You must have once sat in a bar listening to an apparently informed companion. At first, they beguile you. Then the drink flows, tongues loosen, fingers wag and the evening degenerates. I have been on both sides of the table. I have wagged and been wagged at so often I know the danger signs. Nowhere are they more evident than in today’s lectures on how liberals “just don’t get it”.
Yael Tamir offers an upmarket version of contemporary cliches. She is more wine bar than saloon bar, although, as the glasses are downed, the distinction between the two blurs. Tamir is from the subgenre of former or self-declared liberals and leftists. She was an anti-war activist in the Israeli Peace Now movement and like Blue Labour in Britain, the Prospect founder David Goodhart and a significant faction in the leftwing press, she speaks to liberals more in sorrow than anger. To begin with, at least. She believes nationalist movements can be exploited for social democratic aims and deliver economic patriotism and social responsibility rather than, say, attacks on foreigners and stagnation.
The professor does not know that the British Labour party in 2016 was led by Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong anti-EuropeanContinue reading... Read more »
The notion of the human condition as a prison or a dream state runs through western literature, from Plato through to Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderón de la Barca and all the way to Kafka, Camus, Borges and plenty more. Ben Okri’s 11th novel, The Freedom Artist, invokes all these preceding stories in a multilayered allegorical narrative that cuts to the heart of our current political and cultural malaise, while maintaining a mythical, mesmeric flavour that makes the reader feel these are stories they have always known.
In a 2018 interview with the Guardian, Okri described his life project as trying to do something new with “that great oceanic tide of African fables and stories that I grew up on – what I call the vast invisible literature”. This image – of an invisible literature that permeates the collective consciousness – becomes literal reality in The Freedom Artist – inasmuch as anything in a magic realist world can be described as literal.Continue reading... Read more »
Like his former superior James Comey, the fired deputy director offers a withering portrait of the Goodfellas president
Criminal investigations of Trump World and the 2016 presidential campaign continue unabated. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have placed the president’s inaugural committee and the Trump Organization in their crosshairs. News is rife with talk of subpoenas and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act – or Rico.
The Threat is not just another exercise in score-settling, although there is plenty of thatContinue reading... Read more »
The Hate U Give made a YA superstar of Angie Thomas, but just how do you follow a bestselling debut that has already been made into a movie? In On the Come Up (Walker) 16-year-old Brianna longs to become a famous rapper but finds herself stymied by poverty, a troubled reputation at school and, after her song goes viral, media prejudice about who she really is. There is no second-book syndrome here. Unflinching, honest and brimming with humanity, Thomas writes with confidence and conviction about kids seldom seen in literature. In a book that is all about finding your voice and the power of words, Bri’s frustrated, angry lyrics are pure magic.
Another author following a feted debut is Muhammad Khan, whose excellent I Am Thunder introduced him as an exhilarating new talent. Kick the Moon (Macmillan) sees Ilyas Mian navigate the pressures of contemporary teenage life, from family and religion to toxic masculinity, racism and revenge porn. Gritty stuff, certainly, thick with moral dilemmas, but Khan’s empathy and wry humour, accentuated by a deft use of slang, make this authentic and relatable.
Bates is brilliant and brutal on misogyny, slut-shaming and female sexualityContinue reading... Read more »
Clinical case studies meet personal revelations in a neuropsychologist’s eye‑opening memoir
Author’s notes – those arse-covering pleas bent on cloaking shiftiness with candour – tend to be skipped by all but the pernicketiest of readers. An exception should be made for AK Benjamin’s. The eight lines that preface Let Me Not Be Mad slice straight to the singed, fast-beating heart of a mental-health memoir like no other. Having explained that he’s changed all identifying details, from physical features to backgrounds and locations, as well as blending real and imagined encounters, he adds: “If anything, this confusion makes the book more faithful as an account of my experience.”
It is fair warning. And yet the true nature of that experience isn’t immediately apparent. Benjamin – not his real name, of course – is a clinical neuropsychologist in his late 40s. He specialises in diagnosis and acute rehabilitation, and the book’s opening chapters depict a series of compelling clinical encounters. We meet a distracted older woman named Lucy, who may or may not have Alzheimer’s. There is a troubled boy unable to resist electrocuting himself with a train set, and a fiftysomething financier whose base-jumping brain injury has turned him into “an English Dali”. In his consulting room in a debt-ridden London NHS trust, nothing escapes Benjamin, not even the sweat patches moving across Lucy’s dress, “a live map of drifting continents, like someone drowning in slow motion”.
He juxtaposes glimpses of the everyday horror of neurodegenerative diseases with black comedyContinue reading... Read more »
There are few literary slurs as damning as the term “Hampstead novel”. The Observer’s Kate Kellaway once defined it as “a middle-class morality novel – probably involving adultery and shallow-masquerading-as-deep”. Authors such as Margaret Drabble, Fay Weldon and Ian McEwan are apparently guilty of writing Hampstead novels. Common wisdom says you should never write one these days. But in her quietly defiant, untrendy way that’s precisely what Tessa Hadley has done. Clearly, the woman doesn’t give a fig-scented candle.
Late in the Day tells the story of two upper-middle-class boho couples who sit around listening to Schubert and saying things like: “Christ, Jules… I don’t want to go dinner at the Fairlies’. We don’t even like the Fairlies.” The characters visit the Venice Biennale, discuss Tarkovsky and, naturally, have affairs with one another. Great tracts of it are set slap bang in the middle of NW3.
Her prose – measured, ironic, disarmingly perceptive – picks up on all the contradictions of human existenceContinue reading... Read more »
A lively, unsparing account of Terra Firma’s takeover of EMI and the music giant’s subsequent collapse tells us much about modern-day Britain
If the dismemberment of Britain’s biggest music company in 2011 was a cultural tragedy, then private equity buccaneer Guy Hands wore the bloodied gloves. When his company, Terra Firma, took over EMI, it was still the home of blue-chip acts such as Queen, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Coldplay, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Like many private equity outfits, Terra Firma specialises in leveraged buyouts of underperforming companies, which it puts back in the black and sells on for profit. Hands was a master of the pre-crash universe.
Over the past 15 years, Eamonn Forde has built a reputation as one of the music industry’s most authoritative commentators. The Final Days of EMI, his first book, is an unsparing, follow-the-money inquest into the label’s ill-starred encounter with Hands. It’s primarily a business tale, but it says so much about 21st-century Britain and how we arrived where we are now.
What makes it more than a tale of suits squabbling is the awkward, capricious figure of HandsContinue reading... Read more »
When Roberto Bolaño died aged 50 in 2003, he’d only witnessed the first flickers of the extraordinary fame that was to come his way. His life until that point had been hand to mouth and itinerant, divided between Chile, where he was born, Mexico City and the Costa Brava, where he worked a variety of menial jobs in the rundown seaside resort of Blanes. By the time the Anglophone world got to read him, he was months from death – New Directions published the short, hallucinatory By Night in Chile in March 2003. He died in July, two places from the top of the waiting list for a liver transplant that might have saved him.
Bolaño’s reputation as the greatest Latin American author of his generation rests on two novels – The Savage Detectives, published in Spanish in 1999 and in an immaculate English translation by Natasha Wimmer in 2007, and the book he finished on his deathbed, the Pynchonesque maximalist mindstorm that is 2666, published in English in 2008 (and also translated by Wimmer). The ambition, scope and brilliance of these books won him a host of awards, extraordinary sales (particularly given that they were novels in translation) and a cult-like following. Bolaño’s journals and interviews, pored over by his fans in the wake of his death, helped stoke the myth of his life, which in turn fed his literary reputation. Was he a freedom fighter during Pinochet’s military coup? Was he a heroin addict? To what extent were his novels of sex, drugs and avant-garde poetry romans à clefs?
Was he a freedom fighter? Was he a heroin addict? Were his novels of sex, drugs and avant-garde poetry romans à clefs?Continue reading... Read more »
Despite his partiality, Abdullah Anas offers some useful insights into al-Qaida’s roots
Where should we start if we are to tell the story of the violent Islamist extremism that still threatens us today? The question is an important one and its answer has significance that goes well beyond chronology.
Some commentators in the west, usually to the right of the political spectrum, will start in the 7th century AD with the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad or with the first texts of Islam. The implication is obvious: that there is something inherent in the Islamic faith that engenders or at least encourages violence.
He makes clear that the CIA had no role in directly training, funding or equipping this tiny forceContinue reading... Read more »