Jul 27, 2022
Bailey’s book on Philip Roth was pulled after former students said he abused them
The author of a Philip Roth biography that was taken out of print by its original publisher last year after allegations that he raped multiple women and groomed his former middle school students for sexual encounters when they were older is gearing up to publish a memoir billed as a warning tale of so-called cancel culture.
Blake Bailey’s latest work is scheduled to be printed by the controversial Skyhorse Publishing, which picked up his Roth book and an earlier memoir after WW Norton took it out of print and pledged to donate money to sexual abuse organizations equaling the advance it had paid to the biographer. Continue reading...
Jul 27, 2022
Scientist, environmentalist, inventor and exponent of the Gaia theory of the Earth as a self-regulating system
The scientist James Lovelock’s discoveries had an immense influence on our understanding of the global impact of humankind, and on the search for extraterrestrial life. A vigorous writer and speaker, he became a hero to the green movement, although he was one of its most formidable critics.
His research highlighted some of the issues that became the most intense environmental concerns of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, among them the insidious spread through the living world of industrial pollutants; the destruction of the ozone layer; and the potential menace of global heating. He supported nuclear power and defended the chemical industries – and his warnings took an increasingly apocalyptic note. Continue reading...
Jul 27, 2022
From hi-tech executives to Adivasis defending their tribal lands, the best Indian fiction portrays the extraordinary diversity of a changing country
My parents sometimes call me modern. They do this when they want to make fun of me. Most recently they called me modern when I told them that my girlfriend, her ex and I are co-parenting the two cats they have together, so that the cats spend half the year at our place and half at the ex’s. “Modern relationships.” The fact that they can joke about this stuff makes them “modern parents”. There’s also “modern jobs”, “modern clothes”, “modern girls”, and “modern generation”.
Modern India is a combination of many such things and also things less wholesome than feline living arrangements – such as a failing democracy and growing social tensions. To be honest, the exact composition changes depending on the place, the people and the mood. The same goes for books about the country – which, at least to me, seem to have become more varied, though surely not enough. Continue reading...
Jul 27, 2022
A vivid account of childhood, depression and the postwar American literary scene, from the author of Life Studies
In 1975, the poet Robert Lowell wrote to his friend Elizabeth Bishop: “How different prose is; the two mediums just refuse to say the same things.” Lowell explained that he’d been working on an obituary for the philosopher Hannah Arendt, but “without verse … I found it hard, I was naked without my line-ends”.
In Memoirs, a compendium of Lowell’s autobiographical prose, you expect to find Boston’s finest poet in all his unadorned glory, one naked paragraph after another. And sure enough, the collection includes an unpublished gem: My Autobiography, a 150-page memoir composed in the years before he began work on Life Studies, his landmark volume of poems from 1959. Those familiar with the poetry will recognise the common characters: Lowell’s maternal grandfather, a retired mining engineer, who sits “like Lear at the head of the table”; Lowell’s mother, who’d been happiest when she was engaged but not yet married, when she was still her father’s favourite daughter; Lowell senior, an unassuming naval officer, always relegated to the corner of family portraits. Continue reading...
Jul 26, 2022
The Australian writer and translator traces her ancestral footsteps across Europe and reflects on how we come to understand the past
In 2020, 34.8% of children born in England and Wales had at least one parent from outside the UK, and this figure is rising. A mixed heritage brings riches. There’s more of everything: recipes, languages, festivals and the handy ability to code-switch. But it also comes with a sense of dislocation that complicates the notion of home. Amaryllis Gacioppo’s remarkable literary debut, Motherlands, follows this yearning to its source. A writer and translator born in Australia to Italian parents, Gacioppo traces her ancestral footsteps through four cities: Turin, Benghazi, Rome and Palermo. Using boxes of sepia-tinted photographs, archival documents, and the oral history she has gathered all her life, she pieces together her family history from her great-grandparents’ generation to the present. Part memoir, part travelogue, Motherlands is ultimately an investigation of how we come to understand the past at all. It is also, perhaps, a love letter to her Italian grandmother Annalisa, the source of her stories, whose death was preceded by a stroke that silenced her.
The book’s five chapters reflect Gacioppo’s own and her ancestors’ journeys. Her great-grandmother Rita moved from Turin to Benghazi, in Libya, where she married Salvatore; her grandmother Annalisa, born in Benghazi, was sent to Turin at the outbreak of the second world war; the family were reunited in Rome and moved to Palermo; Gacioppo’s mother, born in Palermo, moved to Australia, and Nonna Annalisa followed. Continue reading...
Jul 26, 2022
Winners for fiction, nonfiction and poetry will each receive £2,000 and then compete for the overall £30,000 award
Novelists Ali Smith, Jackie Kay and Guy Gunaratne are to judge a new, expanded Rathbones Folio prize for 2023. The prize is set to expand to three categories, filling a gap left by the demise of the Costa book awards.
Launched in 2014, the Folio prize has been awarded annually to a work of literature. In 2017, it was opened to nonfiction and poetry as well, although it still named only one winner a year. Continue reading...
Jul 26, 2022
List comprises 13 writers of fiction, from Leila Mottley to NoViolet Bulawayo, described as ‘stimulating, surprising, nourishing’ by judging panel
Comment: The Booker longlist is thoughtfully curated and gives Alan Garner overdue recognition
This year’s Booker prize longlist, described as “challenging, stimulating, surprising, nourishing” by the chair of judges, contains the youngest and oldest authors ever to be nominated for the award.
Leila Mottley, who is just 20, and Alan Garner, who is 87, are among 13 writers to make the longlist for this year’s prize, which chair of judges Neil MacGregor said offers “story, fable and parable, fantasy, mystery, meditation and thriller”. Continue reading...
Jul 26, 2022
Form is a preoccupation of the 13-strong selection, which highlights books from small presses in favour of work from more famous names
News: Booker prize longlist of 13 writers aged 20 to 87 announced
It’s taken over half a century, but the Booker longlisting of Alan Garner is recognition at last for an under-sung national treasure too often pigeonholed as “just” a children’s writer. Over the decades his writing has deepened and clarified and Treacle Walker, a flinty little fable about a convalescent boy visited by a rag-and-bone man, reads like a perfect distillation of his long-worked themes: mythology, archaeology, childhood, the transient rhythms of vernacular speech, deep time and inner visions.
This is a thoughtfully curated list which spotlights small presses and ignores some of the biggest names (Hanya Yanagihara and Jennnifer Egan, Ian McEwan with his strongest novel in years, the forthcoming Lessons) for quieter pleasures and rewarding surprises. Like Treacle Walker, Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is another miracle of concision, compressing the usually capacious novel form into diamond. This story of an Irish coal merchant in the 1980s who is forced to confront what the whole town ignores – the church’s institutional abuse of young women – wastes not a word, implications rippling out from the brief text. Another Irish novel, The Colony by Audrey Magee, about an English painter visiting a tiny Irish island, is set in the era of the Troubles, but shades into broader allegory about power, colonialism, marginalised languages and even Brexit. Continue reading...
Jul 26, 2022
The human body is brought to life, difference is celebrated – and a very long dinosaur is tickled pink
With all its strange noises and amazing skills, the human body is endlessly fascinating to children. Jane Wilsher’s new book feeds that interest with a format that’s almost as colourful and curious as human anatomy itself. Marvellous Body (What on Earth) comes with a magic lens, a sort of red magnifying glass that you pluck from the heart of the front cover, to view the inner workings of eyeballs and organs, scabby knees and baby bumps.
Illustrated by Andrés Lozano, each cartoony spread is devoted to a different aspect of the body and its care (eg teeth, or what happens during surgery). Full of concise facts and body positivity, it’s a title for children to return to as they grow: little hands will love grabbing the lens and watching bones appear; those in the upper primary school years might read cover to cover, learning new vocab as they go. Continue reading...
Jul 25, 2022
A collection of four books in one about a Wall Street businessman in the 1920s captures our weakness for self-deception
Hernan Diaz’s second novel, Trust, is a collection of four manuscripts at different stages of completion, and they tell different versions of the story of a Wall Street businessman and his wife in the years leading up to the Great Depression. In Bonds, ostensibly a bestselling novel authored by one Harold Vanner, a monkish mogul manages to make a massive windfall during the 1929 stock market crash while his wife tragically succumbs to mental illness far away in Switzerland. My Life is the partial autobiography of Andrew Bevel, clearly the model for the tycoon in Bonds, strewn with half-finished chapters and paragraph outlines. The first few pages of Futures, the scribbled diaries of Andrew’s wife, Mildred, have been randomly ripped out. The Bevels’ competing narratives are mediated by a long postmortem memoir, written by Ida Partenza, once the gullible ghostwriter of Andrew’s book.
The novel’s Rashomon-like structure is buttressed by Diaz’s astute grasp of the ways in which we reliably deceive ourselves, which in turn is compounded by the book’s central obsession: the creepy similarities between the worlds of fiction and finance. Even the manuscript titles feel like lexical interventions. Bonds could refer to either monetary instruments or familial attachments; a future is both a preemptive financial contract and something that “tries… to become the past”. When Ida was growing up in Brooklyn, her single father, a proud anarchist, would often point to the imposing Manhattan skyline across the river and insist that it was all a dream. “Money. What is money?” he would mutter to himself. “Commodities in a purely fantastic form.” Continue reading...
Jul 25, 2022
Faced with tough choices, people usually fall back on gut instinct or seek the advice of friends. Now, there’s an alternative
Whom should you marry? Where should you live? How should you spend your time? For centuries, people have relied on their gut instincts to figure out the answers to these life-changing questions. Now, though, there is a better way. We are living through a data explosion, as vast amounts of information about all aspects of human behaviour have become more and more accessible. We can use this big data to help determine the best course to chart.
There has long been overwhelming – and often surprising – evidence that algorithms can be much better than people at making difficult decisions. Researchers have collected data on various kinds of choices people make, the information they base those choices on, and how things turn out. They have found, for example, that a simple data-driven algorithm would have been better than judges at deciding whether a defendant should stay in jail or be released; better than doctors at deciding whether a patient should get a procedure; and better than school principals at deciding which teachers should be promoted. Continue reading...
Jul 25, 2022
A peaceful look back at a ‘high summer’ and its evanescence
Looking at blue, looking through blue, Continue reading...
he watched slow floaters rise and die;
flowers were talkative that high summer,
their fluid crimsons bedded on his retina
as he twisted sunlight from his eyes,
Jul 25, 2022
Brown’s lively and political history of working men’s clubs illustrates their value in British cultural life
One of Pete Brown’s earliest memories is being “held in someone’s arms, in a space that glowed”. This was unusual in Barnsley in the 1970s, he writes, recalling the Technicolor tinsel and fairy lights in his local working men’s club every Christmas. They provided solace from the slag heaps and the permanently grey Pennine skies.
But be under no illusions: this is not a romantic book, lost in misty memories. It is a deeply political one, about the community-owned cooperatives that fuelled the welfare state and the idea of culture for all throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They rarely get mentioned in conventional historical narratives, Brown writes, despite many books being published about gentlemen’s clubs, their upper-class equivalent. National membership of gentlemen’s clubs at their peak was 200,000. In 1974, 4 million people – about 10% of the UK adult population – were working men’s club members, my family among them, my grandpa sustained by old friends over pints of mild two nights a week.
An award-winning food and drink writer who has always blended social history and cultural commentary into his warm, witty work, Brown writes this study with humour, but also rage. He packs his story with lively character portraits, from overactive social reformer Henry Solly (who also came up with the idea for garden cities and charity organisations – he often slept in his office) to Wakefield’s wonderful Sheila Capstick, who campaigned for women to get equal rights as club members (shockingly, this only happened in 2007: Brown confronts this history without fear but with nuance). Continue reading...
Many stars’ careers began in these heady rooms too, such as musicians Tom Jones and Paul Weller, comedians Les Dawson and Les Dennis, and snooker players Alex “Hurricane” Higgins and Steve Davis. Brown weaves their words around the work of cultural critics such as Richard Hoggart and George Orwell, amplifying the importance of club audiences and surroundings in British cultural life.
Jul 24, 2022
The late writer and academic has become a hero of leftwing criticism and this reissued essay collection amply demonstrates why
Since his death in 2017, Mark Fisher has reputationally ascended to the status of dissident national treasure. His work as a leftist cultural critic continues to inspire the young in particular – Fisher murals adorn Birkbeck University in London, where he used to teach – who have adopted him as one of their heroes. His books were not widely reviewed in his lifetime, however, and his influence has been a largely word-of-mouth phenomenon. Now his publisher, the tiny indie press Zero Books, is reissuing Fisher’s 2014 essay collection bolstered by a context-establishing introduction by Fisher archivist Matt Colquhoun and a poignant afterword by music critic Simon Reynolds, a friend of Fisher’s with whom he was closely allied.
Reading this book the first time round, I was intoxicated by the searing, impassioned brilliance of Fisher’s writing, the thrilling futurism of his ideas and his anarchistic range of reference (science fiction, electronic music, postmodernist theory, renegade literature, post-punk). On second reading, it seems to me no less dazzling. What makes Ghosts stand out from Fisher’s more well-known Capitalist Realism is that here, instead of engaging head-on with political theory, he trains his volatile intellect mainly on popular music, as well as film and television (as he also does in his superb posthumous collection k-punk). His gift for infecting the reader with his fascinations is immediately evident, even when these concern long-forgotten or adolescent subjects. Beginning his analysis of “hauntological” culture with a reminiscence of 1980s fantasy TV series Sapphire & Steel, he launches into an elegy for the era of “visionary public broadcasting” and “popular modernism” that blossomed in late 1970s Britain, alongside a postwar welfare state and a culture of higher education grants, cheap rents and squatting. Fisher insists that vital art necessitates “withdrawal”, unhurried experimentation and a disregard for quick profit turnovers – rarities in our era of notifications, towering rents and the “destranging” glare of online visibility. His art pop golden age of “rigorously modernist”, working-class autodidacts lasted until the advent of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal fanaticism. Continue reading...
Jul 24, 2022
On the run from responsibility and lying about her compulsions, the unreliable narrator in this unsettling debut is fascinating company
Twenty-six-year-old Daphne Ferber believes she is worldly wise and a good judge of character. Rather than face up to her shortcomings she runs from them. At the start of Bea Setton’s debut novel, she’s left London for a fresh start in Berlin.
As Daphne drip-feeds us information we learn she’s from a privileged background, failed to get accepted on a postgrad philosophy course (despite a degree from Oxford) and is living off her parents. We swiftly realise she is an unreliable narrator.
Berlin by Bea Setton is published by Doubleday (£14.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply Continue reading...
Jul 24, 2022
The author’s relentless, opaque account of her joyless religious upbringing proves no less an ordeal for the reader
Most people know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are obliged to spend their free time handing out a magazine called the Watchtower, that they don’t celebrate Christmas and they believe the apocalypse to be imminent, even if the precise date of the second coming does have a tendency somewhat to slip and slide. From time to time, newspapers are also apt to remind us of the fact that even in a medical emergency, members are forbidden to accept a blood transfusion from doctors, a doctrine followed on the grounds that it is God’s job, and his alone, to sustain life. But all this stuff, it seems, is just the half of it. Thanks to Ali Millar and her first book, I now know there are many other arcane rules by which a Witness must live if he or she is not to be “disfellowshipped” (translation: shunned) by the elders down at the Kingdom Hall.
Early on in The Last Days, her memoir of growing up as a Witness in a town in the Scottish Borders, Millar describes a lunch at the house of her maternal grandparents, a couple who do not share their daughter’s beliefs. For Millar, such occasions are usually a huge treat: her mother, a former teacher, has been impoverished by her faith – female Witnesses are discouraged from working – and even the smallest luxuries are scarce at home. On this day in 1986, however, something goes wrong. When her grandfather finds a piece of shot in his pheasant, her mother goes mad, shouting that the bird has not been “bled” as Jehovah said all meat should be when his people were in the wilderness and that she must now leave the table to ring the elders to confess. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Millar hears her saying as absolution is telephonically granted on the grounds that she was tricked and her “sin” therefore only inadvertent. Continue reading...
Jul 24, 2022
This detailed account of the film producer’s downfall is the ghastly story of a man who felt free to trample on others
What kind of barbarous creature was Harvey Weinstein, who punctuated business meetings by hurling marble ashtrays at the wall, ripped out a smoke alarm in a toilet on Concorde so he could enjoy a cigarette mid-Atlantic, ordered unsatisfactory employees to jump to their deaths from a high window, and regarded sexual abuse or rape as the equivalent of a job interview for young women anxious to appear in the movies he produced?
In Ken Auletta’s meticulously reported account of his downfall, people assign Weinstein to one of several alien species. Everyone agrees that he was a pest and a predator; survivors also call him an ogre, a monster, even a fiend. Odd glimpses of his flame-haired, acid-tongued mother suggest that he was “raised by wolves”. A studio executive whom he threatened to topple from a terrace into the sea at Cannes describes him as “this gorilla person”, like King Kong in an ill-fitting tux. Exhausting all options, Weinstein’s estranged brother, Bob, formerly his partner at Miramax, concludes: “There is no real human being there.” Perhaps Harvey was a humanoid, programmed with technical skills but bereft of emotion. His tantrums in the cutting rooms where he savagely re-edited films over the protests of their directors led to his being dubbed Harvey Scissorhands, a less endearing twin for the unfinished mutant played by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s fantasy. Continue reading...
Jul 23, 2022
This meticulous study reveals the greed and gullibility of the ex-prime minister whose endorsement of Australian financier Lex Greensill tells us much about how politicians operate
Modern corruption is a refined process for sophisticated people. Urbane actors enter the political equivalent of a “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) agreement. Politicians or civil servants grant a shady financial institution or incompetent arms manufacturer access to decision-making and public money. No agreement needs to have been reached. No wads of cash change hands. But after the civil servant retires or politician leaves parliament, he can expect an immensely rewarding job. The sole benefit of the multibillion collapse of Greensill Capital in 2021 was that it illuminated BNPL politics as no other scandal has.
Lex Greensill and David Cameron were so made for each other they wanted to be each other. Greensill grew up on a sugar cane farm in northern Queensland. He escaped to a job in Sydney’s financial sector and then to Morgan Stanley’s London office. He stood out even in that world. His colleagues called him “the demon” and “the psychopath”. He told them he wanted “to make billions and billions of pounds”. Continue reading...
Jul 23, 2022
The novelist and oncologist on capturing the shock of interning in a hospital, how he fits writing around medicine, and being blown away by Fernanda Melchor
Austin Duffy, 47, was born in Dundalk and lives in Howth, north of Dublin, where he works as an oncologist at the city’s Mater hospital. His two previous novels, This Living and Immortal Thing, shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish novel of the year, and Ten Days, about early dementia, were both set in New York, where Duffy met his wife, the painter Naomi Taitz Duffy, after winning a research fellowship to work at the Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer centre in Manhattan in 2006. His new novel, The Night Interns, follows three trainee medics on a Dublin surgical ward.
What led you to write The Night Interns?
It’s not a memoir, but I still have vivid memories of my intern year when I was doing medicine [at Trinity College Dublin in the 90s] and always knew I wanted to write about the experience at some point. You’re thrust into this world where you quickly find out the inadequacy of the theoretical knowledge you’re relying on from your studies. I wanted to immerse the reader in the terror – maybe that’s too strong a word, maybe it isn’t – of being on call and being asked to be the first person to figure things out for people who are sick. The structure, with no chapters, no real breaks, is meant to make you feel like you can’t come up for air.
The Night Interns by Austin Duffy is published by Granta (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply Continue reading...
Jul 23, 2022
The overturning of Roe v Wade is part of a wider movement entangled with nativism and white supremacy
When the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade on 24 June, permitting the state criminalisation of abortion in America, the only thing everyone could agree on was that it was a historic decision. Unfortunately for America, the history it was based on was largely fake. The ruling, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, claims that in reversing Roe v Wade, the court restores the US to “an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment [that] persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973”, when Roe legalised abortion. This assertion, however, is easily disproven.As historians have exhaustively explained, early American common law (as in Britain) generally permitted abortions until “quickening”, or perceptible foetal movement, usually between 16 to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Connecticut was the first state to ban abortion after quickening, in 1821, which is roughly two centuries after the earliest days of American common law. It was not until the 1880s that every US state had some laws restricting abortion, and not until the 1910s that it was criminalised in every state. In the wake of Dobbs, social media was awash with examples from 18th- and 19th-century newspapers that clearly refuted Alito’s false assertion, sharing examples of midwives and doctors legally advertising abortifacients, Benjamin Franklin’s at-home abortion remedies, and accounts of 19th-century doctors performing “therapeutic” (medically necessary) abortions.
Dobbs’s inaccurate claims about the history of US abortion law is one of many reasons why it is so controversial. It is arguably the most divisive ruling since 1857, when the supreme court found that Dred Scott, who had been enslaved and was suing for his freedom, had no standing in US federal courts as a Black man. The Dred Scott decision was a casus belli of the US civil war four years later, and there are many reasons to fear that Dobbs could prove as divisive. Continue reading...
Jul 22, 2022
The poet and novelist pays homage to the England’s lost country and a vanishing way of life
In the late 1970s, we travelled from east London to Crowland in Lincolnshire for a family holiday. I’m not sure why my parents decided to go there. Maybe they thought it would make a change from Southend-on-Sea. All I remember about it now is the strange three-cornered stone bridge in the town centre that once spanned two long-rerouted rivers, the brooding presence of Crowland’s abbey on the skyline, and the terrifying roar of fighter jets skimming low over the flat Fenland landscape.
Poet and novelist Derek Turner’s evocative survey of Lincolnshire reveals a county of unexpected beauty, and it makes me think my parents were on to something. Turner left Deptford in London in 1999. “Why Lincolnshire?”, he was often asked. At the time it was not an easy question to answer. Today, his book provides an eloquent response. Continue reading...
Jul 22, 2022
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree; Standing Heavy by GauZ’; Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu; Impossible by Erri De Luca
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell (Tilted Axis, £12)
“Think of a story as a living being,” writes Geetanjali Shree in her International Booker-winning novel, a 735-page epic whose stories twist, fold and intertwine with “no need for a single stream”. At its centre is Amma, “an old lady nearing eighty” in northern India who has lost her hold on life after her husband’s death, “as though Papa was her only reason for living”.
But this story wears its depression and despair lightly, told in a joyful flood of language (“This isn’t just hee hee ha ha it’s hoo ha, it’s brouhaha”) and with diversions aplenty. The main narrative, of Amma and her reaction to widowhood, comes in three parts. In the first, Amma refuses entreaties by her son Bade, daughter Beti and grandson Sid to get up and about again. Then she goes missing: “Poof, she’d disappeared into thin air.” When she reappears, seeming sick and changed, “devoid of connection”, the second part of the story begins as Amma moves in with Beti, who becomes the maternal figure to her own mother. Continue reading...
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. Continue reading...
Jul 22, 2022
The Nobel laureate on discovering Baldwin, reciting Dickens’s Bleak House, and cringing at Flaubert
My earliest reading memory
Undoubtedly the Qur’an. Growing up in Zanzibar I started in chuoni, which is what we called Qur’an school, at the age of five and did not start government school until a year later, by which time I was certain to have been reading the short suras. Quite early on in government school, one of our class texts was a Kiswahili translation of Aesop’s Fables, with illustrations of the fox making a futile leap at the grapes and the hare lounging by the roadside as the tortoise came trundling by. I can still see those images.
My favourite book growing up Continue reading...
A Kiswahili translation of abridged selections from Alfu Leila u Leila (A Thousand and One Nights) in four slim volumes. It was there that I first read the story Kamar Zaman and Princess Badoura, which has stayed with me since. The translator and all those thanked in the preface are colonial officials, yet the language makes me think there were one or two native informants who supplied nuanced detail. Until I was about 10 or so, the only books in English I read were comics and a school prize. Its title was People of the World, and I read that again and again for a year or two. There was no mention of Zanzibar in it, though.
Jul 21, 2022
Fishman’s debut novel is a work of ferocious moral and sensual intelligence and a masterful defence of sex for its own sake
“I’d always believed that sex masterpieces were the best kind. Better than Bach, the Empire State Building or Marcel Proust,” writes the novelist and memoirist Eve Babitz in her classic of 1960s and 70s LA, Slow Days, Fast Company. Lately it seems as though sex masterpieces may be endangered. More and more we are told that sex is about everything but sex itself. Erotic exchange is a means to moral improvement, suggests the Washington Post columnist Christine Emba in her recent book, Re-Thinking Sex: A Provocation. It is an ethical hazard, warns the New York Times pundit Michelle Goldberg in a series of pieces against sex positivity. It is a danger to women, writes Louise Perry in her new book, The Case Against the Sexual Revolution. For commentators on both the left and the right, sex has become a problem to be solved. It is rarely recognised as a potential masterpiece.
Thankfully, there are still a few sex-artists among us, and they are beginning to assert themselves. One of the most exciting is Lillian Fishman. “My art is fucking,” says Nathan, a character in her extraordinary debut novel, Acts of Service, a work of ferocious moral and sensual intelligence and a masterly defence of sex for its own sake.
a lot of time talking myself out of the things I liked so that I could be a different, better kind of person. Over the previous decade I had talked myself all the way from an attraction to women into a political commitment to lesbianism, and all the way from a general pleasure in the indulgence of life and into a bitter shame towards all the things I used to enjoy – charm and harmless deceits, intrigues, vanity, pretty women, good dancers, cab rides and coffees out, men who whistled when I passed, remarks that made me blush. Continue reading...