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Sep 09, 2022

From Christine Blasey Ford to Amber Heard, Medusa has become the default allegory for a hated woman in the public eye, but those who fear her lethal gaze would do well to revisit the myth

“Ancient Archetypes, Amber Heard, and How to Avoid Both” read a headline on a rightwing US website in May. It was illustrated with Caravaggio’s painting of Medusa, her hair a writhing mass of snakes, her eyes bulging, her mouth open in a silent scream. “Don’t look at her, Johnny! She may turn you to stone!” read the first line of the piece.

There is no more potent symbol of male fear of the female gaze than Medusa. She can destroy you with a single glance. For my generation, we knew this at a very early age, from the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans. Harry Hamlin, as the handsome young hero Perseus, has been sent on a quest to find the head of a gorgon. He hunts Medusa to a dark cave, and discovers that she is hunting him too: armed with a bow, she picks off his comrade with an arrow, and then petrifies him with her glowing eyes. Perseus has to approach her by looking at her reflection in his shield, and even once he has killed her, she is toxic. Her spilled blood is lethally corrosive. I love this film: it was my first introduction to Greek myth. But it cemented the idea of Medusa as predator in my mind for a long time. And, in recent years, the monstrous Medusa has become a default allegory for a hated woman in the public eye.

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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 08, 2022

The peer, known for 2015’s Call Me Dave, promises an ‘open-minded’ study of the new PM’s first year in power, while Out of the Blue by Harry Cole and James Heale is slated for December

Two major books about new prime minister Liz Truss are currently under way, with the first due to be released at the end of this year.

Harry Cole, political editor at the Sun, and James Heale, the Spectator’s diary editor, are behind the first book, which is titled Out of the Blue, while the second is being written by businessman, pollster and writer Lord Ashcroft.

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Sep 08, 2022

Breathe, due out next year, will see the London mayor draw on his own experience with adult-onset asthma to address the crisis

London mayor Sadiq Khan to is to publish his first book, described by his publisher as a “warm and practical guide” to tackling the climate emergency.

Khan became mayor of London in 2016, and since then has brought in a range of environmental measures, including introducing the world’s first ultra-low emission zone, overseeing hundreds of kilometres of new cycle lanes and announcing plans to rewild Hyde Park.

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Sep 08, 2022

A man’s encounter with the woman whose life he saved triggers this heartfelt tale of a search for home and meaning

From his 2016 debut, Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, prolific novelist and playwright Barney Norris has never been afraid to address the Big Stuff. The brevity of life; the fragility of love; the mysteries of memory and consciousness. Through an array of unnervingly convincing ventriloquised voices, he has excelled at pinpointing the pivotal moments in his characters’ emotional lives. His fourth book, Undercurrent, is equally engaged with universal themes, with a Hardyesque focus on chance, agency and grief. However, while each of his first three novels transfixed the reader with a series of claustrophobic, almost unbearably intense monologues, Norris switches here to the ventilated space of a single first-person voice.

We meet the thirtysomething narrator, Ed, at a wedding, stuck in an unhappy relationship with his indifferent girlfriend, Juliet: “I have stopped being happy somewhere … When did that happen? And what am I going to do about it?” Ed decides that he has become “unmoored in the midst of life”, but his fate is changed by encountering Amy, the wedding’s photographer. Except it’s not the first time they’ve met. He discovers that Amy is the girl he saved from drowning during a childhood swimming misadventure; a cosmic accident, and an opportunity he feels strangely impelled to explore: “These choices present themselves to us thousands of times every day, and turn into our lives.” They quickly become a couple and begin a life of tentative cohabitation, meeting Amy’s adoptive parents and Ed’s own mother and stepfather on the Welsh farm where he grew up.

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Sep 08, 2022

In 1660, after the Restoration of the monarchy, two of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers fled to America to escape execution. Harris is at his best in this fictionalisation of their escape and the quest to find them

In 1675, the scattered tribes of New England formed an alliance and rose up against the English colonists who were forcing them off their land. At that time Hadley was a small, remote settlement on the Connecticut river. One Sunday, when the God-fearing inhabitants were in church, the Norwottuck tribe launched an all-out assault.

From nowhere a stranger appeared, a middle-aged man who raised the alarm, organised the town’s defences and led a brutally efficient counterattack. Afterwards he vanished as abruptly as he had arrived.

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Sep 07, 2022

Forget the chilly perfection of marble sculpture – a Cambridge classicist presents ancient bodies in all their fleshy fallibility

Think of the Greek or Roman body, and what might come to mind is the chilly perfection of a marble sculpture. The Apollo Belvedere, for example: a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, rediscovered in the Renaissance, installed in the Vatican by Julius II, regarded as “the miracle of art” by 18th-century German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann.

In Exposed, Cambridge classicist Caroline Vout takes a very different approach. The bodies she considers are fallible and fleshy; they are sticky, malodorous and unpredictable. Some are disabled. Some are enslaved, abused or exploited. (There is a particularly sobering passage on the law code of Gortyn in Crete which, in the fifth century BC, recorded that if a free man raped a free woman he was fined 1,200 obols. For the rape of an enslaved woman the fine was 1 obol – or 24 if she was a virgin.)

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Sep 07, 2022

Wildlife cameraman James Aldred’s diary of time spent observing a family of goshawks in the New Forest takes top honour

Wildlife cameraman James Aldred, who has collaborated with David Attenborough, has been named the winner of the James Cropper Wainwright nature writing prize, while the award’s inaugural children’s writing prize has gone to two brothers writing about climate change.

Aldred’s book Goshawk Summer is a diary of his time spent observing a family of goshawks in the New Forest in southern England. Originally commissioned at the start of 2020 to film the lives of the goshawks, Aldred was granted permission to continue when lockdown struck.

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Sep 07, 2022

Urgent and engaging at its best, the Momentum co-founder’s manifesto fails to chart a realistic route to power

Losing in a landslide is bewildering for those at the heart of a political campaign. Everything is possible, until the hammer blow of the exit poll falls. Then, with relentless predictability, members of the party that has lost first blame the voters, and then start to blame each other. James Schneider was a co-founder of Momentum, the political movement formed off the back of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, and was later the party’s head of strategic communications.

In his new book, he takes a different approach. Opening boldly and promisingly, his first words are “defeatism plagues the British left”, and his introduction sketches his ambition: “To keep the possibilities open and turn winning from a distant hope into a reality, we must use the coming years to build power, weaken our opponents, and prepare ourselves for the next surge.”

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Sep 07, 2022

Authors and publishers’ organisations have also called on the new government to support author visits to schools and to introduce an online sales tax

New prime minister Liz Truss should abolish “the last remaining tax on reading”, ensure schools have funding for author visits and invest in libraries, according to authors and publishing organisations.

Truss officially became the UK’s new prime minister yesterday after meeting the Queen at Balmoral.

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Sep 07, 2022

McEwan takes aim at the postwar generation in this old-fashioned but generous and humane portrait of individual indecision against the backdrop of history

Ian McEwan’s last book, 2019’s The Cockroach, was a petty-hearted Brexit fable and Kafka spoof. Instead of a man waking in the body of a bug, a bug wakes in the body of the British prime minister. Ensconced at No 10, the insect PM sets about creating a squalid paradise for his fellow critters – a septic isle. It’s not hard to reduce the UK to filth and ruin: just give the idiot humans exactly what they want.

The Cockroach was less a satire than a sneer, a book that set out to entrench rather than interrogate the divisions that led to Brexit. It was all carapace, no guts: a testament to the easy, insular comforts of self-righteousness. It seemed McEwan had finally succumbed to that curmudgeonly old cliche, the young renegade turned sour and incurious. And so, when it was announced that the veteran author’s new novel would be a 500-page sociopolitical epic – “a chronicle of our times” – it was hard not to be wary. Even the title felt like a scold: Lessons.

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Sep 06, 2022

A returning foreign correspondent chronicles the transformation of his country in the run-up to January 6

IN EARLY MAY 2020, the American journalist Luke Mogelson left Paris – for years the base from which he covered strife and pestilence around the world – and went home to report on the accelerated unravelling of the US.

The idea of bringing a foreign correspondent back to write about their own country as if on assignment is not a new one. There is a whole subgenre of returning English reporters producing wry travelogues of the British Isles and their encounters with its quirky countryfolk. Mogelson’s account of his return to the US has a great deal more edge to it, given his experiences in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and amid horrifying outbreaks of disease in west Africa. There is nothing wry in his description of the United States, in the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, unable to contain a pandemic that would go on to kill more than a million Americans.

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Sep 06, 2022

Acclaimed US author of numerous dark fantasies, and collaborator of Stephen King, died on Sunday after a long illness

Peter Straub, the celebrated author of dark fantasies, psychological thrillers and literary horrors, died on Sunday following a long illness. He was 79.

Straub authored numerous novels, short stories and novellas during his lifetime, from his debut horror novel Julia in 1975 – later filmed as The Haunting of Julia – to the 2010 novel A Dark Matter and The Talisman, which he co-wrote with Stephen King.

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Sep 06, 2022

Only British writer on list will collect prize on 88th birthday if successful, and is among a list of books judges say ‘speak powerfully about important things’

Alan Garner has become the oldest author to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, and is the only British writer on this year’s list.

He is joined on the shortlist, described by chair of judges Neil MacGregor as six books that “speak powerfully about important things”, by one Irish writer, two Americans, a Zimbabwean and a writer from Sri Lanka.

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Sep 06, 2022

From a surreal African kingdom to a Sri Lankan afterlife, via murder, morality, grief and healing … One of this year’s prize judges assesses the six finalists they must choose between

Legend has it that the 1976 Booker prize was decided by a coin toss when the exasperated judges were unable to agree on a winner. I’m not suggesting that this year’s chair of judges, art historian and former museum director Neil MacGregor, keep some loose change in his back pocket, but every book on the 2022 shortlist is a serious contender for the prize. Short of coin-tossing, arm-wrestling and plucking a name from a hat in a blind panic, I’ve no idea how we’ll pick a winning book from this spectacular final six.

In alphabetical order, the 2022 shortlist begins with NoViolet Bulawayo and her fabulist animal allegory, Glory: a furious, funny and energetic story set in the fictional animal kingdom of Jidada (read: Zimbabwe) as it surfaces from decades of dictatorship. Bulawayo captures the hope, dismay and disarray that follows the toppling of a tyrant. The animal cast includes Robert Mugabe as a doddery old horse and Donald Trump as a tweeting baboon. Bulawayo writes with an exhilarating anger and her surreal imagination puts the Dada into Jidada. It’s been touted as a Zimbabwean Animal Farm, but Glory equally draws from a rich tradition of African storytelling in which animals articulate the deepest truths of our societies.

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Sep 06, 2022

A grieving woman’s childhood nanny reappears in a compelling debut, a ticking noise spells trouble in Simon Mayo’s latest, and Vera Stanhope is back in a friends reunited tale

Sue Keller, whose mother died when she was a child, is drifting through life in New York after the recent death of her father. She’s avoiding human contact as much as possible, until she bumps into Anneliese, who tells her she used to be Sue’s live-in nanny. At first, Sue doesn’t recognise her, but then the memories come flooding back and she finds herself desperate to cling on to this woman who represents a part of her vanished childhood. But there may be more to Anneliese than Sue remembers: why did her father never mention this beloved nanny? What happened to her after she left the Kellers’ home? And where is the line between love and obsession? Nanny Dearest (Quercus, £9.99) is American writer Flora Collins’s first novel, and it’s one to race through, the sense of looming dread growing exponentially as the truth about both Sue and Anneliese starts to seep out. If, like me, you were joyfully terrified by The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (starring Rebecca De Mornay) in the 1990s, then this is the thriller for you.

Italian author Elena Varvello’s Can You Hear Me? was the story of a small community in northern Italy riven by some very dark crimes. Varvello’s Just a Boy (Two Roads, £16.99), translated by Alex Valente, tells of another tiny Italian community, Cave, where terrible things have also happened. The boy at its heart is 17, and much loved by his parents and his two sisters. They can’t quite believe it when rumours start to spread that he has been breaking into his neighbours’ homes and stealing things. But then he commits an attack that will change everything, for himself and his family, for the rest of their lives. His crime spreads its tentacles throughout the novel, but Varvello is more interested in exploring its fallout – how his mother has never been able to move on, driven to despair by her son’s actions; how his father has struggled to survive; what it’s done to his older sisters. Pietro, the father, finds a notebook filled with his daughter’s handwriting, her brother’s name scrawled repeatedly on the page. “The weight of that name – the enormous rock around his neck – pulled him to the floor, his back against the bed and his hands pressed to his mouth.” Varvello’s boy of the title is never named, but his presence is all-encompassing – although it is only towards the end that we start to see the world through his anguished eyes in this darkly eloquent and moving novel.

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Sep 05, 2022

You may disagree with the US author’s bracing journalism, but her right to spark disquiet goes to the heart of the freedom of expression issue

Of all the many hundreds of people I’ve interviewed down the years, only a handful have ever liked to refer to themselves in the third person, a habit I usually take as a sign of borderline insanity. About Lionel Shriver, however, I see no current cause for alarm. OK, so she does call herself Shriver in the introduction to her latest book (“Shriver supported Brexit,” she writes, at the beginning of a sizeable list of the crimes she has committed in the eyes of the progressive and the pious). But her sanity, it seems to me, is not (or not yet) in doubt. Offer her a glass of fizzing, liberal-left Kool-Aid and her response will be to run, at speed, to the nearest tap in search of a generous gallon of cold water.

In Abominations, a collection mostly of her journalism, Shriver splashes this icy water all over and it’s very bracing; as I read, I thought of those scientists who tell us that a daily cold shower can help to boost the human immune system. It feels ever more vital to me – a matter of simple good health – that people try sometimes to read writers with whom they disagree (though I don’t always disagree with her); to do so is akin to filling the lungs with oxygen. It’s not only that we can’t know what we really think unless we’ve something to push against; it should be possible, just occasionally, for us to change our minds. Almost nothing worries me more about our present culture than the fact that the words “I was wrong” are now almost entirely absent from public discourse.

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Sep 05, 2022

Ways With Words, the organisers of Words by the Water in Keswick, say low ticket sales mean it is not viable to run next year’s event

Ways With Words, which runs literary festivals in the Lake District, Suffolk and Devon, has cancelled its forthcoming festival, saying it is not “currently viable” because of the UK’s cost of living crisis.

The organisation had been due to put on Words by the Water, a 10-day event in Keswick, in March 2023. But after experiencing low ticket sales for its festival in Dartington, Devon, in July this year, the decision was made to cancel the Lake District gathering and cease planning events for the foreseeable future.

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Sep 05, 2022

From subatomic particles to human beings, interaction is what shapes reality

Quantum theory is perhaps the most successful scientific idea ever. So far, it has never been proved wrong. It is stupendously predictive, it has clarified the structure of the periodic table, the functioning of the sun, the colour of the sky, the nature of chemical bonds, the formation of galaxies and much more. The technologies we have been able to build as a result range from computers to lasers to medical instruments.

Yet, a century after its birth, something remains deeply puzzling about quantum theory. Unlike its illustrious predecessor, Newton’s classical mechanics, it does not tell us how physical systems behave. Instead, it confines itself to predicting the probability that a physical system will affect us in one way or another. When an electron is fired from one side of a wall with two holes, for instance, quantum theory tells us where it will end up on the other side, stubbornly saying nothing plausible about which hole it has gone through. It treats any physical system as a black box: if you do this to it now, it will react like that later. What happens in between? The theory simply doesn’t tell us.

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Sep 05, 2022

The ‘crookednesse’ of Richard III’s back was presented by Shakespeare as an expression of his villiany while Quasismodo embodied saintly unworldliness. Are we ready to see disability without symbolism?

Ten years ago, in early September 2012, a team of archaeologists and researchers unearthed the 527-year-old remains of Richard III in the lost site of the former Greyfriars church, beneath the staff car park of Leicester city council social services.

Before the results of mitochondrial DNA analysis of a descendant of Anne of York, Richard III’s sister, confirmed that the remains belonged to the fallen king, it was the osteology work of Dr Jo Appleby that led to a probable identification. She determined that the skeleton in the car park belonged to a man between the ages of 30 and 34, whose spine had a pronounced curvature, and whose head showed signs of two lethal injuries consistent with battle trauma.

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Sep 05, 2022

A tragic folk romance is told in fresh, vivid Scots that is both deeply traditional and awake to a much changed modern world

O! shairly ye hae seen my love
Doun whaur the waters wind:
He walks like ane wha fears nae man
And yet his e’en are kind.

O! shairly ye hae seen my love
At the turnin o’ the tide;
For then he gethers in the nets
Doun be the waterside.

O! lassie I hae seen your love
At the turnin o’ the tide;
And he was wi’ the fisher folk
Doun be the waterside.

The fisher folk were at their trade
No far frae Walnut Grove;
They gether’d in their dreepin nets
And fund your ain true love.

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Sep 05, 2022

This Bond versus the Beatles study works best as a series of lively historical nuggets rather than a fight for the nation’s cultural soul

It is a curious fact that the Beatles’ debut single, Love Me Do, and the first James Bond film, Dr No, were both released on Friday 5 October 1962. No one could have predicted that we would still be thrilled by the band’s music six decades later, or that the film franchise would still be going strong. John Higgs, however, had the intriguing idea of exploring their creation, development and afterlives in parallel.

Though he inevitably covers some well-trodden territory, much of the detail is poignant and entertaining. In the early days of Beatlemania, Ringo Starr’s house was surrounded by fans 24 hours a day. His mother, Elsie, politely offered them sandwiches – which they took away, uneaten, as souvenirs. A friend admitted it was “awkward, particularly as the toilet was still in the yard”. The rulers of the Soviet Union, anxious about the rise of western youth culture, made strenuous efforts to discredit the Beatles. One article depicted them as monkeys and called them “Dung Beatles”, while a propaganda film, reports Higgs, bizarrely “intercut unflattering photographs of [the band] together with images of the Ku Klux Klan, ecstatic pop fans dancing, burning crosses and images of rural poverty from the American south”.

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Sep 04, 2022

The novelist’s attempt to capture a man’s existence over eight decades of personal and global change makes you long for the more melodramatic turns of his other books

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Sep 04, 2022

This complete collection of the Brazilian writer’s newspaper columns, translated into English for the first time, shows her insightful engagement with humanity, politics and literature

From the age of seven, Clarice Lispector declared in a 1967 column for the newspaper Jornal do Brasil, she knew she was born to write. And write Lispector did. In a life foreshortened by illness – she died at the age of 56 – she wrote with impatient, impassioned energy, winning early fame for her short stories and novels. But it was her chronicles (crônicas) – newspaper columns published between 1967 and her death in 1977 and now translated into English for the first time – that made the Brazilian novelist a household name.

Lispector was a successful journalist, but not a conventional one. Too Much of Life works in almost uninterrupted continuity with the writer’s fiction – stylistically and otherwise. Like her posthumous masterpiece, The Hour of the Star, her columns straddle realism, memoir, philosophy and politics, each dependent upon – and obscuring – the other.

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Sep 04, 2022

A debut novel set in 1930s Denver blends the colonial past with a dangerous present in a feat of old-school storytelling

Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel is set in 1930s Denver, Colorado, a teeming city built on the exploits of white colonial settlers and the erasure of Indigenous American lands, histories and societies. Its heroine is Luz Lopez, who must struggle to survive despite a traumatic past, a dangerous present and an unknown future.

Fajardo-Anstine describes Denver with a pleasing solidity, its shops, bars and carnivals and small bands of enemies and allies carrying a detailed everyday heft. She offers a fascinatingly rich setting that depicts American western self-mythologisation in the making, when the victors of history are secure enough that the murals in the local courthouse “depicted covered wagons, miners panning for gold, an abundance of white men coming to the land”.

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