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Archive by tag: Fiona SturgesReturn
Sep 30, 2022

The suave Hollywood actor shares delicious stories of his love of food, from the family kitchen to the world’s finest restaurants



When Stanley Tucci was a boy, he would often swap packed lunches with his friend, Ricky, at school. While Tucci’s lunch, assembled by his mother, would contain delicious leftovers from last night’s dinner, Ricky’s was always a sandwich filled with marshmallow – “the unhealthiest schmear between two slices of bread known to man”.

Nowadays, Tucci would rather eat gravel than ingest such rubbish. As we have learned from his cookbooks and from his Emmy-winning TV series where he wafts elegantly around Italy consuming his bodyweight in pasta and pizza, Tucci loves to eat. Taste, which is narrated by the actor, tells of a life lived through food, from the pomodoro sauce that would be strained through a pillowcase at his grandmother’s house, to his mother’s slow-cooked ragu, to the coq au vin he ate on an early date with his first wife, Kate. You will learn little here about his professional career, save for the Manhattan burger bars that sustained him during his early days as an actor, and the plate of andouillette, a particularly pungent French sausage, that he rashly ordered while dining with Meryl Streep (they sent it back and ordered omelette instead).

Tucci’s delivery is much as it is in his TV series: understated, urbane and charismatic. Not for nothing did an Instagram video of him making a negroni with exceptional chicness go viral during lockdown. Alas, there is no such video where he knocks up a perfect spaghetti carbonara, though listening to him rhapsodise about eating it in this mouth-watering memoir has to be the next best thing.

Taste is available via Penguin Audio, 6hr 49min.

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Sep 23, 2022

From a difficult childhood to the absurdities of pop celebrity, the Lush singer’s story breaks the mould of music memoir

When Miki Berenyi was eight years old, her father, Ivan, would take her out on the town. At local nightclubs, he would buy her vodka and orange and the pair would hit the dancefloor. Soon it would be time for her to fulfil her main purpose, which was to act as bait for an “appropriately attractive woman”. Once Ivan had selected his target, his daughter would be dispatched to chat to her. A few minutes later, Ivan would apologetically retrieve her and engage the woman in conversation. “While I’m pleased to have been an accomplice – part of Dad’s dynamic duo – it’s a self-defeating skill because I am from that moment sidelined,” Berenyi recalls. “No longer the centre of Dad’s attention, I become bored and begin yawning, and he has the perfect excuse to usher his catch home.”

Music memoirs tend to race through their author’s childhoods to get to the meatier business of rock’n’roll stardom, but Fingers Crossed is not like most music memoirs. Fiercely honest and emotionally acute, it is evenly divided between Berenyi’s early life and her nine-year stint as the singer in British dream-pop outfit, Lush. While the band, who toured the world and enjoyed a handful of Top 40 singles in the 1980s and 90s, had their dissolute moments, they had nothing on Berenyi’s family life, which was characterised by extreme chaos and dysfunction.

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Sep 23, 2022

Jayne Atkinson resists the cliches of the film star’s breathy voice in a tough, fictionalised tale of abuse and fame

Blonde begins with a hallucinatory prologue in which Death takes the form of a bicycle messenger threading his way through traffic to an address where the occupant is recorded as “MM”. Joyce Carol Oates’s “radically distilled” take on Marilyn Monroe’s life – a film of which comes to Netflix this month – delves deep into the actor’s early years when she was still called Norma Jeane, depicting a wretched childhood marked by a narcissistic, alcoholic mother; spells in an orphanage and a foster home; and marriage at 16. From there we follow her rise to fame, her largely unhappy relationships and her marriages to “the Ex-Athlete” (Joe DiMaggio) and “the Playwright” (Arthur Miller).

The narration is by Jayne Atkinson, who resists the urge to ham up Monroe’s famously breathy voice, and who conveys the actor’sMonroe’s ambition, vulnerability and anxious relationship with her public persona. Oates’s novel was criticised when it was published in 2000 for its blurring of fact and fiction. Today, though, it feels remarkably ahead of its time in its depictions of institutional misogyny, outrageous abuses of power, and a young woman struggling to stay afloat in an industry that cares little for her mental wellbeing.

Blonde is available from HarperAudio, 8hr 19min.

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Sep 09, 2022

In the second instalment of his memoir, the comedian reflects the fame and frustration that came with hitting the big time

When the comic and actor Lenny Henry attended the first writers’ meeting for his early-1980s sketch series Three of a Kind, he and his co-stars, David Copperfield and Tracey Ullman, were asked to speak about their vision for the show. Copperfield stood up and said he wanted it to be as funny as possible. Ullman said she didn’t want to play a sexy secretary, a nagging wife or any other female stereotypes that were a staple of the era. Henry, who had appeared on The Black and White Minstrel Show in the 70s, stated that he didn’t want his race to be the butt of the jokes: “I wanted the attitude to black performers to change. It was time that we were the maker of the joke, not simply the taker. Enough was enough.”

Rising to the Surface is the second instalment of Henry’s memoirs that began with 2019’s Who Am I, Again? Where that book covered his formative years, beginning with the arrival of his parents in Dudley, in the West Midlands, from Jamaica, and concluding in the late 70s as he began to establish himself in the entertainment business, this covers his rise to fame, starting with the children’s show Tiswas and going mainstream with the BBC’s Three of a Kind. In 1984, he was given his first solo series, The Lenny Henry Show, which ran on and off for 20 years. We learn how, in that time, he also co-founded Comic Relief with Richard Curtis; met and married Dawn French; toured as a standup; was the subject of a South Bank Show; wrote children’s books; and, most unexpectedly, recorded backing vocals for Kate Bush’s album The Red Shoes. There was also a failed attempt to conquer Hollywood with the comedy True Identity, in which Henry plays a crook who disguises himself as a white man to escape the mob. The script was terrible and he loathed the lack of autonomy. “In my mind I felt myself careening downhill towards a large wall in a car with no brakes,” he recalls. The film duly tanked.

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Sep 02, 2022

Michael Sheen gives a richly textured performance as he brings Lyra Belacqua’s magical world to life

La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in the Book of Dust trilogy – Philip Pullman’s prequel to the His Dark Materials series – begins with plucky 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead learning of the existence of six-month-old Lyra Belacqua, whose future as a thorn in the side of the church’s oppressive ruling body, the Magisterium, is foretold. The product of an affair between Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel, Lyra has been left in the care of the nuns at an Oxford priory where Malcolm sporadically helps out with the cooking. When a flood overtakes the Thames Valley, Malcolm becomes Lyra’s protector, bundling her into his cherishedcanoe which he has named, La Belle Sauvage.

The actor Michael Sheen is our narrator, delivering a perfectly paced, richly textured performance as he takes on a dizzyingly large cast of characters. Along with our questing protagonist, Malcolm, and his teenage accomplice, Alice, there is also gentle Sister Fenella; the booming Lord Asriel; and the villainous Gerard Bonneville, former agent of the Magisterium. Sheen’s rendering of Bonneville’s daemon, a vicious three-legged hyena, is deliciously chilling.

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Aug 19, 2022

The comedian rises to the challenge of bringing John Kennedy Toole’s motley cast of misfits to life

Set in New Orleans in the 1960s, John Kennedy Toole’s comic novel follows the fortunes of 30-year-old Ignatius J Reilly, a slovenly, flatulent scholar of medievalism who still lives with his mother, Irene. Reilly is unemployed and spends most of his days holed up in his bedroom, either contemplating (rarely writing) his literary opus or masturbating, using the memory of a long-dead pet collie to get him in the mood.

Toole, who killed himself in 1969 aged 31, wrote A Confederacy of Dunces while doing national service in Puerto Rico in the early 1960s. The book was turned down by successive editors including Robert Gottlieb who, in a letter to the author, wrote that it was “a brilliant exercise in invention … [but] it isn’t really about anything”. After Toole’s death his mother, Thelma, found the manuscript and resolved to get it published. It eventually came out in 1980, became a bestseller, and won Toole a Pulitzer prize.

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Aug 12, 2022

Rapper Nadia Rose and actor Taz Munya are among the seven narrators of these stories documenting the misadventures of a Black London teenager

In 2005, 13-year-old Jade LB began work on a story documenting the misadventures of a fictional London teenager named Keisha, posting chapters on the now-defunct blogging site Piczo. Her story went viral, and has been hailed since as a landmark in Black British literature. Fast-forward 16 years and LB (retaining her anonymity) returned to her story, publishing the original blog entries in a book alongside a revised version, which she called Keisha Revisited.

A gritty portrait of teenage desire and abuse written in dialect, the original version – or “the OG” – opens with Keisha going to her friend Shanice’s house and hooking up with Shanice’s brother, Ricardo. The following day, she visits another lover, Ramel. When she accidentally shouts Ricardo’s name during sex, Ramel accuses her of being a prostitute, after which “ma eyes caught a shank. I quickly picked it up an dashed it at him an ran out of da room dwn da stairz.” Things get worse for Keisha as she is taunted about her sexual history by a street gang who later subject her to a brutal assault.

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Aug 11, 2022

A richly observed portrait of a working-class childhood and adolescence that finds magic in the mundane


When Kit de Waal was growing up, she and her siblings would notice their mother, Sheila, collecting milk bottles. Out of the three that were delivered daily, she would put two empties on the doorstep for the milkman and the third in an old laundry basket. On a Saturday, after their father, Arthur, had left for work, Sheila would take the basket of bottles into the back yard, pick them up one at a time and throw them with all her might against the outhouse wall. “It makes a kind of music, the bottles and the sound of her fury,” writes De Waal. “When the basket is empty, she goes inside and fetches the broom. She’s fine then for a few days.”

In Without Warning & Only Sometimes, De Waal – born Mandy O’Loughlin – recalls her 1960s childhood in the Birmingham suburbs as one of five children of an Irish mother and a West Indian father. Arthur was a bus driver while Sheila worked variously as a childminder, cleaner and auxiliary nurse. Despite the family’s financial struggles – the children would often go to bed hungry – Arthur would intermittently blow his earnings on a pair of Chelsea boots or a fancy suit. When not indulging his sartorial cravings, he would put aside his wages claiming he was saving to buy a house in his beloved St Kitts. “I mean, what kind of fool helps her husband buy a house in another country?” Sheila would rant to her children. “What idiot would help him make a life for himself somewhere else? Me, that’s who.”

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Aug 05, 2022

The actor brings sensitivity, warmth and humour to Ann Patchett’s multi-generational novel of loss and family strife

Ann Patchett’s Pulitzer-nominated novel begins and ends in an art deco mansion in a Philadelphia suburb. The former residence of a Dutch family who sold up after going bankrupt, it is now home to the Conroy family, headed by the self-made property magnate Cyril Conroy. Spanning half a century, the story is told from the perspective of Danny, son of Cyril and younger brother of clever, caring Maeve. Danny recalls how their mother, Elna, left when he was three without explanation; later he learns that she loathed the house and its ostentatious grandness, and moved to India to help the poor. The children’s lives are upended once more with the arrival of Andrea, Cyril’s new bride, who proclaims the house to be “a work of art”. When Cyril dies suddenly from a heart attack, Andrea orders Danny and Maeve to pack up their things and leave.

Tom Hanks is the narrator, bringing his customary warmth and sensitivity to a multi-generational tale that has shades of Hansel and Gretel, plus a dash of Cinderella. Despite the sombre themes of loss and familial strife, Hanks teases out Danny’s dry humour – “He loved buildings the way that boys loved dogs,” he says of his father – and his bemusement at losing his home. Once a year following their expulsion, the siblings park outside the Dutch House where they smoke and share stories from their past, such as when Cyril brought their mother to the house for the first time. “He’d bought the most beautiful house in Pennsylvania,” Maeve recalls, “and his wife was looking at him like he’d shot her.”

• The Dutch House is available from Bloomsbury, 9hr 53min

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Jul 29, 2022

Actor Bahni Turpin narrates this story about the chance encounters between two girls from different races who first meet as roommates in an orphanage

In her introduction to Toni Morrison’s short story, Zadie Smith offers insight into the Nobel prize-winning author’s intentions. Recitatif, Smith explains, was planned by Morrison as “an experiment in the removal of all racial codes from a narrative about two characters of different races for whom racial identity is crucial”. In telling the tale of Twyla and Roberta, who meet as eight-year-old roommates in an orphanage, Morrison never reveals which girl is Black and which is white, an omission that forces us to confront our racial biases. “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an experiment, she meant it,” Smith says. “The subject of the experiment is the reader.”

Actor Bahni Turpin goes on to narrate Morrison’s story, which was first published in 1983 and which charts the lives of the girls through a series of chance encounters. It opens as they meet for the first time and discuss how they ended up in an orphanage. “My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick,” Twyla says. Turpin expertly captures the bluntness of the protagonists’ childhood selves: “All I could think of was that she really needed to be killed,” Twyla says when her mother groans loudly in church.

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Jul 22, 2022

Actor Louise Brealey narrates this melancholic tale about an artist’s life and loves, set during a future pandemic

In Sarah Hall’s sixth novel, Edith Harkness is an acclaimed sculptor who specialises in large and often discomforting works of public art. The piece that made her name is a 40ft witch nicknamed Hecky which looms “high as a church tower” over a motorway, variously terrifying and delighting passing motorists. Edith lives in a vast, once-derelict warehouse in the north of England named Burntcoat, where she is creating a memorial to the millions who have died from a deadly virus.

This pandemic-themed book is set not in Covid times but in a fictionalised future that comes with echoes of our present. It is read by actor Louise Brealey, whose tone of melancholy and longing reflects the stress and increasing otherworldliness of Hall’s prose. The narrative shifts back and forth, depicting Edith’s lockdown, much of which is spent in the throes of ecstasy with a new lover, Halit, and a research trip to Japan where, courtesy of an instructor named Shun, she learns an ancient technique of strengthening wood by burning it.

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Jul 15, 2022

From childhood holidays to encounters with sexism … the actor narrates these autobiographical essays with humour and verve


Managing Expectations opens with the young Minnie Driver leaning out of her mother’s car window and screaming: “Help me, I am being abducted!” It is Sunday night and, after spending the weekend at home, she is being returned to her Hampshire boarding school. “We live three miles from the school. It makes no sense,” she says.


Read with verve and humour by Driver, the book comprises a series of essays on the pivotal moments in her life. These include the time her father sent her home from Barbados, aged 11, as a punishment for being rude to his girlfriend. The journey back to London, which she undertook alone, included a stopover at a swish hotel in Miami where she got her revenge by buying up half the gift shop on her father’s credit card.

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Jul 08, 2022

Actors including Tim Brierley and Sorcha Cusack narrate this version of the great writer’s final novel originally created for radio

A poignant tale of marital expectation and delayed love, Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot who, at the age of 27, is viewed by polite society as a washed-up spinster. Eight years earlier, on the advice of her widowed father, Sir Walter, Anne was persuaded to break off her engagement to a young naval officer on the basis that his low rank and background would have harmed the family’s social standing. Now the Elliots are on the brink of financial ruin due to Sir Walter’s overspending and have been forced to rent out their family home. Meanwhile, the war with France is over and among the returning soldiers is one Frederick Wentworth, Anne’s former fiance, now a well-travelled and wealthy captain.

Once described by Harold Bloom as “the perfect novel”, Persuasion – an adaptation of which comes to Netflix this month, starring Dakota Johnson – was Jane Austen’s final finished work, published six months after her death in 1817. In this audio version, originally created for radio, Juliet Stevenson plays Anne, conveying the pain and resignation of having lost the love of her life and the prospect of a family of her own. As Frederick, Tim Brierley radiates the confidence of a man who, despite being the same age as Anne, has society’s young single women at his feet and a bright future ahead. And Sorcha Cusack is the narrator, providing subtly withering commentary on the machinations of the 19th-century upper classes and the indignities visited on women who dare to think for themselves.

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Jul 01, 2022

Community, class and the proliferation of men called Pete at the pub are explored as we follow our narrator on his daily walks in the countryside

The debut novel from poet Will Burns is set in the early months of the pandemic in an English market town that “insists on being called a village”. Named after the pub where the narrator lives and works with his parents, the book provides compelling portraits of the landscape, the town and its residents, many of whom propped up the Paper Lantern’s bar before lockdown.

We follow our unnamed protagonist on his daily walks along roads, footpaths and rivers, during which he finds himself “living a kind of dream-life”. He contemplates community, class, local history and how it is that a country pub can be frequented by so many men called Pete.

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Jun 03, 2022

The standup narrates her soul-baring work, which pushes the boundaries of comedy

Hannah Gadsby’s memoir begins, in typically contrary fashion, with the epilogue. Here the self-styled “stand-up performance artist” discusses the runaway hit that was her 2018 show, Nanette, a visceral, soul-baring work that pushed at the boundaries of comedy and, thanks to a Netflix special, turned her into a global sensation. She recalls turning up to the Netflix Emmys party where her most pressing thought was: “What kind of monster would choose a white carpet for an outdoor event?” There she was summoned for an audience with Jennifer Aniston, who confided she hadn’t watched Nanette but she was sure she would love it when she did. Gadsby asked, “But what if you hate it?”, at which Aniston patted her hand reassuringly and replied: “I won’t tell you.”

Gadsby goes on to plot her journey from rural Tasmania as the youngest of five children, her queer coming-of-age (homosexuality was illegal in Tasmania until 1997), her experiences of sexual violence and misogyny, her early career as a stand-up and a brief flirtation with cocaine. We also learn of her diagnoses, as an adult, of autism and ADHD, a condition that, she notes, “makes a lot of people very, very angry … Too many people have been conditioned to believe ADHD is a nonsense disease that is not so much over-diagnosed but entirely under-existing.” Fans of Gadsby’s standup will find much to enjoy in her narration, which is similarly quizzical, self-deprecating and sardonic but also contains moments of startling candour and intimacy. The footnotes, in which she provides contextual asides such as “In my defence, my best friend, Douglas, is a dog”, are also to be savoured.

• Ten Steps to Nanette is available from WF Howes, 13hr 47min

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May 26, 2022

Lavelle weaves his own experience together with the testimony of others in this powerful memoir about Britain’s left-behind

Daniel Lavelle knows how the story of his homelessness might look to the casual observer. Viewed in isolation, he notes, “the circumstances that precipitated my journey to the streets seem entirely of my own making”. As well as racking up considerable rent arrears, he had been drinking heavily, lost a series of low-paid jobs and moved out of his flat voluntarily. But, as we learn in his candid yet resolutely un-self-pitying memoir, there were complicating factors, among them his ADHD (his psychiatrist said his was the most severe case he’d ever seen), long spells in foster care and children’s homes, and multiple exclusions from school. Add to that the rise of zero-hours contracts, soaring rents, and the cuts to welfare and social care implemented during the coalition government’s austerity programme, and it becomes grimly apparent how a man like Lavelle can slip through the cracks.

Down and Out is part memoir, part howl of fury at a system that has led to an estimated 274,000 homeless people in the UK. As well as telling his own story, Lavelle seeks out the testimony of others, many of whom, he notes, have had a harder time than him. Among them is Sunita, who was removed from her mother when she was born and endured physical and sexual abuse in the care system. In her teens, she was in an abusive relationship and, in order to escape the situation, began sleeping in Manchester’s Piccadilly station. On asking local authorities for assistance, she was told she didn’t qualify since she had made herself homeless. Lavelle also meets Stuart, who, after being evicted from his flat for allowing a homeless friend to stay, set up home on the banks of a nearby canal, complete with his living room furniture. “The police kept coming down, saying, ‘You can’t stay here. It’s public land’,” Stuart says. “I said, ‘Well, I am a member of the fuckin’ public, mate.’”

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May 13, 2022

The performance poet narrates their first nonfiction work, mixing memoir with musings on how creativity brings people together

A meditation on art and creativity, On Connection is the musician, playwright, novelist and performance poet Kae Tempest’s first work of nonfiction. Written early in the pandemic, this extended essay mixes memoir and philosophical musings as it examines the need “to play, to create, to reflect and release” and the ways these impulses connect us.

Tempest – who uses they/them pronouns – narrates with a rhythmic urgency and fierce humanity that will be familiar to anyone who has seen them perform live. In the opening chapter, Sound Check, they talk of a numbness that can occur as a “logical response” to the sensory overload of everyday life, and the power of poetry to overcome it. Twenty years on the spoken word scene has shown Tempest how “naked language has a humanising effect; listening to someone tell their story, people noticeably [open] up, become more vulnerable, and let their defences down”.

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May 06, 2022

The actor brings the dark humour of Mason’s novel to life as she narrates the story of how mental illness changed the course of woman’s life

A pithy examination of marriage and mental illness shortlisted for this year’s Women’s prize for fiction, Sorrow and Bliss begins as its protagonist Martha splits up with her forbearing husband, Patrick, and moves back into her parents’ house. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Martha has a mental health condition. When she was 17, on the morning of her French A-level exam, “a little bomb” went off in her brain, prompting her to go home and crawl under her father’s desk. Over the next 20 years, in order to deal with the chaos in her head, she continues to seek out confined, dark spaces where she lies “like a small animal that instinctively knows it’s dying”.


The actor Emilia Fox reads Mason’s darkly funny novel, capturing Martha’s fury and confusion as well as her acerbic wit (the comparisons to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag are not wide of the mark). Woven into her story is her maladjusted family, who include her father, Fergus, a poet whose career stalled shortly after he was designated “a male Sylvia Plath”; her mother, Celia, an alcoholic sculptor who is charismatic yet cruel; and sister Ingrid, who is both protective of and exasperated by Martha. And, of course, there’s Patrick, a sweet-natured doctor whom Martha has known since her cousin brought him home from boarding school one Christmas after his father forgot to send him a plane ticket home. Martha, who has precious little love for herself, knows that Patrick is too good for her. But the question remains: will he give her a second chance?


• Sorrow and Bliss is available from Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 10hr 44min.

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May 04, 2022

How the Aberfan disaster prompted one psychiatrist to launch a nationwide search for ‘seers’ who could predict the future

On 20 October, 1966, 10-year-old Eryl Mai Jones, from Aberfan in south Wales, told her mother about a dream she’d had the night before. “I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there,” she said. “Something black had come down all over it.” The next day, at 9.14am, a colliery waste tip came crashing down the hillside, smothering the village school and the surrounding houses. Eryl Mai was among the 144 dead.

Visiting Aberfan in the days after the tragedy was John Barker, a 42-year-old psychiatrist and superintendent of a large mental hospital in Shropshire who had an interest in “psychiatric orchids”, or unusual mental conditions. Barker had conducted studies on Munchausen syndrome, sufferers of which are known to feign illness, and was in the midst of researching Scared to Death, a book about people who accurately foretold their own deaths.

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Apr 29, 2022

With a calmly astonished tone, the author narrates the shocking story of how the Sackler family made its money out of the lethal painkiller OxyContin

A remarkable piece of narrative reporting and a sweeping family saga, New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe’s award-winning book about the Sackler family and its role in America’s opioid crisis begins with the seemingly heart-warming tale of three Brooklyn brothers realising the dreams of their immigrant parents by becoming doctors. The Sacklers ­went on to become one of the richest families in the US – they have an estimated fortune of $14bn – known for their philanthropy and feted for their donations to art galleries, universities and medical institutes.

Drawing on newly available court documents and more than 200 interviews, Empire of Pain reveals how the family made its money from the suffering of Americans through the aggressive sales techniques of Purdue, the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company that became the biggest producer of OxyContin. The slow-release painkiller is twice as powerful as morphine and significantly more addictive. Approved by an official at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who, a year later, took a high-paying job at Purdue, the drug contributed to the deaths of nearly 500,000 people over 20 years and wrecked the lives of millions more.

Keefe, who narrates his book, is no stranger to audio: many listeners will know his voice from the hit podcast Wind of Change, which investigated the rumour that the titular power ballad by German rockers Scorpions was written by the CIA. If the vibe there was one of amusement, here he adopts a calmly astonished tone as he tells a shocking story of callousness, cover-ups and monumental greed.

• Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is available via Picador, 18hr 6min

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Apr 08, 2022

Samuel L Jackson’s narration does full justice to this grimly comic novel from the mid-century master of New York crime


Originally published under the title For Love of Imabelle, this 1957 novel from Chester Himes opens with Jackson, a gullible undertaker’s assistant, sinking his life savings into a transparently dodgy scam that claims to convert $10 bills into hundreds. After he is left broke, he decides to “borrow” some money from his boss in an attempt to claw back his losses at the craps table, and loses that too.

Samuel L Jackson delivers a rip-roaring narration of Himes’s grimly comic, fast-paced and intermittently blood-spattered novel set in Harlem, described as “a city of black people who are convulsed in a desperate living, like the voracious churning of millions of hungry cannibal fish. Blind mouths eating their own guts. Stick in a hand and draw back a nub.” The actor breathes vivid life into the book’s lineup of crooks, con artists, pimps and ne’er-do-wells. There’s Goldy, the protagonist’s twin, who masquerades as the saintly Sister Gabriel and lives off the charitable donations dispensed by church-goers, while his girlfriend, Imabelle, may or may not be up to no good. Meanwhile, the nicknames of no-nonsense detectives “Coffin” Ed Johnson and “Grave Digger” Jones give a sense of their style of law enforcement.

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Apr 06, 2022

Life, relationships and art are filtered through sound in 16 essays by brilliant women

Music writing has come a long way since the days of the inkies – the papers that would leave marks on their readers’ fingers – when a handful of male gatekeepers dictated the tastes of Britain’s music-loving teens. While female writers were occasionally admitted to this hallowed club, they were the exception rather than the rule. Since then, the music press has been at once democratised and straitened by the advent of free content. Previously marginalised voices are now being heard, even if the rates of pay are largely paltry.

This Woman’s Work, an anthology of 16 essays by female writers compiled and edited by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and the critic Sinéad Gleeson, is a piquant reminder of the talent, musical and literary, that has always been under editors’ noses, if only they cared to look. Billed as a “challenge [to] the historic narrative of music and music writing being written by men, for men”, the contributions cross genres, decades and continents, and are less about casting judgment on artists and their work than the process of discovery and the ways music can influence and enrich lives.

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Apr 01, 2022

Luke Thompson plays the minister who has an affair with a parliamentary aide, in a tale told from contrasting viewpoints


When a high-ranking government minister, James Whitehouse, tells his wife, Sophie, he has been having an affair with a parliamentary aide, and that a newspaper is about to run an exposé, she opts to stand by her man for the sake of the family. But then James receives a visit from police officers who wish to question him about an incident in the House of Commons’ lift. James’s aide, 28-year-old Olivia, has accused him of rape.

Sarah Vaughan’s smart psychological thriller ­– a TV adaptation of which begins on Netflix this month – grapples with complex issues of power, sex and consent as it plots the ensuing investigation and court case. The story is told from contrasting viewpoints: there is steely barrister Kate, crisply narrated by Julie Teal, who has built her reputation prosecuting sexual abusers in cases that aren’t clear cut. “Juries are keen to convict the predatory rapist, the archetypal bogeyman down a dark alley,” she observes, “yet when it comes to relationship rape, they’d really rather not know.”

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Mar 30, 2022

From Covid to chemical spillages, fires to floods, an expert on emergency planning looks back on a lifetime of dealing with disaster

After Lucy Easthope lost her first baby to a miscarriage, she kept everything, from the pregnancy test and her first scan to the hospital appointment slips, in a brightly coloured shoebox. As a disaster expert whose responsibilities include making the loss of loved ones as bearable as possible for those left behind, she had plenty of experience working on memory boxes, right down to the package design (“too ‘gifty’ and it looked all wrong”). These boxes might contain anything from a charred passport or a wedding band to the wrapper from a packet of mints. Easthope understood the importance of preserving these items for grieving relatives, and now she was doing it for herself. Her shoebox of memories of her baby was, for her, “proof that she had been. That she had existed.”

Easthope is one of the UK’s leading authorities on emergency planning. She is the person who assesses the scale of a disaster and what is needed to ensure smooth operations in the aftermath. Over the course of her career, she has advised on chemical spillages, volcanoes, fires, floods and terrorist attacks. She lent her expertise to operations around the 2004 tsunami, the 7/7 bombings, the Grenfell fire and, most recently, the British response to Covid-19: “We are all disaster survivors now,” she writes. Her work has an even more immediate resonance in the light of the invasion of Ukraine, with images of shattered apartment buildings and lines of refugees suddenly ubiquitous. As well as dealing with immediate practicalities, high up on her agenda are the needs of those left behind: the displaced, the traumatised, the bereaved.

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Mar 23, 2022

The Scottish author’s follow-up to her Wainwright prize-winning The Outrun is more contemplative, with flashes of grit and humour

When Amy Liptrot moved to Berlin, she didn’t expect to spend so much time birdwatching. “I came for people, not birds,” she writes in her new memoir. But she buys a pair of secondhand binoculars and goes out in search of hooded crows, known as “hoodies” back in Scotland, and goshawks, numbers of which have recently increased across the city. For Liptrot, birdwatching is the ultimate antidote to scrolling on her phone, forcing her eyes to refocus and look into the distance.

The Instant is the author’s follow-up to her Wainwright prize-winning debut The Outrun (now being made into a feature film with Saoirse Ronan), and ostensibly tells of a year spent living in Germany, though this isn’t a straightforward travelogue. It is a slim, impressionistic, often melancholy work that, along with following her adventures in a new place, grapples with ideas of solitude, romance and a life lived simultaneously online and off. This book is not as substantial as its predecessor, though that is not a criticism. Where The Outrun chronicled her battles with addiction and her recovery on the islands of Orkney where she grew up, this feels like a more experimental project, a document of a liminal year in which her interior and exterior lives are keenly felt and recorded.

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