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Books | The Guardian



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



Published: Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:40:49 GMT2017-10-18T09:40:49Z

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



The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison review – the language of race and racism

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 06:30:02 GMT2017-10-18T06:30:02Z

The author of Beloved reads that novel alongside the real-life story that inspired it, in one of a resonant set of lectures on literature and the fetishisation of skin colour

It is hard not to read Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others in the light of recent disturbing political developments in the US. As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his introduction, the central concerns of this slim book, based on Morrison’s 2016 Norton lectures at Harvard on “the literature of belonging”, may seem to have a new resonance after the election of Trump and given the increasing visibility of white supremacist groups.

Morrison considers the fetishisation of skin colour and the questions posed by our era of mass migration, and offers elegant reminders of some well-known but still unpalatable facts. One is that human beings invent and reinforce dehumanising categories of otherness in order to justify economic exploitation and to shore up our sense of security and belonging. That process of self-justification requires and encourages an extraordinary level of sadism.

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'These guys can make something beautiful': Tracy Chevalier's new project – quilting with prisoners

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:39:41 GMT2017-10-18T08:39:41Z

The bestselling novelist fell in love with the craft while researching her last book, but now the author has found that it helps jailed men in real life

“Turn that bloody torch off. I only get two hours” is stitched into one patch of The Sleep Quilt, Tracey Chevalier’s latest project. The bestselling author explains: “The prisoner is high risk and on suicide watch, so he is woken every two hours to make sure he’s still alive. It’s been happening for 24 years for this prisoner – it’s horrifying. For him, sleep is something he craves, but it’s a horrible experience.”

After teaming up with 63 inmates in Wandsworth prison, south London, the author of novels such as The Girl With a Pearl Earring has helped them to create a quilt made up of the patches they sewed. Now that quilt is set to become a book.

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Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks review – the Oscar-winner’s debut collection

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 08:00:00 GMT2017-10-18T08:00:00Z

The actor’s obsession with old-fashioned typewriters – and experiences of capturing history on screen – inspire this cinematic debut collection

Actors who become writers often say they were motivated by a feeling that they could do no worse than the words they are given to speak. As Tom Hanks has appeared in three movies based on the novels of Dan Brown, it is perhaps surprising that it has taken so long for the actor to be goaded into publishing his own prose.

He has started with stories, a standard beginners’ form, although at 400 pages-plus this debut set has a heft that rivals the collected volumes of some short story veterans.

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Man Booker prize goes to second American author in a row

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:48:42 GMT2017-10-17T20:48:42Z

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo described as ‘unique’ and ‘extraordinary’ by head of 2017 judging panel

The American short story writer George Saunders has won the Man Booker prize for his first full-length novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

The book is based around a real event: the night in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln buried his 11-year-old son Willie in a Washington cemetery. Imagining the boy trapped in the Bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for a kind of limbo – Saunders’ novel follows the fellow dead, also trapped in the graveyard and unwilling to accept death, who observe the boy as he desperately waits for his father to return.

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George Saunders' victory disproves Booker lore that favourites never win

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 20:52:54 GMT2017-10-17T20:52:54Z

Audacious experimentalism of Lincoln in the Bardo shows US author is not only a writer’s writer but a reader’s writer too

Booker lore has it that the favourite never wins. The surprise this year was that George Saunders had done just that.

As the second US winner in a row, his victory may give further ammunition to the chorus of voices decrying American domination of the prize, but it’s a resoundingly good decision.

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How to win a Booker prize: be under 50, enter your seventh book – about a man

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:20:46 GMT2017-10-17T13:20:46Z

Man Booker stats reveal that the average winner is white, English and in his late 40s – which does not make this year’s award easier to predict

If you’re sceptical about what the odds from the bookmakers or sales figures from bookshops can tell us about who’ll win the Man Booker prize in a few hours – and you should be – then perhaps you might prefer this solid number-crunching from Kiera O’Brien, charts editor at the Bookseller.

Looking at the previous 47 winners of the award, O’Brien has found that (rather unsurprisingly) the average Booker prizewinner is an English, white, privately educated man in his late 40s, who has written a book of less than 400 pages that has a male protagonist.

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Margaret Drabble's Jerusalem the Golden isn't a 'Hampstead novel'

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 11:09:19 GMT2017-10-17T11:09:19Z

Her books have been derided as cliched tales of monied adultery, and as retreads of northerners’ escapes south – but Jerusalem the Golden is richer and stranger than that

“Writers are often and rightly accused of self-absorption and egoism,” observed Margaret Drabble in The Pattern in the Carpet, “but many have a very fragile hold on the self”.

She revealed her own fragile hold in the same book, which mixes personal history and reflections on jigsaw puzzles. “At times I feel some pride in my continuing capacity for feeling really, really bad,” she reveals. In fact, the details she gives of her struggles are often tragic and moving – but there are also lighter moments.

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Saigon Calling by Marcelino Truong review – an amazing achievement

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 06:30:06 GMT2017-10-17T06:30:06Z

This second part of the author’s Vietnam war memoir skilfully combines history and politics with a witty and poignant family story

Marcelino Truong’s complex, finely judged and utterly riveting memoir is a sequel to his 2016 book, Such a Lovely Little War, in which he told the story, as seen through his boyhood eyes, of Saigon at the beginning of the 60s, when his diplomat father, Khanh, was the personal interpreter of the prime minister, Ngo Dinh Diem. This volume, however, is set not in Saigon, but in London, where Khanh has been appointed to a high-ranking job at the Vietnamese embassy – though the grim news from home is, of course, never any further away than the next BBC bulletin. In South Vietnam, General Khanh, widely seen as an American puppet, has taken over as the country’s leader following the assassination of President Diem. In the communist north, the Viet Cong are growing ever stronger and more vicious, with the result that President Johnson is shortly to put US troops on the ground.

For all the city’s outward stiffness, the young Marcel likes almost-swinging London. He and his three siblings adore Doctor Who and Top of the Pops; it’s no secret that he longs to own a pair of the new pointed shoes and a Beatles-style military jacket (and failing that, a Dinky toy Batmobile). But life isn’t always easy. Lonely in Wimbledon, his French mother, Yvette, continues to struggle with bipolar disorder, relying on Valium to get her through the dank, British days. Meanwhile, his father, worried sick for his parents trapped in Saigon, must deal with the growing realisation that his dreams for democracy in Vietnam are likely, now, to come to nothing. Aware of what lies ahead, he quits his job at the embassy, swapping it for less lucrative work as a translator for Reuters.

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Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin review – moving story of a child migrant

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 08:00:08 GMT2017-10-17T08:00:08Z

The team behind the graphic novel versions of Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series change direction with this very real and affecting tale

Writers Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrator Giovanni Rigano created the graphic novel adaptations of Colfer’s classic fantasy action series, Artemis Fowl. With Illegal, they turn to the here and now and have created a deeply affecting and thought=provoking account of the 21st-century refugee experience.

A kind of documentary fiction, the book weaves real stories of migration into the tale of Ebo, a spirited, motherless 12-year-old from Niger who follows his older brother from his hopeless village to the city of Agadez, where traffickers take them across the Sahara to Tripoli. Here, the boys again put their lives in the hands of nefarious men, who grant them space on a boat heading for to Italy. The story comes alive in the details: at his lowest ebb, Ebo lucks upon a packet of antiseptic wipes that he can trade, one by one, for food. One of his fellow voyagers, a Chelsea FC obsessive, jokes about becoming a World Service commentator (see how these boys are just like our own?).

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Not the Booker prize 2017: Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li wins

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 09:40:31 GMT2017-10-16T09:40:31Z

Readers backed a clear leader and the judges agreed – debut author Li has won for her vivid account of the aftermath of a sexual assault

Winnie M Li’s Dark Chapter is the winner of this year’s Not the Booker prize. It was the voting public’s favourite, and our judges concurred.

Coming into the final round, Dark Chapter was the clear favourite with its victory in readers’ polling meaning it had two votes to take into the final round. Here’s how the public vote played out:

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Poem of the week: Ay, But Can Ye? by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 11:30:41 GMT2017-10-16T11:30:41Z

To mark the centenary of Russia’s revolution, an energetic reflection on how to make similarly radical art in a startling Scots translation by Edwin Morgan

Ay, But Can Ye?

Wi a jaup the darg-day map’s owre-pentit –
I jibbled colour frae a tea-gless;
Ashets o jellyteen presentit
To me the gret sea’s camshach cheek-bleds.
A tin fish, ilka scale a mou –
I’ve read the cries o a new warld through’t.
But you
Wi denty thrapple
Can ye wheeple
Nocturnes frae a rone-pipe flute?

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

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:00:11 GMT2017-10-16T14:00:11Z

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.

Brian Aldiss may have gone, but he is not forgotten. Here’s caesarofthedogs on Barefoot In The Head:

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Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn review – King Lear as model of a modern media mogul

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 06:37:41 GMT2017-10-16T06:37:41Z

St Aubyn’s reworking of Lear for the Hogarth Shakespeare series of novels is authentic, affecting and funny

A 2014 New Yorker profile of Edward St Aubyn remarked that he “makes frequent reference, in his fiction and his conversation, to works that he studied in the final two years of secondary school, including King Lear, Four Quartets and The Portrait of a Lady”. Anyone with a basic knowledge of St Aubyn’s life and novels might speculate that Lear resonated with the writer because he knows a thing or two about tyrannical fathers and dysfunctional wealthy families, but he is an inspired choice to retell King Lear for Hogarth Shakespeare’s anniversary series. Dunbar emerges as one of the finest contributions in a line-up glittering with literary stars (Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Howard Jacobson, Tracy Chevalier and Anne Tyler have already published volumes, with Jo Nesbø and Gillian Flynn still to come).

St Aubyn’s patriarch, Henry Dunbar, is head of a global media empire, which he has divided between his two eldest daughters, Abigail and Megan, the better to enjoy an indulgent semi-retirement as “non-executive chairman”. But as the novel opens, he finds himself incarcerated in an expensive sanatorium in the Lake District thanks to the machinations of his daughters and their lover, Dr Bob, who has doped the old man to effect “enhanced paranoia”. Dunbar is left in the company of Peter Walker, a once-famous alcoholic comedian, an apt Fool given to riffing on absurd puns with the occasional flash of insight and a penchant for playing multiple characters. As Dunbar laments the impulsive fit of pique that led him to sack his attorney and oldest friend Wilson, and disinherit his beloved younger daughter, Florence, Peter plots their “great escape” to the village pub. Meanwhile Abby and Megan need to keep their father incapacitated while they launch a bid to take the Dunbar Trust private, Dr Bob is scheming to betray the sisters to Dunbar’s greatest rival, and Florence and Wilson must outwit the sisters’ mercenaries to find the old man before he falls prey to the impending storm.

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Christmas: a Biography review – ‘a feast of illusions’

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:02 GMT2017-10-16T10:00:02Z

There’s no point moaning about Christmas being tawdry and commercial. As Judith Flanders’s exhaustive history shows, it has always been that way

One Christmas Day in the 1780s a London woman was murdered. Her husband testified that he had not the smallest recollection of where he had been that day because “he was so much in liquor”. Nothing unusual in that. In 1831 a man charged with being drunk and disorderly begged for leniency on the grounds that it was Christmas-time: the magistrate commented wearily that every person brought before him in the last three days had made the same plea.

It is a persistent fallacy, suggests Judith Flanders, that Christmas has only recently been rendered tawdry by commerce. As she repeatedly demonstrates in this exhaustive history, what a medieval cleric called “swilling and riot” accompanied, and often eclipsed, piety from the very start. In the sixth century, a father of the church was inveighing against the “majority” who “became slaves to gluttony” in the festive season, raving “in drunkenness and impious dancing”.

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The 100 best nonfiction books: No 89 – A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe (1727)

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 04:45:50 GMT2017-10-16T04:45:50Z

Readable, reliable, full of surprise and charm, Daniel Defoe’s Tour is an outstanding example of what has become an established literary genre

Daniel Defoe, who also features in our previous series, the 100 best novels (No 2), with Robinson Crusoe, was first and foremost a great reporter, who marshalled the English language to describe the variety and wonders of a changing world: Defoe’s astonishing career spanned the making of the society that came to call itself, with a certain insular pride, Great Britain.

Defoe is great, too. With his near contemporaries Swift, Johnson and Pope, he is one of those English writers who invented our literary tradition, and whose work resonates down the centuries. As a writer in many genres, he embodies the spirit of the English amateur, and some of his nonfiction is suffused with a quasi-lyrical sensibility.

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‘Have you seen the maggots yet?’ Lindsey Fitzharris on the gruesome history of surgery

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 15:30:34 GMT2017-10-15T15:30:34Z

The medical historian is obsessed with mortality – and her new book examines the work of early surgeons, including Robert Liston, the ‘fastest knife in the West End’

The first time Lindsey Fitzharris saw a dead body, she was eight years old. Her great-aunt was embalmed and on display, a common practice at funerals in the American midwest. “My cousin asked me if I wanted to touch her; I was a kid, of course I did,” she says.

Almost 30 years after she brushed her aunt’s cold, slightly too-firm arm, Fitzharris still remembers the instantaneous change that came from that gentle contact; a new perception of mortality revealed to her, like someone turning on a light. “It was one of those moments where you realise something has fundamentally changed with this body. That person is gone. I touched her and I understood then, that death meant something much bigger than I had previously thought.”

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Mary’s Household Tips and Tricks by Mary Berry – digested read

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 16:00:35 GMT2017-10-15T16:00:35Z

‘When baking, don’t use any of Prue Leith’s cookbooks. She really doesn’t have a clue what she is doing’

I’ve had a lot of time to gather tips and hints about cooking and how to run a home because I’ve lived in a house for quite a long time. This book is a collection of some of the ones you’ve probably already thought of yourself.

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Man Booker prize 2017: Ali Smith leads sales, George Saunders ahead at bookies

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:31:11 GMT2017-10-16T12:31:11Z

On the eve of the UK’s leading fiction award, Autumn dominates sales of the shortlisted novels, but Lincoln in the Bardo is tipped to take the final prize

Ali Smith is outselling the US writers on the Man Booker prize shortlist with just one day left before the winner is announced – but American author George Saunders remains the favourite at the bookmakers.

According book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, Smith’s novel Autumn is the commercial winner so far among the six titles shortlisted for the UK’s most prestigious prize for fiction with almost 50,000 copies sold. From the US, Paul Auster’s 4321 comes in second with nearly 15,000 sales. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, debut British novelist Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, and British/Pakistani Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West have all sold about 10,000 copies each. History of Wolves, by the American first-timer Emily Fridlund, has sold the least, with a figure of 3,410 copies.

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee taken off Mississippi school reading list

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 21:36:14 GMT2017-10-14T21:36:14Z

  • Official: ‘some language in the book makes people uncomfortable’
  • Story of racism in the US south has been removed from schools before

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s classic novel about racism and the American south, has been removed from a junior-high reading list in a Mississippi school district because the language in the book “makes people uncomfortable”.

Related: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: a classic with many lives to live

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Good Gaul: Asterix illustration sells for record €1.4m in Paris

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 01:02:54 GMT2017-10-14T01:02:54Z

The drawing for Asterix and the Banquet, signed by its creators, was only expected to sell for between €180,000 and €200,000

An original illustration for the cover of one of the early Asterix comic books has sold for a record €1.4m (£1.25m) at auction , more than seven times its expected price, an auction house announced.

The drawing for Asterix and the Banquet (Le Tour de Gaul in French), signed by the creators of the legendary series, Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, was sold by the Drouot auction house in Paris on Friday.

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'I dream of being an accountant': Wall of Dreams shines refugees' hopes over London

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:19:52 GMT2017-10-13T16:19:52Z

As a huge projection over London’s Southbank Centre illuminates the wishes of the city’s displaced people, participants explain some of their stories

Mohammed, a gangly 17-year-old who fled Syria with no hope of seeing his family again, dreams of being a footballer. Drita saw a side to humanity no 16-year-old should during her journey from eastern Europe. Now, she has pinned her hopes on becoming a teacher.

Abu has a dream too. The 18-year-old longs to stand in his grandmother’s kitchen in South Sudan, mouth watering in anticipation of her cooking. It is a dream he has consigned to fantasy. “I can’t see me being able to go back,” he says.

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Bertie Wooster returns as a spy in Jeeves sequel by Schott's Miscellany author

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 14:48:08 GMT2017-10-13T14:48:08Z

Ben Schott says ‘it’s like being lent the Crown Jewels’ after PG Wodehouse estate approves trivia bestseller to write Jeeves and the King of Clubs

Bertie Wooster, PG Wodehouse’s “mentally somewhat negligible” English gentleman with a heart of gold, is set to be reimagined as a British spy by Ben Schott, the author of the bestselling collection of trivia Schott’s Original Miscellany.

Schott, whose forthcoming Jeeves and the King of Clubs is sanctioned by the PG Wodehouse estate, called it “an incomparable honour to follow in the patent-leather footsteps of the greatest English-language humorist”.

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Weinstein Books 'terminated' in wake of assault allegations

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 10:47:26 GMT2017-10-13T10:47:26Z

Film mogul’s associated publishing imprint is to close in the wake of scandal over multiple abuse allegations

The Weinstein Books imprint is being shut down, following a week of sexual assault allegations against the film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

In a statement to staff issued on Thursday, Hachette Book Group said it had “terminated” the imprint. A joint venture between the Weinstein Company and the Hachette-owned publisher Perseus, Weinstein Books released around 10 books a year, with titles ranging from books by media personalities to film tie-ins. It was run by two women: editorial director Amanda Murray and publishing director Georgina Levitt.

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Writers step in to defend author accused of plagiarism in New York Times

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 15:41:00 GMT2017-10-12T15:41:00Z

Jill Bialosky’s Poetry Will Save Your Life was charged with extensive use of others’ writing, but peers say accidental repetitions ‘were not egregious theft’

More than 70 authors, including Pulitzer prize winners Jennifer Egan and Louise Glück, have come to the defence of the editor and poet Jill Bialosky after she was accused of plagiarism, saying that Bialosky’s “inadvertent repetition of biographical boilerplate was not an egregious theft intentionally performed”.

A scathing review of Bialosky’s memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life, by the poet William Logan in the Tourniquet Review last week accused her of having “plagiarised numerous passages from Wikipedia and the websites of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation” when writing biographical details of poets including Robert Louis Stevenson, Emily Dickinson and Robert Lowell.

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Miniature book said to have inspired Virginia Woolf's Orlando to be published

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 14:57:16 GMT2017-10-11T14:57:16Z

Vita Sackville-West’s stamp-sized book about a fashionable sprite who meets famous fairytale figures was written in 1922, four years before Woolf’s novel

A postage stamp-sized book by Vita Sackville-West, featuring a “fashionable and ageless sprite” who may have inspired her lover Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, is to be published for the first time.

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Dan Brown's Origin makes a strong start in UK bookshops

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 13:44:14 GMT2017-10-11T13:44:14Z

Although not quite the sensation of previous Robert Langdon thrillers, The Da Vinci Code author’s latest mystery sold 100,000 copies in its first week

Dan Brown’s mastery of something like a code for bestsellers has returned to cheer UK booksellers, with more than 100,000 copies of his latest thriller, Origin, sold in the first five days after publication last Tuesday. But while retailers pronounced themselves delighted, there were some indications that his hold on British readers is not quite as sure as it once was – with these figures adding up to only a fifth of the initial success of 2009’s The Lost Symbol.

According to Nielsen BookScan, Origin had amassed 100,095 sales by Saturday. Brown’s publisher, Transworld, said this makes it the fastest-selling original fiction title in the UK since Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman in 2015, which sold 168,455 print copies in its first five days. But the Bookseller pointed out that Origin’s first week UK sales were half those of Inferno, which sold 228,961 copies in its first week in 2013, with Inferno’s sales half those of The Lost Symbol, which sold 551,000 print copies in its first week in 2009.

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MacArthur 'genius grants' go to novelists Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jesmyn Ward

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 12:00:47 GMT2017-10-11T12:00:47Z

Among 2017’s recipients of the $625,000 honours are two novelists exploring the lives of minority communities in the US

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jesmyn Ward, two novelists exploring how writers from minority communities must “claim the same rights” as the majority, have landed $625,000 (£470,000) MacArthur fellowships, popularly known as “genius grants”.

The no-strings-attached fellowships, which have previously gone to writers including Claudia Rankine and Ta-Nehisi Coates, are intended “to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations”. Two novelists were among this year’s selection of 24 fellows, which included mathematicians, historians, computer scientists and anthropologists. Ward was picked for novels “exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South, against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential”. Nguyen was chosen for “challenging popular depictions of the Vietnam war and exploring the myriad ways that war lives on for those it has displaced”.

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Dr Seuss racism row escalates over illustration of Chinese man

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 14:58:04 GMT2017-10-09T14:58:04Z

The Massachusetts museum dedicated to the children’s author has agreed to remove a mural showing one his early pictures, prompting charges of political correctness

The Dr Seuss Museum in Massachusetts has become embroiled in an escalating fight over an 80-year-old Seuss illustration of an Asian man, which culminated at the weekend in the local mayor condemning complaints about the picture as “political correctness at its worst”.

On Friday, author and illustrator Mo Willems announced that he and two other authors – Lisa Yee and Mike Curato – would no longer be appearing at a scheduled event at the museum in Seuss’s hometown of Springfield, due to a mural that included a “jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat and slanted slit eyes”.

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Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage gets accidental early release in Netherlands

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 11:58:30 GMT2017-10-09T11:58:30Z

Dutch translation of sequel to His Dark Materials was available in shops before copies were recalled ahead of worldwide release on 19 October

With fans around the world having waited almost two decades for Philip Pullman’s highly anticipated sequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy, a few lucky Dutch readers may have got their hands on copies of La Belle Sauvage two weeks early – before the novel was promptly recalled across the Netherlands.

La Belle Sauvage, the first in Pullman’s The Book of Dust trilogy, has a worldwide release date of 19 October. But Dutch publisher Uitgeverij Prometheus sent out copies of the long-awaited novel, translated as Het boek van Stof, to bookshops across the Netherlands last week, and lists a release date of 4 October on its website.

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Frankfurt book fair: Atwood and Brown to star at politically charged event

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 08:38:59 GMT2017-10-09T08:38:59Z

World’s largest publishing trade event focuses on star writers as authors including Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks to appear

Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown and Nicholas Sparks are among the big name authors descending on Frankfurt this week as the world’s oldest book fair glams up for the Instagram generation.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is set to formally open the fair with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Tuesday, accompanied by a who’s who of the French literary scene, as part of the country’s turn as the trade fair’s annual guest of honour.

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Unseen letters show Hemingway’s fight against celebrity and ‘bullshit publicity’

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 23:05:34 GMT2017-10-07T23:05:34Z

‘My private life being an open sewer, I am sometimes a little touchy,’ wrote the author

His prose matched his macho lifestyle, from wartime adventures to big-game hunting, boozing and bullfighting. But Ernest Hemingway was extremely sensitive about his private life, which he described as “an open sewer”, and repeatedly asked family and friends not to reveal details, according to previously unpublished correspondence.

In the fourth of 17 volumes of his letters, to be published by Cambridge University Press, Hemingway writes on one occasion: “If I’m to write at all, I have to keep my private life out of it.” Another letter records that he had forbidden one publisher “ever to use any personal publicity because I want the stuff to be judged as fiction”.

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How do you win the Man Booker prize? Move to New York or London | Lucy Diver

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 15:10:53 GMT2017-10-16T15:10:53Z

The prize used to champion unknowns and outsiders. But a 2014 rule change has cemented the neo-colonial cultural dominance of the US and the UK

The upstairs room of an indie bookstore. A book launch for a local author. Crisps and wine are being handed out, a buzz is in the air, congratulations are showered upon the young writer. I know – because I worked there at the launch of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.

When Catton won the 2013 Man Booker prize, people in the bookstore were crying. Looking back on that day, the store’s manager said: “I don’t watch rugby, but I did think, maybe this is what it’s like when we win the World Cup?”

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What makes a Man Booker novel? Six shortlisted authors share their secrets

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 07:00:01 GMT2017-10-14T07:00:01Z

Ahead of the announcement of the 2017 prize next week, the stories behind the stories

Usually the material of a novel comes to me before I have a form in mind. But with 4321, for the first time in my writing life, the idea of the form came first – the idea that I could write about someone’s life, splintered into four versions. This notion was so compelling to me that I immediately started thinking how I might go about it. The story thrust itself on me. This boy, this Archie Ferguson – each of whose four incarnations follows a different path within the book – seemed there already, waiting to be found. Every day I would go to my work table and the story would be there for me, as if it were hovering just above my desk. All I had to do was reach out and grab it, and put it on the page.

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Happiness is a salty potato – and other life lessons from Russian literature

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:00:27 GMT2017-10-13T08:00:27Z

Don’t trust a woman who wears too much perfume and know your limits – Viv Groskop on the 10 top tips Chekhov, Tolstoy and others have for us today

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
This is the five-page kernel of what Henry James called “the large, loose, baggy monster” (read from page 1,074 of the Penguin Classics edition). The character of Platon Karatayev, the everyman muzhik (peasant), pops up fleetingly to proffer a potato sprinkled with salt to Pierre Bezukhov and deliver the most important message of Tolstoy’s entire oeuvre: love your parents, have children of your own, bear your fate with acceptance and patience. And relish every mouthful of that salty potato.

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Writing women into The Wind in the Willows revitalises the canon

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 11:30:10 GMT2017-10-11T11:30:10Z

Making imaginative room for another sex in this much-loved classic opened up its world to me

I grew up in a very small town in Iowa in the 60s, where the library was a single, graceful room with a golden oak circulation desk, which overlooked everything but a lone bookcase packed with the complete American Heritage backlist. Books were divided into children’s, mysteries, science fiction, romance, biography, science, nonfiction (we didn’t have rarefied arcana like history or current events). “New Acquisitions” were whatever had been dropped off recently: old Agatha Christies, accidentally ordered Book of the Month Club selections, agricultural yearbooks from the 1950s.

I read them all. Once I finished the children’s section, I started at the upper left-hand corner of the first bookcase (mysteries), and proceeded methodically. This made for some highly age-inappropriate choices, as when I waded through the Decameron aged 10. I read everything the same way, uncritically and going with the flow whenever I couldn’t understand.

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

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 14:00:21 GMT2017-10-09T14:00:21Z

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.

Let’s start with good news. Last week, bluefairy didn’t know what to read. This week, the problem has been solved thanks to Pattern Recognition by William Gibson:

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Jerusalem the Golden's less than shining start with critics

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 11:03:34 GMT2017-10-10T11:03:34Z

Margaret Drabble’s early novel received some very lukewarm reviews, which scolded it for perceived weaknesses that seem much less apparent 50 years on

Jerusalem the Golden hasn’t been out of print since its publication in 1967. Today, it is a Penguin Classic and feels as safely established as they come. But it wasn’t always like that. If the reviews I’ve found from 1967 are at all representative, it seems that when this book first came out, plenty of people didn’t like it.

The New York Times complained that the London section of the novel is “less interesting”, that Clara’s lover Gabriel is “not well drawn” – and his wife Philippa is “inexplicable”. Kirkus Reviews, meanwhile, called Clara “totally ignorant, particularly in social and sexual spheres”. This ignorance, we are told, is “explained, if not overexplained … by the fact that Clara comes from an economically and emotionally penurious home – in Yorkshire”. More stinging still, the review ended: “Miss Drabble, in casting a cold eye on the world she knows so well, has forgotten to make a balancing bid for the reader’s sympathy.”

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How Amazon reviews became the new battlefield of US politics

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 09:36:39 GMT2017-10-09T09:36:39Z

In the vexatious realm of online opinion, history has begun to be written not so much by the victors as the customer reviewers

There are stars that twinkle and shine in the firmament and yet others that determine the destiny of authors. In the case of the latter, every author wishes for an Amazon page that is, much like the Coldplay song, “full of stars”. Hillary Clinton, former US presidential candidate, and author of the testily titled What Happened, was not such a fortunate author. A mere day after it was released, Clinton (or, more likely, one of her many publicists) found her book’s Amazon page to be a battleground. Within 24 hours of the book’s release, 1,500 reviews had been posted and – like the American electorate – divided between ardent love and ferocious hatred for the book and its author. The former slathered on five stars, the latter a single, sulky one. The election, it appeared, was being replayed in Amazon reviews.

Related: Amazon redacts one-star reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened

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Poem of the week: Pershing at the Front by Arthur Guiterman

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 08:32:45 GMT2017-10-09T08:32:45Z

A roistering comic satire, finding black comedy in the trenches, this is a spry dig at the lumbering machinery of war

Pershing at the Front

The General came in a new tin hat
To the shell-torn front where the war was at;
With a faithful Aide at his good right hand
He made his way toward No Man’s Land,
And a tough Top Sergeant there they found,
And a Captain, too, to show them round.

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Writing about politics is far too important to be left to politicians - the 100 best political books

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 05:00:41 GMT2017-10-08T05:00:41Z

This era is characterised by exceptional flux which is why we felt it was timely to compile the ultimate political reading list

David Cameron has bought a posh shed for his back garden in which to do the writing. Now all the former Tory leader has to do is get down to it and finish his memoir. I am sure he will produce something. There is a reported advance of £800,000 to earn. The only question that matters a damn is whether his book will be worth reading.

We thought now was an excellent moment to publish a supplement which highlights outstanding books that have shaped political thought, deepened our understanding of how politics ticks and offered signposts to future directions for our world. It felt timely because this era is characterised by exceptional flux. Today’s orthodoxy can turn into tomorrow’s redundancy and today’s unthinkable can become tomorrow’s inevitable.

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Don’t press send … The new rules for good writing in the 21st century

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 07:00:15 GMT2017-10-07T07:00:15Z

Entertain, don’t be afraid of a bit of filth, but be cautious with your XXXs – the essential guide to getting your message across while avoiding the pitfalls of communication

The person who gets your letter will seldom be the one who wronged you. At least to start with, they have no skin in the game and may even be sympathetic. That evaporates when you start slinging around insults. It makes you feel good to bluster and rage: but it’s how the recipient of the letter feels that will matter. As ever, go to where your audience is.

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Nabokov on one page, nudes on the next: a Playboy literary editor reveals all

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 12:00:52 GMT2017-10-06T12:00:52Z

In the wake of Hugh Hefner’s death, the magazine’s former fiction editor shares how she got everyone from Donna Tartt to Margaret Atwood to write for her

I am not the only woman who worked at Playboy and kept her clothes on. When I was hired as literary editor in 2005, Hugh Hefner’s basic recipe for the monthly had not changed much since the 1950s: insistent juxtapositions of high and low culture, the ingredients, as he wrote in his 1953 inaugural editorial, for “a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex” at a cocktail party.

Its DNA was spliced from Esquire’s, where Hefner worked as a young man; but the nudity gave it a daring few magazines had. By the time I arrived it was at once chaste, compared with what was on offer online, and sterile, given to an overabundance of models with big breast implants and big hair. The daring had to be found elsewhere. My task, or so I told myself, was to locate it in the fiction and literary pieces.

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Super Thursday: with 500 new books out today, what should you read?

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 09:49:24 GMT2017-10-05T09:49:24Z

New books from Mary Berry, Dan Brown and Dawn French are out, as part of the mass launch that marks the start of the Christmas season – and there’s another 250 on the way. Here are 10 titles in the running for No 1

More than 500 glossy new hardbacks are set to arrive on the shelves of the UK’s booksellers on Thursday, as books by names ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Mary Berry prepare to do battle for the Christmas No 1 slot.

This year, 505 new books are being published on Super Thursday, the day marked out as the start of the annual race for Christmas bestsellers. As usual, memoirs feature prominently, with books by actor David Jason, comedian Sarah Millican, and Virgin tycoon Richard Branson. There is also a diary from Dawn French; Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower, a look at social networks of the past; and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s take on the Obama era, We Were Eight Years in Power.

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Kazuo Ishiguro: Nobel prize winner and a novelist for all times

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 16:09:38 GMT2017-10-05T16:09:38Z

The Swedish Academy has got it right this year: the British author is audacious, controlled and utterly original

A few years ago in a panel discussion at a literary festival I was asked to name a recent British novel that readers and critics would still be talking about in a hundred years’ time. On the spur of the difficult moment I plumped for Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Only as I tried to explain my choice did I realise why I had given this answer. It was not just a novel I enjoyed and admired, it was also a novel that enacted something elementary and elemental: a human’s need to imagine his or her origins.

Related: Kazuo Ishiguro wins the Nobel prize in literature 2017

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Rupi Kaur: the inevitable backlash against Instagram's favourite poet

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 13:33:59 GMT2017-10-04T13:33:59Z

Kaur’s verses on love, sex and race have made her the most revered – and reviled – of today’s ‘instapoets’. As a new collection The Sun and Her Flowers hits shelves, is the social media star a dark omen for poetry or a fresh voice in literature?

Rupi Kaur has achieved a rare feat for a modern poet: mainstream popularity. Part of a new generation of instapoets – young poets publishing verse primarily on social media – Kaur, who turns 25 this month, pairs her dreamy, aphoristic poems with doodles reminiscent of those found in the margins of old school books. Kaur writes about love, sex, rejection and relationships, all topics common on social media, but she also deals with darker material: abuse, beauty standards, racism. Her debut collection, Milk and Honey, has sold 1.4m copies – so far – and she has 1.6 million followers on Instagram.

But success often comes with a backlash, and for every ardent fan, there is a sneering keyboard critic. Her trademark fragmented free verse makes her easy prey for online sceptics. Their mimicry is often witty, and close enough to Kaur’s formula to sting: examples include “I wanted / Chick-fil-a / but / you / were / a Sunday morning” and “I understand / why guacamole is / extra / it is because / you / were never / enough.”

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A London flat and no job: Margaret Drabble shows the Golden age of student life

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 16:01:36 GMT2017-10-03T16:01:36Z

Jerusalem the Golden’s heroine Clara must balance the demands of family with the opportunities of education. But those dilemmas have grown tougher since 1967

When Jerusalem the Golden came out in 1967, it was described in the Guardian as a “detailed observation of the graduate predicament … tidily and wittingly and movingly expressed”.

“The graduate predicament” centred on how best to leave home, a problem also explored in 1967 by the Beatles. The novel’s heroine Clara comes from Northam, a small northern town that is “the very image of unfertile ground”. She hates it with “such violence” that she shakes and trembles. Her mother, meanwhile, is emotionally manipulative and “of the mentality” that refuses her child the opportunity to go to grammar school because of the price of the uniform.

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Can a 10-year-old be a genius? What Hemingway’s first short story tells us

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 16:53:30 GMT2017-10-02T16:53:30Z

A newly discovered piece of fiction by the US author joins humbling examples of juvenilia by other great artists, from Jane Austen to Pablo Picasso

“We are going on a trip to Europe,” begins what could be Ernest Hemingway’s first piece of fiction. It was discovered in May in Florida – and made public last week – in the archives kept by a family close to the Hemingways. A page in a notebook dated “Sep 8 ‘09” looks like a diary entry by Hemingway, who would have been 10 at the time.

Sandra Spanier, English professor and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, saw the notebook in May, and realised that it wasn’t a travelogue – Hemingway had never made the trip – but was his own creation. At that young age, it bore some of the writer’s hallmarks. “Hemingway later said that his method was to invent from experience and he often placed his characters in absolutely realistically described landscapes,” she noted.

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Children's authors slam celebrity-heavy World Book Day lineup

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 12:28:05 GMT2017-10-02T12:28:05Z

Led by David Almond and Anthony McGowan, writers have spoken out against stress on famous names in works chosen for 2018 event

Top children’s authors including David Almond and Anthony McGowan have criticised a celebrity-heavy lineup of titles for next year’s World Book Day, describing the choice of books by famous names including Julian Clary and Clare Balding as patronising and demeaning.

Billed as “the world’s biggest celebration of reading”, more than 1m books by authors including Jacqueline Wilson, Francesca Simon and Julia Donaldson were given away to children for this year’s World Book Day. But when the featured authors at next year’s event were announced on Friday, including Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain and the musician Tom Fletcher as well as Clary and Balding, the Carnegie medal-winning writer Almond led a volley of criticism against organisers for overlooking children’s authors in favour of celebrity names.

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Alan Hollinghurst answered your questions on ecstasy, love affairs and his teenage heroes – as it happened

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 12:34:19 GMT2017-10-02T12:34:19Z

The Man Booker prize-winning author revealed the secrets behind works such as The Line of Beauty and new novel The Sparsholt Affair, while declaring his raving days officially over

That’s all for today

Thank you very much, I enjoyed my first ever webchat.

stephenkavanag6 asks:

Thrilled about your new book. I’m a massive fan. I was wondering which works by Henry James had particularly inspired you as a writer, and whether you were ever a bit daunted (like me) by his late novels? I’m guessing The Spoils of Poynton might be one of your favourites, having read The Line of Beauty!

I find Henry James inspiring altogether. It's something to do with his double mastery. Both his insight into human behaviour and his deep interest in the novel as a form. I've certainly never tried to imitate him, though in The Line Of Beauty I did set myself the Jamesian task of writing a large social novel in the third person and all seen from the point of view of one character; and I found myself seeing parallels between the world I was writing about and the world of James's novels of the later 1890s. I think perhaps the book I find most fascinating from a technical point of view is What Maisie Knew – which is both the cleverest and the tenderest of all James's novels.

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From Disraeli to Thatcher: 15 of the best political biographies and diaries

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 15:00:53 GMT2017-10-08T15:00:53Z

Leaders shape history and here are a selelction of the most remarkable insights into these public figures plus first-hand accounts by those with access to the corridors of power

Before Moore published the first volume of his authorised biography there had already been a mountain of books on Thatcher. Most struggled to get much beyond the caricature. Although an admirer, Moore’s account is more nuanced. He shows that far from being fearless, she could often be fearful without cause and, at times, could be stubbornly foolish in her policymaking even if, from the author’s point of view, she was heading heroically in the right direction. The final volume will include her Shakespearean fall from power.

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From The Second Sex to The Beauty Myth: 10 of the best feminist texts

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 05:00:10 GMT2017-10-09T05:00:10Z

Twentieth-century polemical writing that changed the way we think about gender

To ask what influence this book had on gender politics is akin to wondering what the sun ever did for the earth. The answer? Everything. Today, The Second Sex is still hailed as the mothership of feminist philosophy. “One is not born, but rather becomes (a) woman,” muses De Beauvoir (the quote varying, according to the translation). Exploring topics from sex, work and family to prostitution, abortion and the history of female subordination, De Beauvoir challenges the notion of men as the default (the ideal), and women as “other”. For many, The Second Sex represents not just key feminist reading, but rather essential feminist thinking and being.

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From Roots to Black People in Britain: 10 key political texts on black consciousness

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 05:00:10 GMT2017-10-09T05:00:10Z

How the lessons of injustice were drawn from centuries of slavery and colonialism

We are living through something of a Baldwin renaissance, in large part thanks to Raoul Peck’s brilliant documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Any number of Baldwin’s books might earn a place on this list, but The Fire Next Time stands out. Consisting of two essays, one addressed to Baldwin’s nephew, it is a passionate and visceral plea to black and white America. It is the only document I know of that expresses the civil rights case as eloquently as the speeches of Martin Luther King.

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From Lloyd George to Brexit: 10 of the best books on British politics

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 05:00:10 GMT2017-10-09T05:00:10Z

This collection tracks the ideological struggles that have helped form modern British society

This landmark book described how the Liberal party, apparently unassailable after their 1906 landslide, went into decline less than a decade later, never to lead a government again. The reasons, as Dangerfield set out, went far beyond parliamentary arithmetic. This was a ruling class failing to understand the pressures of the new century: suffragism, the trade union movement and Irish nationalism. This depiction of downfall of perhaps the original citizens of nowhere offers a lesson for today’s politicians in how a ruling class can be undone by contemporary events, and how establishment parties can be brought down by failing to change with the times.

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10 books about the politics of now: from the left-behinds to reborn radicals

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 15:00:53 GMT2017-10-08T15:00:53Z

Brexit Britain, racial strife in the US and a crisis of capitalism: today’s political world is turbulent

An essential primer for anyone seeking to understand the politics of the Brexit referendum. Shipman, the political editor of the Sunday Times, gives a vivid and compelling account of the Westminster gambles, compromises and miscalculations that unleashed social forces that prime minister David Cameron utterly failed to anticipate or understand. From Boris Johnson’s ambition-fuelled decision to join the Leave campaign to Jeremy Corbyn’s fatefully low-key endorsement of Remain, Shipman chronicles with élan the how and the why of the country’s fateful decision to “take back control”.

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From post-Empire to liberation theory: 10 of the best books on international struggle

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 15:00:53 GMT2017-10-08T15:00:53Z

As the era of imperialism ended, new divisions and faultlines emerged in the difficult aftermath of empire

Some classic books capture the essence of their time; some remain relevant for ever. Orientalism is the latter sort – if anything, the book has become more relevant. It demonstrates how dominant nations, through their academic, cultural and social agents of expression, exoticise and misunderstand the “other”. Said was ahead of his time in isolating how cultural prowess is consolidated to the benefit of the west, by exaggerating differences with the orient that create a skewed perception of the eastern world as inferior to the west.

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From Middlemarch to King Richard III: 15 of the best political novels and plays

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 05:00:41 GMT2017-10-08T05:00:41Z

Fiction and drama hold a mirror to the virtues and vices of an age. Here’s our pick of the best

Richard Wright wrote to his friend William Faulkner that black and white Americans were engaged in a “war over the nature of reality”. The terms of Wright’s engagement in that ongoing war were set by his 1940 novel Native Son, which sold 250,000 copies in its first three weeks. The novel tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a native of the south side of Chicago in the 1930s, who murders two women, one white and one black. Its controversy was rooted in the case Bigger’s lawyer makes in mitigating his crimes in the context of racist oppression – that white society is also responsible. The book did much to politicise the civil rights generation and continues to be a key reference point for #BlackLivesMatter.

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Maria Alyokhina and Omar El Akkad – books podcast

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 07:00:41 GMT2017-10-10T07:00:41Z

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud and Acast. Join the discussion on Facebook, Twitter and email

This week we talk to Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, and the journalist Omar El Akkad.

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Novel eating: new recipes from your favourite fiction | Book extract

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 11:00:51 GMT2017-10-06T11:00:51Z

Ever tucked in to a Narnian midnight feast, or dreamt of feasting on sardines and ginger beer with the Famous Five? Here, in an excerpt from the new Little Library Cookbook, are four recipes straight from the pages of your favourite novels

  • See more recipes from your favourite novels fortnightly here.

I have always been a highly suggestible, hungry reader. When discovering a new book, or revisiting an old favourite, my mind wanders, imagining what food the characters are enjoying would taste like. A passing mention of a ripe summer strawberry, a fragrant roast chicken or a warming mug of hot chocolate sends me straight to the kitchen, book still in hand.

When I wasn’t in the kitchen, my childhood was spent in books. On weekends, my dad would push me out of our front door towards the park, encouraging me to run around in the fresh air until dusk. Little did he know that I always had a book tucked into my bike shorts, and would instead hide under a tree somewhere, losing myself in Jane Austen’s Regency England, Enid Blyton’s seaside Devon or Harper Lee’s Depression-era Alabama. My childhood was idyllic, but I spent much of it in parallel fictional worlds.

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Top 10 imaginary drugs in fiction

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:00:25 GMT2017-10-18T09:00:25Z

From the mind-bending potion in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Don DeLillo’s cure for the fear of death, these are some of the most potent hits in literature

Science-fiction writers are always looking for ways to bring about change, whether in society, in the nature of the physical world or in the human mind. And making up new drugs is a powerful way of inducing alteration on all these levels.

In my own work I’ve invented drugs such as Vurt, Metaphorazine, Lucidity, Wave, Haze and many more. My latest novel A Man of Shadows sees people enjoying a concoction called kia, shortened from chiaroscuro, a time-altering drug created from a flower that blossoms only at dusk.

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John Green: ‘Having OCD is an ongoing part of my life’

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 11:00:00 GMT2017-10-14T11:00:00Z

The bestselling YA author talks about the success of The Fault in Our Stars, answering his critics and writing his mental illness into fiction in his new novel, Turtles All the Way Down

There is a scene late in US author John Green’s new novel, Turtles All the Way Down, where his protagonist, Aza Holmes – a bright, troubled teenager, as Green’s heroines generally are – goes through an ordeal so distressing it is difficult to read. Aza has obsessive compulsive disorder, and the “tightening gyre” of her thoughts has taken over. Green catapults his reader right into the middle of Aza’s desperate mental state as she becomes increasingly panicky over the possibility of being infected with the bacterium C. diff – “do you want to die of this do you want to die of this because you will you will you will you will” – eventually scooping handfuls of hand sanitiser into her mouth, gagging and vomiting as her mother tries to stop her.

Green, who has OCD himself, says it was “very hard to write”. “I wrote it right at the last, in the last revision. That’s as close to my experience as I could get.”

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Legalise prostitution? We are being asked to accept industrialised sexual exploitation

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:40:06 GMT2017-08-22T10:40:06Z

Author of Pimp State, Kat Banyard explains how researching her book revealed why we need to end the sex trade - and how to do it

Right now, a global push is under way for governments to not only tolerate but actively enable the sex trade. The call is clear: decriminalise brothel keepers, pimps and other “third parties”, allowing them to profiteer freely – and certainly don’t dampen demand for the trade. This is no mundane policy prescription. The stakes are immense.

How we respond will be a measure of how seriously we take violence against women and the inequality underpinning it. Because what we are being asked to do is accept and normalise industrialised sexual exploitation.

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Frances Hardinge: ‘I can try axe-throwing or canoeing and it could be research’

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 09:00:03 GMT2017-10-14T09:00:03Z

The Costa award-winning author of The Lie Tree on why she has Nerf guns in her study and how the writing life is both isolating and liberating

Describing my typical writing day would be a lot easier if I actually had one. Whenever I’m asked what hours I work, I explain that I “aim for nine to five and miss”. The degree to which I miss varies wildly.

This isn’t a deliberate strategy. I have great respect for authors who keep to a rigid schedule, and turn out the same number of words each day. (One such writer has promised that, after their demise, I can eat their brain in the hope of gaining this particular superpower.)

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The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume I: 1940-1956 – review

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 05:30:22 GMT2017-10-15T05:30:22Z

This hefty first volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters barely hints at her inner life or blossoming talent

The arrival of the collected letters of Sylvia Plath – this is only volume one; a second will follow next year – provides something of an object lesson in the weird desperation involved in what we might call heritage publishing. Of course we understand that Faber (and in the US, Harper) is thrilled to have this long-dead poetic genius on its list; such pride isn’t misplaced. But whether this means that every word Plath ever wrote, up to and including her scholarship applications, is of interest to anyone other than truffling biographers and PhD students is another matter altogether. Lugging around this rusty anchor of a book – it runs to more than 1,400 pages – what I felt mostly was exasperation. The notion that Plath’s every utterance is sacred would be dumb even if she ranked with Keats or Waugh as one of the truly great letter writers. The fact that she clearly doesn’t – the majority of those in this volume, written to her mother, Aurelia, are marked by their quotidian sameyness – only makes it seem the more vacuous.

It’s a problem that’s hardly helped by their editing. The focus of Peter K Steinberg and Karen V Kukil, the Plath scholars who have devoted long years to this project, appears to be on accumulation, not enlightenment; their footnotes, which they describe as “comprehensive” but in fact tend to the minimalist, are far from adequate. Should Plath mention, say, a story she has read by Jean Stafford in the New Yorker, they will certainly endeavour to identify which one it might have been. But of the connections between the letters and their author’s life and work, they tell us almost nothing. The reader, then, is entirely in Plath’s hands, which is not only tricky in narrative terms – ellipses come as standard in correspondence of which you get to read only one side – but also perilously unbalanced.

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A Wood of One’s Own by Ruth Pavey – captivating and grounded

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 09:00:26 GMT2017-10-15T09:00:26Z

Ruth Pavey’s unassuming memoir celebrates the imperfections of rural life and the virtues of spontaneity

“Sometimes you have to check,” writes Ruth Pavey, “just in case life means you to do a somersault.” Her own modest upheaval was to buy a piece of land, at auction, on the Somerset Levels, with a view to turning it into a wood.

At the time she was a teacher living in London (she is still gardening correspondent on Hampstead’s Ham & High newspaper), and the land, four acres of scrub woodland costing £2,750, was not even the lot she’d had her eye on – that went to a higher bidder. This was the consolation prize.

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The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks review – an agility of enthusiasms

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 08:00:02 GMT2017-10-14T08:00:02Z

These posthumously published essays range from psychiatry to plagiarism to near-death experiences

One March in the mid 1990s I checked into a cheap hotel in Helsinki. I dropped my bag on the floor and, wondering what Finnish daytime television was like, switched on the TV. A darkened room with a dining table came into focus, and around it were six people having a conversation. To my surprise, all were speaking English, then a face I knew filled the screen – it was Oliver Sacks. Then another, Stephen Jay Gould, and another, Daniel Dennett. I had books by all three. It was snowing outside, and Helsinki seemed suddenly less inviting; I sat down on the bed and began to watch.

A Dutch TV company had assembled these men, together with Freeman Dyson, Stephen Toulmin and Rupert Sheldrake, for the round-table finale of a documentary series on science and the meaning of life. The series, A Glorious Accident, didn’t seem to have invited any women to take part but even so I watched it to the end – three hours later. The participants’ areas of expertise were diverse: biology, physics, palaeontology, neuroscience, philosophy. As the only practising clinician, Sacks made perceptive and valuable contributions – and was clearly having fun. I was just starting out in medicine, and it was a relief to see how a lifetime in clinical practice offered insights still relevant across the sciences.

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Stalin’s Defectors by Mark Edele – from Red Army soldiers to Hitler’s collaborators

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 08:00:27 GMT2017-10-13T08:00:27Z

A huge number of Soviet soldiers deserted to the German side and even took up arms alongside the fascists. Why?

The debt that all of Europe owes the Red Army for defeating Hitler is incontrovertible, however grudgingly it is acknowledged in many quarters. What is less well known but remarkable is that a huge number of Red Army soldiers deserted to the German side and even took up arms alongside their homeland’s fascist invaders. At a minimum, according to Mark Edele, one of the leading historians of Soviet society during the war, 117,000 Soviet citizens voluntarily crossed the front line, risking life and limb to escape to the Germans.

In addition, up to 6% of soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans decided to join the German forces. No other allied army in the second world war had such a large share of defectors. Put together with civilians, some 1.6 million Soviet citizens became military collaborators with the fascists.

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Late Essays by JM Coetzee review – dos and don’ts of classic novel writing

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 13:00:41 GMT2017-10-12T13:00:41Z

Many ‘prestige’ introductions to great works of fiction are disappointing, but these pieces are different. The Nobel laureate is a wonderful critic

A writer of JM Coetzee’s stature needs no preamble, and Late Essays does not offer one, plunging the reader directly into the literary criticism that the novelist has accumulated over the past 11 years. Some are expanded versions of his articles for the New York Review of Books; others are published introductions to works of great literature, from Daniel Defoe’s Roxana to Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Introductions to classic novels comprise an interesting genre of criticism, with its own formal mechanisms. I don’t mean critical pieces prepared by scholars, but “prestige” essays, written by famous writers with a fondness for the book at hand. Yet is there any form of writing more ripe for reinvention? While they are revealing about the culture in general, such introductions rarely tell us anything worthwhile about the text or the acclaimed author’s work. Coetzee’s essays are different; this book emerges as an engaging series of master classes in novel writing, from which we might distil a selection of dos and don’ts.

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The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson review – a new understanding of global history?

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 06:30:33 GMT2017-10-12T06:30:33Z

Don’t leave networks to conspiracy theorists, argues the prolific historian in a book that ranges from the Illuminati to Brexit and Trump

In a dark joke from the early 1930s, a Jewish man is gleefully browsing Der Stürmer, a Nazi propaganda rag. His baffled friends protest: “Why are you looking at that rubbish? And how come you’re enjoying it so much?” “Because,” he answers, “if you read the Jewish papers, it is going terribly for us. But in this one, the news is all good. We control the banks, we control the country – we run the whole world!”

If the maddest conspiracy theories were true, it would be good news for historians, too. They would have rather an easy job, because wars, revolutions and economic crashes could be explained simply by exposing the cabals that engineered them. Niall Ferguson, the prolific historian and broadcaster, is no conspiracy theorist. But in his ambitious new book, The Square and the Tower, he claims that historians have paid too little attention to networks of all kinds. He wants to find a “middle way” between mainstream historians, who have, he thinks, underestimated the role of informal associations, and the conspiracy theorists who exaggerate the significance of such networks.

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The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris review – grisly medicine

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:00:35 GMT2017-10-12T08:00:35Z

Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, is the hero of this story of Victorian doctors with grubby hands and infected knives

Long after William Hogarth depicted a gaggle of bewigged and urine-tasting physicians under the title The Company of Undertakers in 1736, doctors remained a popular target of humour and ridicule. This was hardly surprising, as the reality of their practice was even more absurd, and more tragic. By the early 19th century, skilled surgeons could amputate a leg in under 30 seconds but prided themselves on never washing their hands or instruments, kept their suturing needles in their frock coat lapels and wore aprons so stiffened with dried blood they could stand up on their own.

The acclaimed Victorian surgeon Robert Liston pioneered the use of ether in Britain, rendering surgery pain-free for millions, in an amputation in 1846. Yet this landmark operation might never have been necessary had the surgeon not previously probed his patient’s injured knee with his grubby fingers.

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Tamed by Alice Roberts review – 10 species that changed our world

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 06:30:04 GMT2017-10-11T06:30:04Z

The story of how dogs, horses, cattle, apples, rice and other species were domesticated proves an excellent perspective on deep human history

There is a revolution going on in history – big, broad-sweep history that attempts to tell the story of the long march of humanity. As Alice Roberts’s book exemplifies, we now have a multitude of paths into the deep past: “geography, archaeology, history and genetics”, of which for her the most important is genetics. Genomes contain a record of everything that has happened to DNA since life began – yes, it has been overwritten countless times, but key events remain preserved in genomic amber. “Pots are not people,” the archaeologists’ adage goes, which means that a single source of evidence can be misleading, but when there is mutually reinforcing evidence from two, three or more modes of inquiry, it’s possible to achieve a high degree of consensus.

Two recent pioneers of the history of humanity are Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel, and Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens. It is a teeming subject, about which Roberts is multiply qualified to write, as an anatomist, archaeologist, anthropologist, paleopathologist and professor of public engagement in science. She has found a neat approach to the topic: ostensibly her theme is the species humans have domesticated and how this was accomplished. But it is also an elegant way of recounting the human story in 10 episodes, from the beginning of agriculture, 11,500 years ago, to the birth of written history.

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So Much Things to Say by Roger Steffens review – an oral history of Bob Marley

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-10-11T08:00:06Z

From shiny hair and satin suit to army fatigues with dreadlocks flashing in the night air, the king of reggae’s story, from different perspectives

When Bob Marley died aged 36 in 1981, Island Records hurried to contact Peter Tosh (one of the original Wailers trio) to alert him before the news reached the general public. In the seven years since their acrimonious split Tosh had watched Marley’s spectacular rise. After a pause on the phone, Tosh startled Island’s messenger with his response to his former friend’s death: “Well, perhaps it’ll leave a little room for the rest of us to come through.”

Robert Nesta Marley cast the world of reggae in his shadow. This is the case even more now than at his death – and is reflected in a global industry devoted to Marley albums, T-shirts, mugs, musicals and documentaries. It’s a development that might well have stuck in the craw of the righteous Rasta Marley, a man who famously maintained he could not be corrupted by the seeds of commercial success (“Babylon nah have no fruit”) and spurned the comforts of materialism. His legacy has been contested ever since his death, in large part because of his disinclination as a Rasta to leave behind a will.

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The Story of the Jews: Belonging, 1492-1900 review – the long fight to survive

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 05:30:42 GMT2017-10-08T05:30:42Z

The second volume of Simon Schama’s profoundly illuminating history depicts a people caught in a cycle of persecution

The first volume of Simon Schama’s mammoth undertaking, The Story of the Jews, ended two and a half thousand years after it began, with the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews from Iberia. The second volume, entitled, with more than a smidgen of irony, Belonging, begins in the Venice ghetto, where many victims of that expulsion found uneasy refuge.

Some had fled from Portugal, where, during the Easter of 1506, about 2,000 “New Christians” (Jews who had been forced to convert) were slaughtered in three days. “The ostensible cause,” writes Schama, “was a vocal comment made by a New Christian in church to the effect that a miraculous illumination on the face of the Saviour on the cross might have been a mere effect of candlelight.”

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Write to the Point by Sam Leith review – a useful, persuasive guide to English usage

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:00:45 GMT2017-10-08T08:00:45Z

Language has rules but no umpire – and the standard approach changes all the time

Language has rules, but there’s no umpire: this is the starting point for Sam Leith’s guide to correct or, more precisely, standard English usage. He goes on to explore how those standards shift and evolve with time, preference and situation, but Leith is neither dry nor academic. He offers succinct advice for those who want to write anything from a letter of complaint to a blog post, confidently and clearly. Presented in conversational style, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Simon Heffer’s Simply English, to which Leith refers on the very first page. While Heffer revels in pulling up “barbaric” crimes against language, Leith is more measured and believes that, while knowledge of “the rules” is useful, an ear for what sounds best in the right context is even better. The final sections, covering language online (wtf), are generous and interesting where they could have been the horrified rantings of a grammar pedant. Useful, and persuasive.

Write to the Point by Sam Leith is published by Profile (£14.99). To order a copy for £12.74 go to guardianbookshop.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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Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin review – in search of a second family

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 06:00:42 GMT2017-10-08T06:00:42Z

The Tales of the City author recalls his parents’ struggle to accept his sexuality and other stories in this lively autobiography

In 1977, Armistead Maupin wrote a letter to his parents that he had been composing for half his life. He addressed it directly to his mother, but rather than send it to her, he published it in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper in which he had made his name with his loosely fictionalised Tales of the City, the daily serial written from the alternative, gay world in which he lived. The letter began like this:

“Dear Mama, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write to you and Papa I realise that I am not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child…”

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Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown review – being royal is bad for the character

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 06:59:15 GMT2017-10-07T06:59:15Z

Princess Margaret was bossy, petty and volatile, looked down on and lusted after. She is perfect material for Britain’s best parodist and satiristThe only friend I have had who met Princess Margaret was the US poet Mark Strand. This happened at a New York cocktail party, and must have been an incongruous encounter. Strand was extremely tall, very deliberate of speech and gait, well mannered and craggily handsome – the overall effect was of Clint Eastwood’s bookish, better-looking older brother. The princess was not tall – indeed, she was christened “the Royal Dwarf” in 1951 – was sharp of speech and not jam-packed with noblesse oblige. She was, however, famously royal, so when she reached into her bag, extracted a cigarette and pointed it towards Strand, he knew his (republican) duty. He dug out some matches and prepared to fire up the princess. But she stopped him: no, she said, she couldn’t abide book matches. Obligingly, he turned to a passing guest, borrowed a lighter and indulged her fastidiousness. The party moved on. A while later, he found himself sitting on a sofa with the princess. She took another cigarette from her bag, swiftly followed by her own lighter. “Isn’t this fun?” she remarked, showing him a gold item with “007” engraved on it. Sean Connery had given it to her, she told him. Then she contentedly lit her own cigarette.There are other examples of such petty nicotine power play in Craig Brown’s roistering quasi-biography of the chain-smoking princess. She once invited Derek Jacobi to dinner at a Covent Garden restaurant; he thought they were getting on pretty well, until she took out a cigarette and he politely raised a lighter in her direction. She snatched it from his hand and passed it swiftly to a neighbouring ballet dancer with the rebuke, “You don’t light my cigarette, dear. Oh no, you’re not that close.” Keith Waterhouse, at a reception, alarmed at watching the ash get longer and longer on the royal fag, began to reach for an ashtray; but she foun[...]


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Islander by Patrick Barkham review – small islands can teach us how to live

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 06:30:45 GMT2017-10-06T06:30:45Z

In this lively, generous book, full of interesting facts, the journalist and natural history writer visits 11 of the 6,300 islands that comprise BritainGive or take a debatable rock or two, Britain is an archipelago of around 6,300 islands of which 132 are inhabited all the year round by humans. As Patrick Barkham writes, “We are all islanders, but some are more islander than others” – which means, I think, that those of us on the smaller islands are continually reminded of our insularity by the unforgiving fact that we need to catch a ferry or a plane before we can reach a supermarket or a hospital; while for others of us, the big islanders, an awareness of our island-ness is now mainly sentimental or political, surprising us when we catch a glimpse of white cliffs or see a film about Dunkirk.But inside many a big islander, a small islander is struggling to get out. While a good number of Britain’s small islands have been steadily losing their populations since the 19th century, a tiny number of people have been going the other way. “Island life” to the St Kildans implied a perpetual diet of seabird flesh and oats, and all the other hardships that made them keen to ship out; but to the mainland romantic it was a phrase of promise. “Life on a small island restores human dignity; the individual is not overwhelmed by his own unimportance,” wrote the importance-seeking novelist Compton Mackenzie, speaking from his experience of owning three small islands and living on another four. Barra in the Outer Hebrides became the most famous as well as the last of these island homes – it inspired the novel Whisky Galore, by which he is best remembered – but before then, there had been Capri in the Mediterranean, Syra in the Aegean, Herm and Jethou among the Channel Islands, and an anonymous island, too small to have a name, in the river Beauly to the north of Inverness. Continue reading...[...]


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Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde review – prophetic and necessary

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 08:00:20 GMT2017-10-04T08:00:20Z

The black lesbian feminist writer and poet, who died 25 years ago, is better known than ever, her words often quoted in books and on social media

This is the first time a British publisher has brought together Audre Lorde’s essential poetry, speeches and essays in one volume, which isn’t to say it will be the first time British readers will have encountered her work.

Even those who haven’t yet engaged with her incandescent prose and poetry might have come across individual lines, quoted in other writers’ books and essays, and on social media, such as the titular exhortation: “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Other lines include: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”; “Black feminism is not white feminism in blackface”; and “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of colour remains chained.”

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The Earth Gazers by Christopher Potter review – the missions to the moon

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 06:30:21 GMT2017-10-04T06:30:21Z

A new telling of the story of the Apollo astronauts between 1968 and 1972 involves nervous breakdowns, a former Nazi and an atheist church

As he approached the moon in 1971 the Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa played the hymn “How Great Thou Art”. When Michael Collins first went into space in 1966 – he was the one who stayed on board the command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the steps – he carried a copy of the sonnet “High Flight” by the wartime Spitfire pilot John Magee: his Gemini X craft had “slipped surly bonds of Earth” and “touched the face of God”.

All three members of the crew of Apollo 8 read the opening verses of Genesis in a global broadcast when they rounded the moon in late December 1968. The following year, Aldrin sipped communion wine on its surface, ate pre-consecrated wafers at a makeshift altar aboard the lunar module Eagle and read the words from the Gospel of John that begin “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Armstrong afterwards said: “I had plenty of things to keep busy with. I just let him do his own thing.”

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Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen review – the decline of America

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 13:00:31 GMT2017-10-15T13:00:31Z

Donald Trump’s presidency is the cue for a caustic deconstruction of US history that portrays a country in irrevocable decline

Kurt Andersen’s excoriating attack on the US today is uncomfortable reading, especially after the recent massacre in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, like many polemics, it is charged with enough anger and wit to become necessary reading. Inspired by the unlikely accession of Donald Trump – a man he dismisses as “a pure Fantasyland being, its apotheosis” – to the White House, Andersen looks at the past half-millennium of American history by skilfully deconstructing the myths and fantasies that have evolved since the country’s foundation. Many of the targets are relatively easy ones, not least Trump himself, and there is, throughout, a sense that this able and witty writer is largely preaching to the converted. Yet, as he dissects everything from the Salem witch hunts to Scientology, he manages to present a frighteningly convincing and sometimes uproarious picture of a country in steep, perhaps terminal decline that would have the founding fathers weeping into their beards.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen is published by Random House ($30)

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Black Tudors review – hidden lives revealed

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 11:00:28 GMT2017-10-15T11:00:28Z

Miranda Kaufmann’s account of the lives of 10 black people who made their homes in Tudor England sheds new light on our island’s story

Why and how did they come to England? How were they treated? What were their lives like? These are the questions that Miranda Kaufmann perceptively probes in Black Tudors. This account of people of African descent in Renaissance England overturns misconceptions, showing that “it is vital to understand that the British Isles have always been peopled with immigrants”. She concentrates on 10 individuals, ranging widely in social class and location, from cities to the countryside, including a royal trumpeter, a porter, a silk weaver, and an independent single woman. Meticulous research draws on sources from letters to legal papers, and Kaufmann also reflects on the challenges: “Fleshing out these biographies from the meagre documentation that remains is not easy, but it is a mission that must be undertaken if we are to reclaim their stories”. The detail she unearths brings to life those absent from the pages of history.

Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann is published by Oneworld (£18.99). To order a copy for £16.14 go to guardianbookshop.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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Uncommon Type: Some Stories review – Hanks, but no thanks

Sun, 15 Oct 2017 07:00:24 GMT2017-10-15T07:00:24Z

With one exception, Tom Hanks’s debut collection of short stories could be the work of Forrest Gump himself

Several characters appear repeatedly over the course of the 17 stories in Tom Hanks’s debut short-story collection. One of them, Hank Fiset, is a newspaper reporter struggling to find a place for himself in the internet age. We read his good-natured grumbles about the pace of change – “the only way you’ll be reading my column and everything else you now hold in your hands is on one of your many digital devices – your phone, maybe, or a watch that needs recharging every night”. It’s the signal note of this book of stories, which Hanks wrote on his collection of vintage typewriters: nostalgic, conversational, fusty.

The best story in the book by some distance has already appeared in the New Yorker. Alan Bean Plus Four suggested that Hanks, always a likable presence on screen, might also be a half-decent writer. It tells the pleasingly surreal tale of a group of characters – the narrator, his on-off girlfriend Anna, and two nerdy Home Depot workers called Steve Wong and MDash – who put together a rocket ship in the garden and fly to the moon. It reminded me of Stuart Dybek and Lore Segal – the pairing of flat prose with hallucinatory subject matter. There are occasional literary flourishes. As the rocket approaches the moon’s gravitational field, she wraps it “in her ancient silvery embrace”.

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Wake Me When I’m Gone by Odafe Atogun review – magical thinking in Nigeria

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 09:01:03 GMT2017-10-14T09:01:03Z

A village ruled by a despotic king is the setting for an evocative allegory about the endless contest between good and evil

Odafe Atogun’s second novel is set in a Nigerian village that could almost be described as magical. It is ruled by a despotic king and his council of priests; their worldview is, not surprisingly, patriarchal and ultra-conservative. Any form of dissent or innovation is punished with banishment, or death.

Widows must marry within a prescribed period after losing their husbands; if they don’t, their children are taken away to live with their uncles, or in extreme cases exiled to the town limits and left there to forage or beg for their food. It is a cruel system crying out to be challenged, if someone is willing to pay the steep price that accompanies such defiance. An unlikely challenger emerges in the form of the beautiful and kindly Ese.

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Mrs Osmond by John Banville review – superb Henry James pastiche

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 06:30:00 GMT2017-10-14T06:30:00Z

This cunning sequel to The Portrait of a Lady is a remarkable novel in its own rightJohn Banville is one of the best novelists in English, and an expert ventriloquist, among other things. In his case, ventriloquism is his way of embodying the past. In The Untouchable, for instance, he channelled the high-class Cambridge twaddle of Anthony Blunt. Mrs Osmond is his sequel to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. At times it has the glacial pace of the original, endless psychological dithering punctuated by brilliant flashes of melodrama. Even stylistically it is a perfect fit: the actual descriptions of places are rather vague, but the metaphors are devoted to extremely vivid, even over-the-top, language. For instance, Isabel Archer wanders into the “unwonted solitude” of a hotel lobby – a general, rather abstract wording. Two lines later, she is savouring her freedom, which is rendered in a startling, original metaphor in which “the thing itself” is freedom: “She was being given a sample of the thing itself, as a seamstress might press upon her without charge a sample of fine silk.”Isabel, who has married Gilbert Osmond, is of course an American, as is her very refined, Europeanised and devious husband. She reflects on how she was lured to Europe from Albany, New York, again in an unadorned statement backed up by a vivid metaphor: “Yet she should not have allowed her aunt to thrust her upon that fabled continent so precipitately, as a free-trader’s posse might snatch from the doorway of a dockside tavern some poor young hearty fuddled on rum and press him into a captive life upon the roiling ocean; indeed, she should not have allowed it.” The movement between the refinement of a civilised woman’s dwelling on the past and the kidnapping of a young male sailor pr[...]


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After the Fire by Henning Mankell review – Wallander author’s final novel

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 06:28:25 GMT2017-10-13T06:28:25Z

The elegiac final novel from the late author of the Wallander series, one of Scandinavia’s finest writers, weighs up life and death“No man is an island”, the poet John Donne announced. Muriel Spark played with this notion in her early novel, Robinson, where a human-shaped island begins to affect a group of castaways stranded there. Islands have a long association with literature, providing a setting for adventure, rebirth and danger. From Treasure Island to Lord of the Flies, they explore us as much as we explore them.Henning Mankell, in his final novel, returns to the location of a previous book, Italian Shoes, and the same protagonist, retired orthopaedic surgeon Fredrik Welin. That earlier novel dealt with ageing and mortality, themes also central to this work. Welin lives alone on his small island off the coast of Sweden, his only regular visitor the postman Jansson. He is self-contained and introspective, but his world changes when his house burns down one night. Arson is suspected, and the police think him the likely culprit. Meanwhile he moves into a caravan and begins to become infatuated with a young journalist, Lisa Modin, who is interested in the story. His apparently feckless daughter Louise then arrives, their relationship fraught from the outset. She has plans to create a garden, an “ocean of emptiness”, but soon departs without explanation. Left alone again, Welin questions whether he has any future: “I felt as if I was walking through my house once more. The cumulative impressions left by several generations had been obliterated in just a few short hours … Even things that are invisible can be reduced to soot and ashes.” Continue reading...[...]


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Sugar Money by Jane Harris review – slavery obscured by a rollicking adventure

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 11:01:10 GMT2017-10-11T11:01:10Z

Based on a true story, this tale of slaves smuggling slaves in the 18th-century Caribbean brings too light a tone to a brutal subject

Jane Harris’s first two historical novels showcased the voices of unsung, socially disadvantaged characters: a young Irish immigrant in The Observations, an elderly Victorian spinster in Gillespie and I. Harris is an empathetic and intelligent writer, with an instinct for the delicate alchemy that produces page-turners.

In her third novel, based on a true story, Harris takes us to 1765 and the voice of Lucien, a “mulatto” slave who is “thirteen or fourteen or thereabouts”, and has been brought over to Martinique from his native Grenada. Lucien works tending livestock on a plantation run by French friars. His only family is older brother Emile, who works “a long day hike away”.

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Origin by Dan Brown – a Nostradamus for our muddled times

Sun, 08 Oct 2017 11:00:48 GMT2017-10-08T11:00:48Z

Machines with synthetic brains pose a danger to mankind in Brown’s latest dotty apocalyptic thriller

I used to think Dan Brown was merely a crackpot. Now I wonder if he might not be a prophet. What once seemed to be his deranged fantasy increasingly looks like our daily reality. In our myth-maddened world, we are befuddled by bloggers peddling conspiracy theories and menaced by transactions on the dark web; we can’t cross a road without dreading some runaway act of messianic terror, and we experience an implosion of identity if we lose our smartphones or forget our passwords. In listing those perils I have summed up the plot of Brown’s new novel Origin: whether or not we read his apocalyptic thrillers, we are living inside them.

Origin stirs up again the witches’ brew that Brown first concocted in The Da Vinci Code. Scientific enlightenment engages in another battle with religious fundamentalism, fought out in glassy labs, glossy luxury hotels and devilish cathedrals, with Gulfstream jets and Tesla self-driving cars to ferry the characters between locations. In Inferno Brown threatened mankind with extinction by reactivating the bubonic plague; here the human race is warned of its imminent redundancy, as machines with synthetic brains prepare to take control of us.

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Dinner at the Centre of the Earth by Nathan Englander review – the trauma of conflict

Sat, 07 Oct 2017 06:30:14 GMT2017-10-07T06:30:14Z

A spy story that cuts between time and place brings home the devastating psychological impact of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle

Where this book so resonantly succeeds is as a meditation on the many traumas of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – slap bang, as Nathan Englander reminds us, in the geographical centre of the standard map of the Earth.

This is Englander’s second novel, but his reputation was made by his first two collections of short stories. The epigraph he has chosen is from Julian Barnes’s The Sense of An Ending and his writing has much in common with Barnes’s fine literary intelligence: a well-tempered intellectual and artistic pleasure, replete with collusive wit and playfulness. But his theme and subject here could not be less Barnesian – the psychological impact on the individual of the atrocities and failed peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians; how to live, in other words, within the grim cycle of reprisal.

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A Spot of Folly by Ruth Rendell and Sleep No More by PD James reviews – terrific stories

Fri, 06 Oct 2017 11:00:51 GMT2017-10-06T11:00:51Z

Collections from the late queens of crime fiction, each spanning 40 years of publication, are ideal for long autumn evenings

At the age of 91, PD James pondered the extent to which crime fiction contains a moral element. “Detective stories,” she said, “affirm the sanctity of each individual life and the possibility of human justice.” It is perhaps because of this that the genre has such enduring appeal and so many lifelong devotees: justice and recompense may elude the reader in matters both large and small, but turn to an Agatha Christie and you may be certain the murderer will meet an avenging angel in waxed moustaches or a nemesis with a bag of knitting.

So readers will greet with gratitude the publication of two terrific collections of crime stories from two late masters of the genre, each spanning 40 years of publication: James’s Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales; and A Spot of Folly: Ten and a Quarter New Tales of Murder and Mayhem by Ruth Rendell. Fittingly, these arrive in autumn, a season James felt was especially suited to crime fiction, since “people can be concealed by darkness and there is a certain melancholy in the dying of the year”.

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The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst review – passion and folly, beautifully observed

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 08:00:18 GMT2017-10-05T08:00:18Z

An assured chronicle that moves from a charmer’s wartime years at Oxford to his son’s experiences in modern-day London

Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel is almost as hard to pin down as it is to put down. Its real subject seems to grow more, rather than less, mysterious as the book progresses. Meanwhile, the immense assurance of the writing, the deep knowledge of the settings and periods in which the story unfolds, the mingling of cruel humour and lyrical tenderness, the insatiable interest in human desire from its most refined to its most brutally carnal, grip you as tightly as any thriller.

Its five interlinked sections, beginning in wartime Oxford and ending in modern-day London, follow a group of friends, mostly gay men, whose lives have all been affected in one way or another by the fateful charms of a handsome athlete from Nuneaton named David Sparsholt.

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Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides review – America’s mania for money

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 06:29:16 GMT2017-10-05T06:29:16Z

Financial anxiety, envy and greed unite the short stories in this excellent collection from the Pulitzer prize winnerIn David Copperfield, Mr Micawber gives Dickens’s hero a formula to live by: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” These lines kept returning to me as I read Jeffrey Eugenides’s excellent short story collection, in which two new pieces bookend work first published in magazines and literary journals between 1989 and 2013. Despite the stories being written over such a long period, one in which Eugenides won the Pulitzer prize for his novel Middlesex (which has sold upwards of 4m copies and made its author very wealthy indeed), there is a uniformity to its concern with financial matters: whatever their annual income, many of the characters we encounter in these pages are at least ought and six over Micawber’s threshold.If the theme is unexpected, the way it manifests, as a kind of longing, is consistent with the subjects of Eugenides’s novels. In “Timeshare”, the narrator’s father, thoroughly Micawberish in the way his optimism overcomes all the empirical data, claims the dilapidated motel he has spent every penny on “is going to get all fixed up and we’re going to make a million dollars!” In “Early Music”, a teacher is swamped by debt incurred paying for his cherished clavichord, but for which family life leaves no time. “If I make a million bucks,” his wife says, “I’ll pay off your clavichord.” In “Great Experiment”, K[...]


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American War by Omar El Akkad review – terrorism in a future US

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 14:00:34 GMT2017-10-04T14:00:34Z

Set in a late-21st century US ravaged by global warming, this ambitious debut encourages western readers to put themselves in the shoes of the world’s displaced peoplesA novel, like a person, doesn’t have to have a purpose. This is one reason humanism regards art as sacred: it exists for its own sake. Other value systems, religious or political, might insist that art serve a theological or ideological cause, but the novel – in its origins a bourgeois enterprise – makes a poor missionary or soldier. The uniforms fit badly and it keeps flunking basic training.The mission of Omar El Akkad’s first novel, American War, is admirable: to encourage western readers, especially Americans, to put themselves in the shoes of the world’s radicalised displaced people. Set in the late 21st century, the novel imagines an America wrecked by war and the flooding brought on by climate change. Its heroine, Sarat Chestnutt, grows up in a shack by the Mississippi, in a Louisiana eaten away by the rising Gulf of Mexico. A handful of southern states, refusing to abide by federal laws prohibiting the use of fossil fuels, have attempted to secede from the union, setting off a second civil war. Sarat’s parents want to emigrate north, where the economic opportunities are better, but her father is killed in a suicide bombing and Sarat, her mother and two siblings end up in a refugee camp near a contested border. Violence and reprisals leave Sarat bereft and vengeful. A suave groomer provides her with education, training and weapons, and a terrorist is born. Continue reading...[...]


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A Patient Fury by Sarah Ward review – classic police procedural

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 06:30:20 GMT2017-10-03T06:30:20Z

A maverick cop who just won’t let a case go is catnip for crime lovers in the third DC Connie Childs book

Crime fans are spoiled for choice these days. But sometimes, what a devoted crime reader wants isn’t anything too fancy. Sometimes, what we want is a good, solid police procedural, preferably set somewhere interesting, preferably with a troubled, renegade investigator who refuses to listen when their boss tells them to leave an avenue of investigation alone. And in Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, that’s exactly what we get.

This is Ward’s third mystery featuring Detective Constable Connie Childs, a CID officer in Bampton, a small town surrounded by the dark peaks of Derbyshire. Connie is back at work after the events of A Deadly Thaw, but isn’t really on top of things – she’s distracted and suffering from insomnia. Regardless, her boss, DI Sadler, calls her in the early hours after a report of suspicious deaths following a house fire. When they arrive, Connie vomits when she sees the superbly grotesque scene displayed in a broken window: “Dangling behind the ruined glass was the outline of a body slowly revolving in a sickening dance. As they watched, the face turned towards them.”

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Mrs Osmond by John Banville – what Isabel Archer did next

Sun, 01 Oct 2017 06:30:10 GMT2017-10-01T06:30:10Z

John Banville’s masterly ‘sequel’ to Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady reveals what became of his soul-searching heroine

There has always been a virtuoso cast to John Banville’s novels; he sometimes seems at pains to prove himself capable of any brilliant technical thing. From the early channelling of unlikely voices – Copernicus, Kepler – through the recasting of The Tempest in Ghosts, to the Booker-winning homage to Beckett and the looping cadences of memory in The Sea, he is a writer who sets and aces his own examinations.

He once observed of his ambition that “when I speak of style, I mean the style Henry James spoke of when he wrote that, in literature, we move through a blessed world, in which we know nothing except through style”.

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Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn review – intense updating of King Lear

Sat, 30 Sep 2017 06:30:26 GMT2017-09-30T06:30:26Z

Can Shakespeare’s blackest tragedy be made to say something new? Unseated in a boardroom coup, sent to a care home, a media mogul loses everything in this reimagining of King Lear from a master prose stylist


Of all the novelist and play matches in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, that of Edward St Aubyn with King Lear seems the finest. Shakespeare’s blackest, most surreal and hectic tragedy sharpened by one of our blackest, most surreal and hectic wits. Our ur-text about the decay of patriarchal aristocratic power reimagined by a writer whose central subject is the decay of male aristocratic power. A perverse, sadistic yet deeply moral treatise on forgiveness in the hands of of a true connoisseur of the perverse and sadistic, the moral and tortured author of the Melrose series. It’s an enticing prospect.

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The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick review – if pregnancy were shared between the sexes …

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:00:20 GMT2017-09-29T08:00:20Z

Women are released from the agonies and inconveniences of biology in this compelling what-if about the female body, technology and power

The most obvious sign that The Growing Season takes place in an alternate reality is the pouches. In our world, reproductive technology has remained stubbornly reliant on female bodies to carry foetuses to term. In Helen Sedgwick’s speculative fiction, all that changed sometime in the 1970s, when pioneering Holly Bhattacharya and her husband Will became parents to the first child born from a prosthetic womb – the pouch.

By the 2016 present of the novel, the pouch is ubiquitous, promoted and administered by a company called FullLife. In her plush dynastic home, Holly, now 76, awaits the pouch-assisted birth of her first great-grandchild. Meanwhile in a run-down office, the last reserve of anti-pouch activism surrenders, as middle-aged Eva, who inherited the cause from her mother Avigail, shuts up shop for good. FullLife has won: the pouch is what people want.

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Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan review – remarkable cinematic scope

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 06:30:18 GMT2017-09-29T06:30:18Z

The author of A Visit from the Goon Squad returns with a more conventional historical novel following the lives of a family in Brooklyn during and after the DepressionJennifer Egan has said that she wants each novel she writes to teach her something new. So what does the writer who won a Pulitzer prize in 2011 for A Visit from the Goon Squad – an experimental, audacious novel that embraces discontinuity, told in 13 chapters from varying points of view, including a surprisingly moving chapter in the form of a PowerPoint presentation – try next? Unpredictably, Egan has written something that looks at first glance like a traditional historical novel.A work of remarkable cinematic scope, Manhattan Beach portrays the lives of an Irish family in Brooklyn, set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and then the second world war. A young woman becomes a diver to help the war effort and uncovers the powerful forces that led to her beloved father’s disappearance; a father is forced to leave his family behind to save his own life; and a successful mobster gets swept up in cultural tides that threaten everything he’s built. Continue reading...[...]


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Worlds from the Word’s End by Joanna Walsh review – existential games

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 11:00:36 GMT2017-09-28T11:00:36Z

Witty short stories toy with notions of realism versus fantasy and autobiography versus fictionWe have not yet resolved the “auto-fic dilemma”: when is a novel autobiographical and when is it not? Who decides – the reader or the author – and with reference to what? Are novels in which the narrator shares the author’s name (see Knausgaard and Apuleius, among others) inevitably autobiographical? Or are these authorial narrators a postmodern (or, in the case of Apuleius, premodern) joke? This returns us, once again, to Lawrence Durrell’s enjoyably devastating proposition that every novel is sui generis, so there is no such thing as The Novel – and no such thing as The Autobiographical Novel. Furthermore, we would need to be omniscient to enforce adamantine distinctions between autobiography and fiction or life and art. No one can win at this game – although the impossibility of winning a game needn’t preclude us from playing it, of course.These questions and paradoxes course through Joanna Walsh’s work. In an earlier book, Hotel (2015), a hotel reviewer drifts from one impersonal setting to another, musing on the collapse of her marriage and the theories of Freud. In Vertigo (2016), various narrators – or perhaps the same narrator in different guises – struggle with the overarching weirdness of ordinary life. Hotel is billed as memoir, Vertigo as fiction. The narrators of the stories in Worlds from the [...]


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The Snow Angel by Lauren St John – review

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 08:00:21 GMT2017-10-03T08:00:21Z

This no-holds-barred tale of a Kenyan girl who finds refuge from poverty and disease is a hymn to the human spirit

Lauren St John’s novels conjure up rich, evocative landscapes and inquisitive, resilient children, both much in evidence in her latest adventure story that travels from Africa to the Highlands of Scotland.

Growing up in Nairobi, 12-year-old Makena dreams of climbing Mount Kenya, like her mountain guide father. But when tragedy strikes, darkness falls and the city slums become her harsh new reality. There she meets another forgotten child, ballet dancer Snow, and glimpses an elusive white fox, which appears to protect her. Makena’s search for a home ultimately takes her to Scotland, where mountains prove, once more, to be a refuge, and offer the happy ending she so yearns for.

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The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell review – action-packed fantasy fun

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 08:00:12 GMT2017-09-19T08:00:12Z

Worlds collide when a young wizard meets a warrior princess in this charmingly illustrated adventure from the author of How to Train Your Dragon

It’s a self-assured author who decides to write a children’s novel about the adventures of a “young boy wizard” in a world of magic, but then Cressida Cowell has reasons to be confident: 8m copies sold of her How to Train Your Dragon books, a film franchise and a spin-off series for TV.

As with the Viking world of Dragon, the eagerly awaited The Wizards of Once is set in the ancient past and our two heroes are scrappy kids struggling with that timeless issue of failing to live up to parental expectations. In place of dragons, there are sprites, deep-thinking giants, ogres and snow cats living in an enchanted wildwood.

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