraine in 1941, recently overtaken by the Nazis. Seiffert uses several voices to narrate events over three days as the SS round up and murder the Jewish inhabitants. There is Pohl, a German engineer, whose conscience prohibits his collusion; Jewish teenager Yankel desperately trying to save his brother’s life; and Yasia who inadvertently becomes their saviour. Seiffert is a master at creating tension and empathy in a novel that turns on the nuances of human behaviour.

A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert is published by Virago (£14.99). To order a copy for £11.24 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

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The best debut fiction from Megan Hunter, Gail Honeyman and more – reviews

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 06:00:04 GMT2017-06-18T06:00:04Z

Motherhood, coping and coming of age are some of the themes explored in these impressive debut novelsMegan Hunter uses words sparingly. In her startlingly poetic debut, The End We Start From (Picador £9.99), she even rations her letters. She calls her characters R and Z and each paragraph is only a sentence or two long. Hunter tangles the delight and disorientation of new motherhood with scenes of societal collapse. As everything seems to be ending, as London floods, a new life begins, hot and pink and hungry. Hunter writes with delicacy and precision; her imagery is pearlescent in places. It’s a sliver of a novel, but it shimmers.New motherhood is also central to Polly Clark’s elegant debut, Larchfield (Quercus £14.99). Set in Helensburgh, where Clark now lives, the novel intertwines the story of WH Auden’s time as a teacher at a boys’ school with the story of Dora, living in a new house with a new baby, who begins to feel the world closing in on her. She falls out with their religious upstairs neighbours, and with the health visitor too. Though the scenes in which Dora’s storyline finally collides with Auden’s don’t quite gel, Clark has written a measured and graceful novel; this is particularly true of the way she handles Dora’s gradual unravelling. Continue reading...[...]


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Tiny Dinosaurs by Joel Stewart review – a lovely romp for boys and girls

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:05 GMT2017-06-20T08:00:05Z

Little Daisy is enchanted when she finds a band of little dinosaurs in her back garden – but her beloved sausage dog is less keen

Neatly twisting the stereotype that all girls long to find fairies at the bottom of the garden, this sweet tale stars dino-loving Daisy, who uncovers a tiny T rex and friends in the undergrowth of her back yard. With her bouncy bob and big grin, Daisy resembles the French film heroine Amélie, and she’s joined on her quest to find dinosaurs by her best friend and the story’s narrator, a perky sausage dog called Rex.

After criticism was levelled at Marks & Spencer and the Natural History Museum two years ago for their boys-only dinosaur-themed clothing range, it’s heartening to find more and more publishers and retailers reflecting the fact that many girls love these prehistoric beasts too.

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Straight Outta Crongton by Alex Wheatle review – tough subjects tackled with humour and heart

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:30:33 GMT2017-06-17T08:30:33Z

Rich dialogue and vivid language sweeten a tale scarred by domestic abuse and gang violence, the sequel to the prize-winning Crongton Knights

Capturing young people’s language is impossible. Slang is wildly outdated before it hits the keyboard, let alone the page. Instead, Alex Wheatle captures the rhythm and movement of language though simile, humour and redefinitions of meaning.

He puts his words into the mouths of young people living in Crongton, a run-down series of neighbourhoods that comprise failing schools, high-rise estates and “slab” blocks. It is split between north and south, with each area contested by territorial gangs who are caught in a cycle of death and revenge.

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Release by Patrick Ness review – gay teen love in small-town America

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 08:00:52 GMT2017-06-13T08:00:52Z

An unhappy 17-year-old takes strength from the spirit of a murdered girl in this passionate and disturbing novel for young adults

The turbulent Saturday chronicled in Patrick Ness’s passionate and disturbing novel is like a day spent by many 17-year-olds in semi-rural America: going for a run, working in a superstore, feeling nervous about meeting their ex at a party, grabbing opportunities for clandestine afternoon sex.

But for Adam, nothing is simple. His home life as the son of an insecure and unsuccessful evangelist preacher colours all his experience. His parents would rather share their house with a herd of pink elephants than accept that he is gay and the family rule (“the Yoke”, as father Brian calls it) is built on denial and hypocrisy.

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Harry Potters gather in Bolton to smash Guinness World Record

Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:41:24 GMT2017-06-23T16:41:24Z

Nearly 700 schoolchildren dressed as boy wizard work magic on 20th anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone release

Nearly 700 children have broken the world record for the largest gathering of people dressed like Harry Potter, on the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first book in the series.

A gathering of 676 children wearing wizard robes and round glasses from 11 Bolton primary schools filled the lawn at Smithills Hall on Friday in an attempt to beat the Guinness record.

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Jenny Slate: ‘Ivanka Trump is a fake feminist and should be ashamed’

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:01 GMT2017-06-18T08:00:01Z

The US actor, standup and author on her new film, Gifted, rescuing her career after being fired from Saturday Night Live, inspirational women and the terrifying situation in the White HouseJenny Slate, 35, is an American comedian, actor and author. The middle of three sisters, with a ceramicist mother and poet father, she was raised in Milton, Massachusetts. While at Columbia University, Slate performed standup and improv. Moving to Los Angeles with then-husband, director Dean Fleischer-Camp (they’ve since amicably divorced), Slate joined Saturday Night Live in 2009, but accidentally swore in her first episode and was fired after one season. A stop-motion short animation made with Fleischer-Camp, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, became a viral hit, leading to New York Times bestseller children’s books and plans for a feature-length movie.With her distinctive voice, Slate featured in Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets. On television, she appeared in Parks and Recreation, Married and Girls. Her performance in Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, playing a comic navigating a pregnancy termination, won her awards including the Critics’ Choice award for best actress in a comedy. Slate stars in another Robespierre film, Landline, due out in the summer. In her latest film, Gifted, she plays a teacher who becomes involved with a man (Chris Evans) caring for his maths prodigy niece (Mckenna Grace). Continue reading...[...]


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The groundbreaking children’s books that drew on life in Thailand

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 05:30:29 GMT2017-06-17T05:30:29Z

Bet Ayer talks about her mother, Jacqueline Ayer, an artist whose books were first published in the 1950s when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed

“I remember once coming home from school crying because I’d lost my coat. I thought my mother would be angry but instead she said: ‘Stop there, that’s perfect!’ and started to draw me.”

Bet Ayer, daughter of the illustrator and artist Jacqueline Ayer, remembers being the unwitting model for her mother’s beautiful children’s picture books, documenting their life in Thailand. The books were groundbreaking when they were published in Britain and the US in 1959, when it was unusual to see diverse cultures authentically portrayed, particularly for children. Despite their early impact, they have been out of print since the early 60s, but now two of the four books are being republished this summer.

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The Legend of the Almond Trees, read by Andrew Scott – Travel folktales for kids podcast

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 10:51:38 GMT2017-06-09T10:51:38Z

Prince Ibrahim’s Nordic bride yearns for the snow-covered fields of home. But they live in the Algarve. What can the prince do?

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud and Acast, and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

The Algarve is famed for its golden beaches, sandy islands and white houses nestling on the rolling hillsides. But did you notice the trees?

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Helen Dunmore: facing mortality and what we leave behind

Sat, 04 Mar 2017 12:00:14 GMT2017-03-04T12:00:14Z

The novelist, recently diagnosed with cancer, considers the question of legacy and how a wander through a graveyard inspired her latest novel Birdcage Walk

What is left behind by a life? Avoiding this question can be as much of an art as answering it. Philip Larkin wrote of ambulances, inexorable as plague carts, extracting those who are about to die from the commerce of the living. In his poem “Aubade” he describes the blank horror of extinction, the mind caught in the glare of it, the poet half-drunk and paralysed by dread of death. In this poem the living leave no legacy, unless it is self-delusion.

I have been thinking about this question of legacy over the past few months, for one reason because my new novel deals with memory, historical record, what remains, what is saved and what is lost. The question has become more acute because a few months ago I was diagnosed with a cancer that has a very poor prognosis. The ground beneath my feet has never been more uncertain, but what is sure is that the ambulance has already called and there is no vagueness about my mortality.

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Singer Sheila Chandra and graffiti artist Stik on why 'the dysfunctional genius trope' is a myth

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 14:00:09 GMT2017-06-18T14:00:09Z

Art doesn’t have to come out of chaos, as it did for Van Gogh. Former Monsoon star Sheila Chandra and Stik explain how they learned to defeat disorder

When the singer Sheila Chandra and the street artist Stik first met they didn’t say a word. It was at a club night at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms in 2008. Chandra had a concert the next day and needed to preserve her voice so she communicated with handwritten notes, which most people found uncomfortable. Stik, however, was happy to reply with drawings of his trademark stick men. When they next met, they were able to actually talk. Nine years later, their conversations have led to a book.

Organizing for Creative People is a brisk and bracing handbook for people who want to become professional artists, covering everything from tidying your workspace to understanding contracts. There is even a section on how to prepare for interviews. Have they done their homework? “Let me grill you,” says Chandra. “Length of piece? Angle? Tone?”

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Amanda Craig: ‘I’ve always been fascinated by murder’

Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:01 GMT2017-06-18T08:00:01Z

The British writer on her sympathy for ordinary Brexiters, the importance of a gruesome secret, and why she’d have Dickens round for dinner

Amanda Craig is a novelist, journalist and literary critic. Her eighth novel, The Lie of the Land, is a sharp social comedy about divorce, family and the difficulties of life in rural Britain.

The divorcing couple in your new novel move to Devon together because they can’t afford to buy separate homes in London. Where did that idea come from?
My husband and I bought this bolthole in Devon and it was a revelation. As a result, this book is absolutely not about people moving to the country and having a lovely time. It’s about the difficult aspects of living in the countryside as well as its beauty, and how it’s really not helped by the metropolitan elite.

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