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Sep 21, 2022

Authors from Barbara Ehrenreich to Damon Galgut highlight these undervalued workers and their sharp perspectives on those they tidy up after

Whether known as cleaners, charladies, housekeepers, janitors or maids, those who clean have recently been recast. Originally seen as either comical or sinister, they have become emblems of resilience, keeping chaos and Covid at bay. Next week, Paul Gallico’s enchanting comedy, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, opens as a film with Leslie Manville in the lead. It will shine a spotlight on a job that has moved from that of supporting character to hero.

Perhaps the first cleaner in English literature is Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, associating “sweep(ing) the dust behind the door” with blessing a house. Yet mess, whether domestic or political, has long been seen as work for the female or unskilled. To those who resent the imposition of domestic order, cleaners can be sinister and even vengeful presences – most famously depicted in Jean Genet’s play, The Maids. But to those who feel only relief at having their filth lifted by someone else, the cleaner is a bringer of joy.

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Sep 21, 2022

A young hero’s 18th-century escapades evoke Walter Scott, in the first of a projected six-part series

The way history is told has changed over time, and the same is true of the historical novel. It starts with Walter Scott, for whom “history” was the site of romantic adventures: a young, likable hero goes out into the world and faces a struggle between historical forces – Whigs and Jacobites, Roundheads and Cavaliers, Crusaders and Saracens. He “wavers” between them (that’s why Scott’s first hero is called Waverley) before settling on the side of progress and modernity. The 19th century saw many Scott-influenced historical romanciers (Harrison Ainsworth, Fennimore Cooper), famous in their own day though forgotten now.

This style of historical novel went out of fashion over the 20th century. George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books parody it: Fraser’s hero is young and venturous, but also a cad, a coward, a rake. Toni Morrison’s historical novels deconstruct the pieties of the past in more serious mode, revealing worlds striated by hideous racism and sexism. Hilary Mantel writes the past with a fine but modern literary sensibility: her Thomas Cromwell is in effect a 21st-century individual, self-questioning, sensitive and with his creator’s hindsight. Alternate history novels – Hitler wins the second world war in Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, Africa colonises Europe in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses – figure history as fragile and contingent, enabling us to think through our assumptions about its permanence and inevitability.

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Sep 21, 2022

What can a 2500-year-old discipline tell us about how to live better in the modern world?

Can philosophy help us with worldly troubles? Ancient philosophers thought the answer was obvious. Philosophy is a “medical art for the soul”, Cicero tells us. Its compassionate task is to lead us from suffering towards a life lived well. Contemporary philosophers are likely to be more circumspect. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to think that my training in philosophy equips me to offer advice? The only CPR I know is the Critique of Pure Reason and the tools of my trade – a careful distinction here, some logic-chopping there – seem laughably inadequate to the fears and worries of modern living.

In his new book, Kieran Setiya disagrees. Through carefully crafted examples, he makes the case that philosophy can help us navigate the adversities of human life: pain, loneliness, grief and so on. He, too, is trained in the splitting of hairs. But this is not primarily a book of argument. It is a reflection designed to offer us new ways of thinking about ordinary hardships.

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Sep 20, 2022

The reader is cast as detective, in this ludic novel about nationalism, pandemics and propaganda, set in the latter days of the Ottoman empire

Orhan Pamuk likes to play new games. Every one of his books has differed markedly from the others, yet each shares a capacity for disconcerting the reader. This one is long and intellectually capacious. It tackles big subjects: nationalism and the way nations are imagined into being; ethnic and religious conflict; the decline of an empire; the political repercussions of a pandemic. It includes many deaths.

Yet, for all the weight of its subject matter, its tone is lightly ironic, arch, even flippant. It has many flaws. It is repetitive; it contains far too much exposition. All the same – formally and in terms of content – it is one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year.

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Sep 20, 2022

The 21,450-page volume of manga series One Piece is physically unreadable, to highlight how comics now exist as commodities

A limited edition single volume of the long-running manga One Piece is being billed as the longest book in existence.

At 21,450 pages, it is physically impossible to read, making it less of a book and more of a sculpture.

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Sep 20, 2022

The writer, who learned her craft playing 90s adventure games, on her love letter to a lifelong passion, the problematic aspects of the industry and the transformative power of play

Games have always been a part of writer Gabrielle Zevin’s life. Her first experience, she recalls, was playing Pac-Man at the Honolulu hotel where her grandmother ran a jewellery store. “I was about three years old at the time and I remember thinking, wouldn’t it just be perfect if I wasn’t limited to a single quarter … if I could just keep playing this game for ever and ever?” Now 44, the veteran author has written her first novel about games. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the story of two programmers, Sam and Sadie, who set up a studio in the mid-1990s and over the course of a decade, make interesting games while their lives and relationships entwine in complex, often heartbreaking ways.

It is a künstlerroman for the digital age, an engrossing meditation on creativity and love and perhaps the first novel to wrestle with the culture and meaning of this often-misunderstood medium. It’s also been a resounding success, shooting straight into the New York Times bestseller list and earning her an interview on Jimmy Fallon.

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Sep 20, 2022

Growing up in Pakistan, the novelist experienced the euphoria of free elections and the disillusionment when vested interests reasserted themselves. She reflects on the parallels with Westminster today

Last year, while I was working on a late draft of my novel Best of Friends, a story broke about a club known as the advisory board. It was organised by the former Conservative party co-chair Ben Elliot, and made up, at least in part, of donors paying £250,000 to the Tory party. It was an odd thing to read about, given that I had invented for the novel a club called the High Table for political donors who paid £200,000 to the party of government – I’d wondered if I was setting too high an entrance fee. I’m not claiming any kind of clairvoyance, just as I won’t claim clairvoyance for inventing a British-Pakistani Tory home secretary who becomes embroiled in a high-profile citizenship-stripping case in Home Fire, which was published before Sajid Javid became home secretary and stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship. All I had been doing in both cases was paying attention to news stories when they were still minor rather than headline news, and thinking about the directions in which they could and probably would move, given Britain’s political climate.

In the case of clubs for political donors, my antenna had started twitching at the end of 2019, when I read an article on openDemocracy about the Leader’s Group, a dining club open only to those who donated £50,000 to the Conservative party. I experienced one of those “Aha!” moments that tells you you’ve found something you were only dimly aware of seeking. I was at the time in the earliest stages of writing Best of Friends, which starts in Karachi with two adolescent girls living through a time of political and personal transformation and would end with both of them in London in their 40s, in something close to the present day. I felt a certain resistance to the stories of migration that are told in terms of the discontinuities between the place that was left and the place that is arrived at – the discontinuities can be destabilising or liberating but, either way, it is difference rather than similarity that is generally highlighted. While there’s good reason to write such stories, what are often missed out are the ways in which one place echoes the other. The story of the Leader’s Group sounded to me like an echo between Pakistan and the UK, though far fainter than others such as cricket, word-play and class stratification. I had no idea how loud it would become in the next couple of years.

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Sep 20, 2022

Frances Hardinge’s gripping tale of redemption, stories of the Syrian war and a Swiss finishing school for the undead

As the nights draw in, where better to lose yourself than in the pages of Frances Hardinge’s Unraveller (Macmillan, £12.99), a world of misty marsh-woods, uncanny creatures and moonlight markets, where anyone with enough hatred in their hearts can summon a life-destroying curse. Fifteen-year-old Kellen has the rare gift of being able to unravel a curse, travelling to help the afflicted with his companion, Nettle, uncovering a deadly conspiracy along the way. Themes of humanity and redemption play out against this intricately woven backdrop, illuminated by characteristically sublime prose. Hardinge may be marketed as a young adult author, but herein lie rich rewards for readers of all ages.

More curses in Lightlark by Alex Aster (Amulet, £13.99), which sees young ruler Isla compete in a lethal game to break a centuries-old curse and win unparalleled powers. The YA tropes may be thickly spread – a deadly competition, the chosen one destined to save a kingdom, the ubiquitous love triangle – but the stakes are high and the storytelling addictive. The author’s popularity on TikTok helped her snag significant publishing and film deals; this will be catnip for fans of the high fantasy romance genre that dominates the platform’s book content.

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Sep 19, 2022

From boarding school through the Sloane years to her turn as Anton Du Beke’s worst-ever Strictly partner, the former TV style guru’s memoir is sometimes borderline deranged, often haphazard, but never dull

Like some great Renaissance artist, Susannah Constantine’s life may be divided into three distinct eras. Early Constantine was high Sloane; she dated David Linley, the son of Princess Margaret, and went to Balmoral, where she witnessed Mrs Thatcher battling with the Queen for control of a Brown Betty teapot. Middle period Constantine is mostly all about her television career, when she and her friend Trinny Woodall made a living out of telling women what not to wear (in this capacity, she once explained to me that I had “saddlebags” and should immediately burn the coat I was wearing). Finally, there is the current epoch: late Constantine. At 60, her focus is on her family, on her “exceptional” home in the West Sussex countryside, and on her writing. This memoir is her third book; she has also written two novels. “A modern-day Nancy Mitford,” says Elton John encouragingly.

She and John, of course, have known one another for eons. She first met him in the early 1980s, at the Queen Mother’s home, Royal Lodge, in Windsor, where he performed at the piano after dinner in a ringmaster’s tailcoat, balloon trousers, bejewelled spectacles and a cap accessorised with a sapphire brooch the size of a baked potato. And yes, he exaggerates wildly. Constantine is no Mitford. But this isn’t to say she can’t write. Ready for Absolutely Nothing is often haphazard and sometimes borderline deranged; possibly because its author is academically insecure, it also comes, for no reason I can fathom, with occasional footnotes (one quotes from a cultural history of menstruation). But it’s also pretty funny. Never forget: Sloanes are intensely scatological creatures. Constantine does her class proud with her lavatory-related anecdotes. One stars Jerry Hall. The other involves Princess Margaret, a cubicle at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and a purloined cake slice.

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Sep 19, 2022

A childlike curiosity opens up questions of what we can and cannot know

Only this morning you swore you saw
something swift and white fly through the night
and land on the gate in the dark.

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Sep 19, 2022

The folk musician’s picaresque tale of a struggling Scottish writer and his sons en route from Cork to Dublin quietly captures artistic failure and redemption

The Scottish folk musician James Yorkston has recorded a string of critically acclaimed albums over a 20-year career – collaborations with the likes of KT Tunstall, Alexis Taylor and Martin Carthy. In his writing, however, he is drawn to artistic failure. His debut novel, Three Craws (2016), followed Johnny, a man returning to Fife after hard times in London force him to acknowledge that he’s never going to make it as an artist. Now comes The Book of the Gaels, the charismatic tale of a struggling poet named Fraser who is about to learn the hard way that literature isn’t going to feed his two boys.

Opening in hardscrabble west Cork in the mid-1970s, it’s narrated by Fraser’s 10-year-old son, Joseph, who, like his younger brother, Paul, spends a lot of time hungry and cold. Their mother drowned in a nearby lough when they were too young to remember, and grief-addled Fraser has since turned to verse. When a letter from a Dublin publisher arrives, it inspires a picaresque road trip to the city, hitchhiking, sneaking ticketless on to buses and stealing into churches to scoff the communion wafers and bed down.

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Sep 18, 2022

In beautiful prose, the Pulitzer-winning US novelist offers a powerful indictment of human complicity in environmental destruction

Hunter S Thompson once said that to get at the truth, especially about something terrible, you had to “get subjective”. He was talking about his sworn enemy Richard Nixon, but it applies just the same to the appalling damage we’re doing to our planet. Newspaper articles, charity reports and activist speeches abound – all earnest and arguably objective, but they somehow fail to capture the true meaning of what’s being lost in the natural world.

Perhaps that’s why novelists writing about ecological issues is such a compelling subgenre – they can’t help but let the subjective seep into their nonfiction. Arundhati Roy on the ghastly impact of mega-dam projects in India, Jonathan Safran Foer’s heartbreaking description of pregnant pigs in concrete pens in Eating Animals, or Bruce Chatwin’s lyrical passages about the Australian outback in The Songlines: each does more to broaden our eco-consciousness than a thousand turgid – but well-meaning – thinktank research papers.

The latest novelist to write about nature is Annie Proulx, who in Fen, Bog & Swamp draws our attention to the largely unloved wetlands that are being destroyed around the world. The Harvard biologist EO Wilson wrote that chopping down the rainforest to make money is like burning a priceless Renaissance painting to cook a meal. Proulx wants us to see the loss of wetlands in the same way – and to appreciate the beauty in these swampy and often stinking places. Boy, does she succeed. The prose is just magnificent, bringing to life hitherto overlooked habitats such as “the primordial intensity of the bog’s unmoving tannin-dark water and massed sphagnum”, where “black arms of drowned forests protrude from the water”.

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Sep 18, 2022

With a keen historian’s eye, Lucy Worsley pieces together the queen of crime’s life, work and misunderstood episode of mental illness, while Val McDermid, Natalie Haynes and others put a fresh spin on Miss Marple

Agatha Christie was arguably the first modern literary celebrity, and it follows that her long writing life, from her first published novel in 1920 to her death in 1976 at the age of 85, has been thoroughly picked over, not only by journalists during her lifetime but by the author herself in her autobiography. Any biographer wishing to bring a new perspective to Christie’s story is therefore working within obvious limitations, not least that many of the most intimate and revealing letters written or received by her were destroyed by family or associates. Barring the miraculous discovery of a hitherto unknown cache of documents, then, the best a new biography can hope to do is to offer a fresh interpretation of some very well-thumbed material.

Lucy Worsley’s Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman is the first significant biography of Christie since Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie: An English Mystery in 2007. Unlike Thompson, whose book was something of a hagiography, Worsley steers a careful course between sympathy for her subject and a brisk, no-nonsense acknowledgment of her flaws. In order to maintain this balance, she has to combine a feminist appreciation of the author’s achievements (and the ways in which male journalists and biographers have misrepresented her) with a stern contemporary condemnation of Christie’s more unsavoury views. “We have to face the fact that somewhere in the mass of contradictions making up Agatha Christie was a very dark heart,” she writes. “It’s not just that she could dream up stories in which even children can kill. It’s also that her work contains views on race and class that are unacceptable today.” It’s true that some of Christie’s books contain racist and antisemitic caricatures offensive to modern readers, though whether that’s evidence of inner darkness rather than simply the inevitable product of her background is debatable.

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Sep 18, 2022

The sequel to the US author’s 2018 Pulitzer-winning novel misses the satirical mark far more times than it scores a hit

Have you ever been on a holiday where you spend the whole time coveting your companion’s book? A few years ago, I spent a long weekend in France with a friend who smirked and hooted each time she picked up Less by Andrew Sean Greer, a satirical novel about a globetrotting “minor American novelist” who will attend any minor literary event in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. I was making my way through a piece of experimental prose about chemical castration that I was reviewing, casting envious glances from my sunlounger.

So when I heard that Greer had sent his hapless hero, Arthur Less, “Sancho Panza-ing” across the US for a sequel, I chucked both books in the suitcase, convinced I’d guaranteed myself hours of thigh-slapping, slack-jawed glee. My friend, I should add, was not alone in her verdict. Less won the 2018 Pulitzer prize for fiction (the competition included George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo) and has been hailed by Armistead Maupin and David Sedaris in the most ecstatic terms.

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Sep 17, 2022

China’s president is shoring up his authority but, as Dikötter’s weighty study of the country indicates, he might have less of it than he thinks

There are a number of problems with a tag line like “the most powerful man in the world,” the subtitle of this biography of Xi Jinping by German journalists Stefan Aust and Adrian Geiges, its publication shrewdly timed for the imminent confirmation of its subject’s third term in office, expected at next month’s party congress. For one thing, it begs more questions than it answers; it invites comparisons that can be deceptive, and it takes the display of power at face value. The reader would be wise to approach such claims with a degree of caution.

Xi Jinping does offer useful insights into the biography and the ascent to power of China’s president, Communist party general secretary and chairman of the military commission: that he is the son of a prominent party figure and therefore a red princeling, that he was promoted to the position of mayor of Shanghai after the incumbent – chiefly memorable for his tally of 11 mistresses – was arrested for corruption; that he was head of the organisation committee of the 2008 Olympics, spending three times the budget of the Athens Games, previously the most expensive in history.

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Sep 17, 2022

The US playwright on the traumatic impact of Bell’s palsy on her life, the American obsession with smiling and why Jo from Little Women is her literary heroine

The US playwright Sarah Ruhl, 48, had recently given birth to twins when she discovered, after a lactation consultant noticed one of her eyes was drooping, that something was disconcertingly awry with her face. In her wonderful memoir Smile: The Story of a Face (out in paperback on 29 September), she writes about being diagnosed with Bell’s palsy and suffering postpartum depression at a point when she had a Tony-nominated play transferring to Broadway (the smile on the red carpet an impossibility). This is a book that raises fascinating questions, not least about the dangers of judging by appearances.

Has writing Smile been a way of putting the experience of having Bell’s palsy behind you?
It was absolutely necessary for living the next chapter of my life. I didn’t even know how necessary it was. I’d resisted writing about it because it felt so personal. I’d resisted trying to make narrative sense of what had happened to me. Even after the book’s publication, when asked to retell the story, my mind would go blank. There was trauma there… Writing about it has helped me and I’ve connected with so many readers. And in a literal way, it has led to a diagnosis.

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Sep 17, 2022

After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the Discworld author began an autobiography. He never finished it, but seven years after his death, his long-time assistant has taken up the task

Five months before he died, Terry Pratchett wrote five letters, sealed them in envelopes and locked them in the safe in his office to be opened after his death. This was the one he addressed to me.

Wiltshire

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Sep 16, 2022

From Korea to Ukraine, a brilliant study of the politics and personalities that drive modern conflicts

There was a brief time, lasting from the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, when even quite sensible people wondered whether major wars might become a thing of the past. This proved to be ludicrously wrong, of course. Since the late 1990s our age has been largely defined by war, beginning with Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia and intensifying with 9/11 and the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Now, after Vladimir Putin’s wholly unprovoked attack on Ukraine, we’re experiencing the scary feeling that nuclear war might be a real possibility, once again. And the Ukraine war is forcing us to ask the old, old question: whose finger is really on the trigger? Are the politicians or the generals in charge? The dictators or the duly elected representatives? The presidents and prime ministers or the people in uniform?

Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman is the dominant academic authority in Britain and the English-speaking world on the way modern wars have been fought. Rational, liberal-minded, clear-sighted, he has drawn on a lifetime of experience for his new book. It was, he accepts, a lockdown exercise. A purist might say some of the material could have been differently organised, with a clearer separation of the material by region, for example. But it is the quality of the narrative and the sheer intelligence of the judgment that count, given the subject’s vast sweep. Command takes in not simply the major wars – Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Afghanistan – but also France’s colonial wars in Indo-China and Algeria, the near-war created by the Cuban missile crisis, Pakistan’s hapless attempt to keep hold of Bangladesh, Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Falklands, and Laurent Kabila’s vicious campaign in the Congo: an often shameful yet always illuminating parade of hardware, human inadequacy and death.

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Sep 16, 2022

The Atonement author answers your questions on why he continues to write to what he would do if he wasn’t a novelist

How does it feel for you to know that, when you finish and publish a novel, it gets to live outside your mind, it starts an independent life, begins to travel and change in the world? Maria
Do you know the sweet and celebrated dedication poem Chaucer wrote for his tragedy, Troilus and Cressida?

Go litel book ... He expresses the earnest hope ‘That thou be understonde I god beseche!

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Sep 16, 2022

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith; The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly; The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman; Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson; Marple: Twelve New Stories by Val McDermid and others

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith (Sphere, £25)
At 1,024 pages, the sixth outing for private investigators Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott is the longest yet, but although there are longueurs, this tale of internet pile-ons repays the commitment. Edie Ledwell, co-creator of popular YouTube cartoon The Ink Black Heart, approaches the agency hoping to discover the identity of her online persecutor, Anomie, but is turned away because of an already heavy workload. Shortly afterwards, Edie is found murdered in Highgate Cemetery in north London, with her collaborator and former boyfriend lying seriously wounded nearby. He is unable to name the assailant, but Anomie, who has invented a game based on the cartoon, claims to be responsible. Strike and Ellacott attempt to unmask Anomie, entering the game and interacting with The Ink Black Heart’s obsessive fans. This novel could certainly be seen as Galbraith AKA JK Rowling’s riposte to the treatment meted out to her online, but I suspect it’s not a coincidence that it’s set in 2015, the time of the #Gamergate campaign of misogynistic harassment which, as here, included doxing, rape and death threats, as well as conspiracy theories. This is a cautionary tale of the virtual world’s impact on real people’s lives.

The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99)
A different type of fandom is examined in Erin Kelly’s latest: armchair treasure hunters, such as those obsessed over Kit Williams’s 1979 puzzle story book Masquerade. Here, the inspiration is the similarly successful The Golden Bones, created by artist Frank Churcher: the tale of murdered Elinore, whose bones, made from gold and precious stones, are buried in sites across England. Now only one remains undiscovered. Churcher has grown in wealth and stature, while his family, who enjoy a bourgeois boho existence in Hampstead in London, have become increasingly dysfunctional – and some of the treasure hunters haven’t fared too well, either. The clan meet to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and a film crew is on hand to make a documentary – but when the “big reveal” of the final bone goes disastrously wrong, metaphorical skeletons begin cascading out of cupboards. With rich characterisation and intricate yet propulsive plotting, Kelly is at her considerable best as she mercilessly fillets monstrous egos and toxic relationships while ramping up the tension.

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Sep 16, 2022

How the visionary impresario’s revolutionary ballet company took the Paris of Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel by storm

When young Serge Diaghilev set out to save an art form, ballet was not his first choice. The law student from the unpromising city of Perm in the Urals had started the 20th century by wanting to be a composer, until he showed his music to Rimsky-Korsakov, who was simply appalled. Then he switched to curating Russian avant-garde art, which was thrilling but had no international market. Finally, he worked his way around to ballet, which had struck him as silly when he first encountered it. Still, that was half the fun. As his friend Alexandre Benois said later: “He knew how to will a thing, he knew how to carry his will into practice.”

The will in this case involved taking an exhausted, despoiled art form and twisting it into such thrilling new shapes that the world could not help but sit up and take notice. Diaghilev inherited an art practice that was positively sclerotic, churning out nostalgic tales about dying swans and sleeping princesses for an audience composed mainly of middled-aged men who had come to ogle the girls and speculate on whether they wore knickers. His great triumph was to inject Russian ballet – he called his new French-based company the Ballets Russes – with a shot of creative adrenaline so that it was engaged in creating ecstatic moods and moments rather simply retelling implausible stories. At its heart was a new kind of body too, one that could jump as high and fast as before, but also arrange itself with a new graphic vitality. The kind of body, then, that would look right at home in the Paris of cubism and Coco Chanel.

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Sep 15, 2022

The follow-up to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a powerful novel about secrets and atonement after Auschwitz

John Boyne’s latest novel is a sequel of sorts to 2006’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, perhaps his best known work. Written for children, it was essentially a fable, about Bruno, the young son of an Auschwitz commander, who makes friends with Shmuel, a Jewish boy, through the fence that surrounds the camp. Although the book has been accused of spreading misinformation about the Holocaust, it remains an involving account of humanity amid horror.

Boyne explains that he began making notes for All the Broken Places as soon as he’d finished writing its predecessor. Its major themes are guilt, complicity and the apparently inescapable cycles of grief arising from world-shaking events. It is gripping, well honed and very much aimed at adults.

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Sep 15, 2022

Agatha Christie’s detective faces a dozen fresh cases in newly commissioned work by authors including Val McDermid, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse and Natalie Haynes

Authors of a new collection of stories featuring one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved creations, Miss Marple, have described the character as a “feminist icon” and “one of the great unsung heroines of literature”.

The collection, titled Marple, marks the first time anyone other than Christie has written “official” (as recognised by the Christie estate) Miss Marple stories. The 12 women who contributed to the collection include award-winning crime writers Val McDermid and Dreda Say Mitchell, historical novelist Kate Mosse, classicist and writer Natalie Haynes and New York Times bestselling author Lucy Foley.

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Sep 15, 2022

A refreshingly intimate account of Enninful’s rise from refugee status to editor-in-chief

Edward Enninful’s memoir gives the impression of someone in perpetual motion. He has, after all, made the journey from refugee to the hallowed offices of Condé Nast, becoming the editor-in-chief who brought true diversity to the pages of British Vogue. Make it past the preface, notable for the number of names dropped in one particularly glitzy passage, and you’ll find a text more intimate in tone and easier to relate to, emotionally at least.

The story begins with his middle-class childhood in 1980s Ghana. We’re given fascinating, deftly sketched insights into the experiences of a dreamy, imaginative boy growing up on an army base in Accra under the stern eye of his father, a major in the Ghanaian army. Enninful’s mother, an enterprising and talented dressmaker, is the comforting counterweight. He credits time spent in her studio and visits to measure clients for new gowns with teaching him how to talk to women about style and how to empower them to experiment.

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Sep 15, 2022

From Red Guard in China to guerrilla fighter in Colombia … the extraordinary life of a film-maker is barely fictionalised

What is a novel, anyway? In its most common form, a book-length made-up story, though with the recent rise of autofiction, readers have become used to the line between life and art being blurred. Look back a little further and you’ll find many writers playing with the idea of the “nonfiction novel”, most famously Truman Capote with In Cold Blood: in the right hands, novels are clearly flexible enough to deal in facts.

That’s the territory we find ourselves in here. Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s eighth novel explores the life story of living Colombian film director Sergio Cabrera, director of Time Out, Ilona Arrives With the Rain, The Strategy of the Snail and many others. Vásquez uses as a framing device a 2016 retrospective of Cabrera’s films held in Barcelona, at which time Cabrera’s father, who acted in many of his films, had just died, and his marriage was faltering: exactly the kind of moment at which many of us would look back and try to make sense of our lives.

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