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Books | The Guardian



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



Published: Wed, 28 Jun 2017 07:21:45 GMT2017-06-28T07:21:45Z

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



The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English – review

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 06:29:13 GMT2017-06-28T06:29:13Z

This exemplary work tells a remarkable story of the saving of precious manuscripts and explores the meanings of the ‘African Eldorado’, but exposes a myth

In April 2012, the jihadist army of the Saharan branch of al-Qaida drove a fleet of their armoured pick-up trucks into the centre of the ancient caravan town of Timbuktu in northern Mali. As black flags were hoisted atop the minarets, and as trapped and terrified government conscripts scrambled out of their uniforms, the jihadists began imposing their own puritanical interpretation of sharia law. Music was forbidden, modest clothing was forced on the women, stoning was imposed as a punishment for adultery and a war declared on “unIslamic superstition”.

Related: Jihadists return to northern Mali a year after French intervention

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OED serves up volley of new definitions from tennis

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:05:41 GMT2017-06-27T12:05:41Z

The dictionary’s latest online update has added a clutch of ‘new’ terms describing the game, some dating back to the 16th century

Tennis lovers will have more than the quality of their champagne and strawberries to contemplate between matches at Wimbledon this year. The game is the source of more than 80 new words and senses, the bulk of the new definitions added to the Oxford English Dictionary in its latest online update.

Some well-known terms make their debut in the venerable reference work, including “superbrat” (players prone to on-court outbursts), “changeover” (a pause in a match when players swap ends of the court) and “forced error” (a mistake in play generated by an opponent’s skill).

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Reading group webchat: post your questions for John Kennedy Toole's biographer

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:25:41 GMT2017-06-27T14:25:41Z

Cory MacLauchlin will be here at 1pm (BST) on Friday 30 June to discuss Butterfly in the Typewriter, his life of A Confederacy of Dunces’s author

On Friday 30 June at 1pm (BST), Cory MacLauchlin will be joining us to discuss his biography of John Kennedy Toole, Butterfly in the Typewriter.

His book tells a story almost as fantastical as A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s a compelling and sympathetic portrait of Toole’s larger than life personality, his complicated relationship with his mother, his fantastic academic ability, his bright bursts of creativity, his tragic death and then the posthumous success of his novel. It’s also an important corrective to many of the myths that have grown up since Toole’s death about his private life and his initial failure to find a publisher.

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Miroslav Penkov: why we should all claim this America as ours

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 09:00:26 GMT2017-06-27T09:00:26Z

The novel Stork Mountain draws on Muslim-Christian conflict, but the Bulgarian-born author says it is not a call to turn away from the US in response to hostility

In January, anticipating the paperback edition of my novel, I was invited to write a few words for this column. For days I walked around in poor disposition. I kept writing and rewriting. Then on 28 January in Victoria, Texas, some 300 miles from where I live, a mosque that had been attacked twice before was destroyed in a fire. Two days later, a gunman stormed another mosque, this time in Quebec City, and took six lives. The citizens of seven Muslim countries were banned from entering the US and even green-card holders – like myself and my wife – found themselves blocked out. A five-year-old boy, a US citizen like my daughter, was handcuffed and kept in custody for hours.

And since then? In the words of Jack Gilbert: “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere.”

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In the Days of Rain: A Daughter. A Father. A Cult by Rebecca Stott; A Book of Untruths by Miranda Doyle – review

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 06:30:23 GMT2017-06-27T06:30:23Z

Two desperate childhood memoirs reveal girls at the mercy of patriarchal power

In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott and Miranda Doyle’s A Book of Untruths are each powerful, distinctive memoirs in their own right, but they have threads in common, such as dysfunctional family, charismatic, flawed fathers, damage, loss, love, and how institutions have the power to destroy individuals.

Both books come with the blessing of key family members. In Stott’s case, her dying father asks for her help in documenting his own role as an influential (and intimidating) preacher in the Exclusive Brethren, the ultra-hardline Christian fundamentalist creationist sect (still active today) into which Stott was born.

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Hygge under threat from friluftsliv as lifestyles battle for bookshop supremacy

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 16:44:01 GMT2017-06-26T16:44:01Z

UK publishers reach for Norwegian philosophy of fresh air to grab the lucrative coffee-table self-help market from the bestselling Danish design for cosy living

Snuff out the tea lights and stick the hearthrugs back in the attic. It is official: hygge, the Danish “art” of cosy living, is as past-it as the Tory manifesto.

For those of us who regard making the bed as a “lifestyle statement”, the news is not good, because in 2017 its place will be filled by the far more demanding Japanese art of ikigai: think feng shui (remember that?) with Venn diagrams – although this time there is no need to move the front door.

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Brontës, Bradford ​and ​Buddhist poetry​ – meet the women ​transforming the literary festival​​

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 17:22:44 GMT2017-06-26T17:22:44Z

Irna Qureshi and Syima Aslam have upended the traditional festival model to create a 10-day cultural jamboree that holds appeal across the city’s diverse communities

The morning after the UK’s general election, Syima Aslam and Irna Qureshi were sitting in the cafe they refer to as their living room, picking their way through huge plates of prawn kebabs. Of particular interest among the previous night’s results, which saw Labour strengthen its hold on their Yorkshire city, was the one in Bradford West, where a vicious sectarian campaign ended with an increased majority for the sitting MP Naz Shah.

Shah, like Aslam and Qureshi, is part of a British Pakistani community that now accounts for more than 20% of a Bradford population once dominated by Jewish wool traders. Although nearly all of the Jewish community have since moved to Leeds, they have left their trace in the “little Germany” district of 19th-century converted warehouses, built of handsome Yorkshire stone, that sits at the heart of the city. Their place has been filled with successive waves of immigration, from south Asia, Africa and eastern Europe. In 2010, Bradford became the third UK “city of sanctuary”. It is home to more than half the Syrian refugees so far accepted by the UK, says Aslam proudly.

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How an independent bookstore took on anti-feminist trolls and won

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 04:59:53 GMT2017-06-27T04:59:53Z

When Avid Reader shared Clementine Ford’s Facebook post, the Brisbane bookseller’s social media page was attacked by trolls, prompting an extraordinary counterattack by the writer’s fans and Australia’s literary community

On Monday morning, independent Brisbane bookstore Avid Reader shared a Facebook post from Australian feminist writer Clementine Ford, who was happily announcing that she’d signed a contract to write her second book.

Ford described the book, Boys Will Be Boys, as one that will “examine toxic masculinity” – making what happened next particularly ironic.

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Grenfell Tower appeal to see Philip Pullman character named after victim

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:01:30 GMT2017-06-26T14:01:30Z

Drive to commemorate teenager Nur Huda el-Wahabi, who died in the tragedy, has raised in excess of £19,000, with the proceeds to go to support fund

A young victim of the Grenfell Tower fire is almost certain to be commemorated in the name of a character in Philip Pullman’s much-anticipated The Book of Dust trilogy as part of a fundraising effort by authors.

The naming is among hundreds of lots being offered as part of the Authors for Grenfell Tower auction, to which the Northern Lights author pledged the character’s name. Writers Mark Haddon and David Nicholls, as well as TV presenter Richard Osman, are among those adding their donations to an initial bid, to support the attempt to get Pullman to name a character after 16-year-old Nur Huda el-Wahabi, who died in the tragedy alongside her family.

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Harry Potter quiz: 20 years, 20 questions

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 11:00:03 GMT2017-06-26T11:00:03Z

It’s exactly two decades since the first of JK Rowling’s books was published. Try our Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Test to see how much you have learned since thenWhat is Albus Dumbledore's full name?Albus Percival Wulfric Brian DumbledoreAlbus Patrick William Bob DumbledoreAlbus Brian Percival Wulfric DumbledoreAlbus William Bob Patrick DumbledoreHow many years in a row had Slytherin won the House Cup before Harry's arrival at Hogwarts in 1991?Three yearsSeven yearsTen yearsEight yearsWhich two characters share a Patronus?Ron Weasley and Neville LongbottomHarry Potter and James PotterSeverus Snape and Lily PotterDean Thomas and Ginny WeasleyWhen Harry and Ron visit the Slytherin common room in disguise in The Chamber of Secrets, what is the password used to get inside?"Salazar""Pure-blood""Parselmouth""Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus"When Harry and Hermione use the Time-Turner to save Sirius in The Prisoner of Azkaban, how many times does Hermione turn it?One timeTwo timesThree timesFour timesWhich dragon does Cedric Diggory face in the first test during The Goblet of Fire?Hungarian HorntailChinese FireboltWelsh GreenSwedish Short-SnoutWhich of these subjects would a first year student in Hogwarts NOT do?ArithmancyHistory of MagicTransfigurationAstronomyJames Potter, Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew are the only known unregistered Animagi – until who comes along?Aberforth DumbledoreRita SkeeterNymphadora TonksLudo BagmanHow many Educational Decrees did Dolores Umbridge introduce during her time at Hogwarts?Seven142129Which vault belongs to the Potter family in Gringott's Wizarding Bank?Vault 256Vault 394Vault 555Vault 687Which of the following ingredients is NOT needed to make Polyjuice potion?Lacewing fliesDittanyShredded skin of a BoomslangFluxweedWhich of the following books did Gilderoy Lockhart NOT write?Camping with CentaursMarauding with MonstersWanderings with WerewolvesBreak with a BansheeIn The Goblet of Fire, what type of fruit does Hermione tickle in order to gain entry to the Hogwarts kitchens?A pearAn orangeA bananaA pineappleIn the Deathly Hallows, which ear did George Weasley lose during the Battle of Hogwarts?LeftRightDuring Harry's time at Hogwarts, the Gryffindor Quidditch team won the House Cup three times. In which of the following books did they NOT win?The Chamber of SecretsThe Prisoner of AzkabanThe Order of the PhoenixThe Half-Blood PrinceIn The Half-Blood Prince, what was the title of the book that Tom Riddle was revealed to have used to learn about Horcruxes?Secrets of the Darkest ArtGuide to Advanced TransfigurationMagick Most EvileWhere There's a Wand, There's a WayIn The Order of the Phoenix, which floor of Hogwarts can the Room of Requirement be found on?SecondFourthSixthSeventhDuring Harry's sorting ceremony in The Philosopher's Stone, which house is the first student sorted into?GryffindorRavenclawHufflepuffSlytherinIn The Prisoner of Azkaban, which secret passage out of Hogwarts leads Harry to the cellar of Honeydukes?Behind the statue of the one-eyed witchBehind the statue of Gregory the Smarmy.Inside the Vanishing CabinetBeneath the Whomping WillowIn The Deathly Hallows, what are the names of the three Peverell brothers?Antioch, Cadmus, and IgnotusAntioch, Crydia, and IgnatiusAberforth, Cadmus, and IgnotusAntioch, Cadmus, and Ibrahim Continue reading...[...]


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It's time to bring Branwell, the dark Brontë, into the light

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 10:00:02 GMT2017-06-26T10:00:02Z

Though his life was dense with literary and other failures, he was a decisive influence on their work and his own story is worth hearing

We are currently in the middle of Brontë bicentenary mania. This year, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, we are diverting attention away from the famous sisters and focusing on the often-overlooked Brontë brother, Branwell.

We remember him as the failure of the family. Despite being a passionate poet, writer and artist, he failed to hold down conventional jobs, and repeatedly succumbed to vice. Finally, his world fell apart after the end of an affair with a married woman, Lydia Gisborne, which accelerated his dependence on opiates and alcohol. He died at the young age of 31 from the long-term effects of substance abuse.

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First Confession: A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten – review

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 08:00:00 GMT2017-06-26T08:00:00Z

The former Tory ‘wet’, Hong Kong governor and BBC chairman has worn a variety of hats while retaining a guiding belief in one-nation Conservatism

Although of modest origins, Chris Patten has led a golden life. Born to a lower-middle-class family in Ealing, he passed every exam he ever sat with flying colours, won every scholarship and was in due course elected Tory MP for the beautiful city of Bath. Before long he was writing speeches for the prime minister, then gradually rose through the ranks to the point where, by the election of 1992, he was chairman of the Conservative party, appearing on television every night. What could possibly go wrong?

It was at this point that he hit a bump in the road that irrevocably changed the course of his stellar political career. The Conservatives, led by his friend John Major, won the election, but Patten lost his seat. Even now, he was not short of options. He could easily have been wafted back into the cabinet via either a byelection in a safe seat (Kensington and Chelsea was mentioned) or elevation to the Lords. But there was another intriguing possibility – the governorship of Hong Kong. That is what he chose.

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American Heiress: The Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin – review

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 06:30:02 GMT2017-06-26T06:30:02Z

This retelling of Patty Hearst’s life on the run with cack-handed revolutionaries is strangely uninvolving

Few cases in the history of American crime can have been more picked over than that of Patty Hearst, the heiress who was kidnapped in 1974 by the ramshackle revolutionary outfit known as the Symbionese Liberation Army: by my count, there are already more than a dozen nonfiction books about her, not to mention two novels, her own memoir, a feature film, several documentaries, numerous academic papers and – the eyes widen – two porn movies. Why, you might wonder, would anyone want to go there again? At the beginning of his book, Jeffrey Toobin justifies his decision to revisit the story by insisting that he regards it as a “trailer for the modern world”. Not only did the kidnapping “illuminate” the future of the media and celebrity culture; it also helped to tilt the politics of the US rightwards, a state of affairs that has continued ever since. But as he also notes, it was nevertheless an “anomalous event”, and in the end, it’s this freakish singularity that his narrative drives home. Forget context. Never has a battier story been told with so straight a face.

When 19-year-old student Patricia Hearst was kidnapped on the night of 4 February, she was living quietly in a duplex apartment in Berkeley, California, with Steven Weed, her fiance and former high school teacher. Her life changed in the course of a few moments. One minute, this moderately rebellious but highly privileged granddaughter of media magnate William Randolph Hearst (famously the inspiration for Citizen Kane) was playing house with Weed, the next, she was a prisoner, albeit one who would be treated, or so her captors said, according to the “Geneva convention”. (Weed was well named: having told the armed invaders to take whatever they wanted, he fled the scene; later, while Patty was still missing, he would give disloyal interviews about the Hearsts to the press.)

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Teju Cole: ‘My camera is like an invisibility cloak. It makes me more free’

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 09:00:25 GMT2017-06-25T09:00:25Z

Nigerian American writer Teju Cole also takes vivid photographs which, in his latest book, Blind Spot, he matches with passages of allusive prose. Here he talks about travel, memory, and the day he lost his sight

In April, 2011, Teju Cole woke up in his room in a writer’s colony in upstate New York to find that he could not see clearly. He was taken to the small town of Hudson nearby, where an ophthalmologist advised him to see a specialist in Manhattan. Walking to the train station, Cole became aware that his sight was deteriorating dramatically.

“Darkness encroached by degrees,” he later wrote, “and, in the afternoon sun, I could hardly see out of my right eye, and not at all out of the left. I had become almost totally blind.” He stumbled onwards somehow making it back to Manhattan that evening. A few days later, he was diagnosed with papillophlebitis, a temporary and sometimes recurring condition caused by blood vessels bursting behind the retina. It is more commonly known as big blind spot syndrome.

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A Bold and Dangerous Family review – unlikely heroes in the war on fascism

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 05:30:21 GMT2017-06-25T05:30:21Z

Caroline Moorehead’s gripping account of two Jewish brothers’ fight against Mussolini shines a light on an overlooked chapter of Italian history

It’s often said that Italy has managed to get away with its fascist past. There’s no great communal guilt or shame; the country paid a pittance in terms of war reparations. Of course the crimes of Mussolini’s thugs, horrifying as they often were, seem minor when set against the industrialised genocide of the Third Reich. Mussolini was many things, but his racism always felt half-hearted, his antisemitism merely favour-gaining with Hitler.

There’s something else, though. Italy’s resistance to fascism and totalitarian rule was more widespread and well organised than in any other European country (even, arguably, France). The nobility and heroism of the loose nexus of socialists, Freemasons and academics who stood up to Mussolini provided a narrative upon which the country could found its postwar identity. Foremost among the opposition to fascism, there were two portly, bookish, Jewish brothers who shone brightly, briefly, before their early deaths at the hands of the regime. Their names were Carlo and Nello Rosselli.

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Joshua Ferris: ‘Good fiction is a recapitulation of a dream’

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 07:00:23 GMT2017-06-25T07:00:23Z

The American author on humour in his fiction, the benefit of having a spouse as your sternest critic, and why short stories are as difficult to write as novels

US writer Joshua Ferris, 42, is the author of three novels including Then We Came to the End (2007) and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014), which was shortlisted for the Booker prize. His new book is a collection of short stories, The Dinner Party.

Many of the stories have been published separately over the past 20 years. What was it like reading them back?
I’m a perfectionist, so none of these stories were going to escape scrutiny. I was never guaranteed to pick up 11 stories and think they were all perfect. But they are certainly representative of the person I was back then and the writer I was. And so in a way it’s not just that the stories mean something to me, it’s a record of my life.

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The New Village by John Spinks – review

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:00:24 GMT2017-06-25T08:00:24Z

There’s more than meets the eye in these quietly ominous photographs of a Warwickshire mining village

The indeterminate stretches of land where suburban housing estates end and the English countryside begins can often carry a strange sense of foreboding. In the paintings of the contemporary British realist artist George Shaw, for instance, gable ends and rows of disused garages appear oddly ominous. Likewise, the scraggy paths that lead into nearby fields or woodlands, where ragged strips of tarpaulin hang from branches and abandoned porn mags lie among the dead leaves. If evidence proves that bad things can happen anywhere, our imagination, rooted in childhood anxieties and experience, tells us that they are more likely to happen in and around these untended spaces.

In John Spinks’s quiet photographs of the unnamed Warwickshire mining village where he spent his childhood, that sense of foreboding is not so prominent, but it’s there all the same. The first sequence of images is of woodlands rather than the paths that lead to them. Trees are shrouded in mist or wreathed in dead foliage, and the mulchy ground is marked by tyre tracks and by more mysterious traces of human intervention. The inevitable tattered tarpaulin hangs from a makeshift shelter and, elsewhere, a grey cotton sheet hangs over outstretched branches forming the kind of spectral silhouette you would not want to glimpse as dusk descends.

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A Manual for Heartache review – sound advice for the grieving

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 06:30:22 GMT2017-06-25T06:30:22Z

Cathy Rentzenbrink, who wrote a moving memoir about losing her brother, now offers help to fellow sufferers

When Cathy Rentzenbrink was a teenager her life was thrown into turmoil when her life-force of a brother was knocked over by a car. Emergency brain surgery prevented his death. A 10-day coma was followed by eight years of unthinkable family nightmare as he lay in a persistent vegetative state (“ugly words for an ugly condition”). Eventually, after complex legal proceedings, he died, and they could finally grieve.

She wrote about that experience in her previous book, the harrowing but beautiful memoir The Last Act of Love. Here she has a different purpose. While making reference to that tragedy, the focus here is on advice, and ways to get through the crises that will come our way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lynsey Hanley: ‘Housing inequality kills’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Historian pulls out of Chalke Valley festival over lack of diversity

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

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

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

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

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Why Iran has 16 different translations of one Khaled Hosseini novel

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

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

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

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

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Atwood, Ishiguro and McEwan come clean about Jane Austen

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

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

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

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

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The other page: the books you should take to Glastonbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Scroll down to read the recipe

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

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

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling

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What lies beneath the brave new world of feminist dystopian sci-fi?

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 21:45:11 GMT2017-06-24T21:45:11Z

From the Bailey-prize-winning The Power to the bleakly compelling The Handmaid’s Tale, Leading writers explain why the genre is thriving

On an Earth blasted by the hot winds of a changed climate 200 years from now, who will be in charge? Will men be riding by in Mad Max steam-punk chariots, as their beleaguered wives drag children and sacks of provisions home along dusty tracks? Or will a liberated generation of Lycra-clad superwomen be running the world?

Much of the established political order has come under exceptional scrutiny, from the future of Europe to Trump’s America. Now a matching literary revolution is under way: a new breed of women’s “speculative” fiction, positing altered sexual and social hierarchies, is riding the radical tide.

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Golden Hill wins Francis Spufford third major prize in a year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Derek Walcott museum closes amid row over Caribbean tourist developments

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

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

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

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

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Major publishers move to defend Greenpeace in dispute with logging firm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anthony Burgess essay on pornography to be published

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Miles Franklin award shortlists five first-time nominees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, PartingShot was enjoying some post election blues:

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Poem of the week: But Those Unheard by Miles Burrows

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

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

But Those Unheard

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Related: Is the internet killing our brains?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Why Britain needs a written constitution | Anthony Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-new stories from different authors, yeah?

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

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

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

In which her body was a question-mark

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

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

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:00:02 GMT2017-06-26T14:00:02Z

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.

Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution has been amusing PatLux, who tells us:

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Poem of the week: In No Strange Land by Francis Thompson

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 09:10:23 GMT2017-06-26T09:10:23Z

A Victorian mystic’s appeal to the eternal in the everyday includes some gritty details from a troubled life

In No Strange Land

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fair Field: Piers Plowman's Truth - books podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 100 best nonfiction books: No 73 – Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 04:45:00 GMT2017-06-26T04:45:00Z

A troubled brother and sister team produced one of the 19th century’s bestselling volumes and added to the deification of ‘the bard’

In the autumn of 1796, at the age of 21, Charles Lamb, a city clerk with a lifelong stutter, came home from his desk at the East India Company to find that his sister, Mary, had stabbed their mother to death in a mad seizure. He described the events of 22 September in a letter to a friend:

“I will only give you the outlines. My poor dear dearest sister in a fit of insanity has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand with only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse, from whence I fear she must be moved to a hospital. God has preserved to me my senses – I eat and drink and sleep, and have my judgment I believe very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt.”

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Top 10 books about lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Essayism by Brian Dillon review – pure creativity on the page

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klein’s new study in shock politics is a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. Refusal needs to turn into resistanceLately the pace of news has felt so fast and its volume so overwhelming that the very idea of a political book seems quaint, a relic of the gentler and more carefree time before we were all pinned to the floor by the social media firehose. Naomi Klein has written No Is Not Enough at near internet speed, a warning of the enormous toxic potential of the Donald Trump presidency and a call to oppose it. As the title suggests, Klein wants her readers to move from refusal to resistance, from a passive stance of opposition to engagement in a programme of action. If the convulsions of the last year have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t wait for the dust to settle and clarity to emerge. Turbulence is, at least for the foreseeable future, our new condition, and we must learn to function within it. We have to teach ourselves to stand upright on a moving deck.Klein emerged as a star of the 1990s social movements that were trying to frame a politics of opposition to capitalist globalisation. Was exchange value the only kind of value? What about the environmental, social and cultural formations that were being reorganised (and in some cases damaged or destroyed) by the logic of the market? Klein’s widely-read 2000 book No Logo packaged and synthesised ideas that had been circulating in anti-capitalist circles during the previous decade, helping a general readership to understand changes taking place in corporations, which had begun to outsource many of their functions and view themselves primarily as “brands”, deployers of intellectual property that did not need, for example, to do their own manufacturing or distribution. It was, as she puts it in No Is Not Enough, “a race toward weightlessness; whoever owned the least, had the fewest employees on the payroll and produced the most powerful images as opposed to things, won the race”. Continue reading...[...]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outskirts by John Grindrod review – life in the green belt

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The great London property squeeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg review – lesbian love rekindled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Livestock by Hannah Berry – review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Borne by Jeff VanderMeer review – after the biotech apocalypse

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

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


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Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips review – terror at the zoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Missing Fay by Adam Thorpe review – gone girl in Lincolnshire

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett review – a life in music

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

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

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

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

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Red Sky at Noon by Simon Sebag Montefiore review – love in dark times

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 10:00:27 GMT2017-06-25T10:00:27Z

The final, gripping instalment in the historian’s Moscow trilogy tells of a man wrongly imprisoned in the Gulags and his fight for redemption“My name is Nothing, my surname is Nobody” – this saying of Gulag prisoners is an epigraph to the meticulously researched third novel in the author’s Moscow trilogy. Here, given not only a name but a powerful personality, is Benya Golden, imprisoned in the Gulags but innocent. Set in Stalingrad in the sweltering summer of 1942, the gripping story traces Benya’s journey as he joins a penal battalion to fight the Nazis and undertakes a perilous Russian cavalry mission. In this searing tale of love and war, most moving is the redemptive relationship between a soldier and a nurse that blooms amid the brutality.The novel is a homage to the author’s favourite Russian writers and – in its vivid depiction of “horsemen riding across sunbaked grasslands in times of unrelenting cruelty” – the western masterpieces of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard. Such influences pervade this atmospheric tale, told in the author’s distinct own voice. Continue reading...[...]


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Himself by Jess Kidd review – humour and horror collide

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 09:00:25 GMT2017-06-25T09:00:25Z

Dark things lurk beneath the surface in this village mystery set on the west coast of Ireland

Jess Kidd’s novel opens with the brutal death of a young girl in the 1950s before skipping forwards in time to the 70s, when a charismatic stranger, Mahony, arrives in the small village of Mulderrig on the west coast of Ireland. He brings with him a photograph of himself as a baby and is trying to find out what happened to the mother who, as he understands it, left him on the steps of a Dublin orphanage.

Mulderrig is replete with colourful and eccentric inhabitants. Mahony teams up with Mrs Cauley, an ancient lady of the stage with a wayward wig who has plans to put on a local production of Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.

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