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  • Wendy and Peter Pan review – a blast of fairy dust

    Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
    Ella Hickson’s adaptation of JM Barrie’s story is a funny and heartbreaking coming-of-age tale for its swashbuckling heroine

    Peter Pan is as much a concept as a character. JM Barrie’s boy who would not grow up stands for lost youth and the passing of time but, set against those abstract ideas, his personality is vague – as elusive as his shadow. Living for the moment, he is on a self-absorbed mission to seek excitement but, as a character, he is not yet fully formed. Nor, by definition, does he ever change.

    In her superb adaptation of the book, first staged at the RSC in 2013, Ella Hickson suggests that behind the swashbuckling, the ticking crocodile and the kidnapping of Neverland, the real dramatic action lies not with Peter but with Wendy. On the cusp of adolescence, she is the one being pulled between the freedom of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. On one hand, the naive sexual awakening as she flirts with Peter; on the other, the dark uncertainties of womanhood – creepily represented in Eleanor Rhode’s production by the turquoise ball gown she is given by Captain Hook, played by Gyuri Sarossy as an ageing baddie who fears Peter’s virile youth as much as his sword.

    Related: Ten of the best theatre shows for Christmas 2018

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  • Turbulence by David Szalay review – effortless prose
    The Booker-shortlisted author’s linked stories of passengers on a plane portray humanity at its most desperate

    The 21st century began with the fear of millennium bug-stricken aircraft falling from the sky, then found its violent expression in the image of weaponised 767s bringing down the twin towers. Even though flying is safer now than ever before, our crashes are pored over with a kind of frantic, computer-animated fascination, enlarging them in the minds of viewers. It’s no wonder that, according to a recent study by National Geographic, more of us are scared of flying now than 10 years ago. If the 20th century, from the Wright brothers to the moon landings to the boom in long-haul travel, was all about the streamlined silver thrill of flight, we now seem to be experiencing a darker chapter in our airborne history. “She knew it was silly, her fear of flying,” one of the characters in Turbulence, David Szalay’s latest novel, says. “The statistics spoke for themselves.” This rational thinking is overwhelmed by the first flutter of the turbulence that will send the unnamed narrator into a panicked fit. “What she hated about even mild turbulence was the way it ended the illusion of security, the way that it made it impossible to pretend that she was somewhere safe.”

    Turbulence is structured as 12 linked stories, each of them presenting a brief glimpse into the life of a solitary air traveller. The characters brush past one another, their tales overlap, there is a sense of a narrative baton being passed from one story’s protagonist to the next. Szalay presents us with lives that are messy, stalked by the threat of disease or bankruptcy or domestic violence, lives in thrall to atavistic animal impulses yet suspended in hi-tech bubbles far above the earth. With its sweeping vision of a complex, interconnected world always in motion, it feels like Turbulence is attempting to do on a global scale what Szalay’s last book, All That Man Is, did for Europe: present us with a series of lives that feel at once profoundly particular and yet also emblematic, a portrait of our species at a time of crisis.

    Related: Spring by David Szalay – review

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  • Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism – review
    Kristen R Ghodsee’s study of the links between female sexual pleasure and politics is a joyous read

    Vote for me and have more orgasms! Politicians don’t usually campaign on these terms but in these days of Brexit anaesthesia maybe they should. Sex may feel mostly private and individual but it takes place in a system that changes how we may experience it. So does late capitalism make the earth move more or less? We have lived through a period in which we could actually test that. Before the Berlin Wall came down we had a communist and capitalist society living side by side. For all we were told about ugly, unfeminine communist women, the awful Stasi, the lack of material goods, the deprivations, west German women were grateful that as soon as east German women came over they demanded creches and childcare. They felt no stigma about being single parents. Some viewed their sexuality as free and somehow different to the commodified sexuality of the west.

    If we look at many eastern European women now we see quite clearly the ravages of unfettered capitalism. The free market takes over as state socialism collapses and what happens? Women become items to be bought and sold, whether they are Russian mail-order brides, Ukrainian sex workers or Polish “maids”. This zippy little book argues that not only is unregulated capitalism bad in itself, it is also disproportionately bad for women.

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  • Trump's Enemies review: president's pitbulls come out brawling and bawling

    Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie are snarling Trump ultras, determined to boost their belligerent ex-boss

    Autumn can be the cruellest season. On election day, a coalition of suburbanites, college graduates, minorities and millennials battered the president and his party. Three weeks later, neo-Confederate Cindy Hyde-Smith could only eke out a single-digit win in Mississippi, the heart of Dixie, once home to Jefferson Davis, John Stennis and James Eastland. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation haunts the White House like Banquo’s ghost, and Donald Trump’s disapproval rating has again climbed above 60%.

    Related: Night of Camp David: the return of a 1965 book about an insane president

    It was the candidate who shouted 'I love WikiLeaks'. Consistency can be a nuisance

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  • In brief: Eternal Boy; Childhood; ‘Broadsword Calling Danny Boy’ – reviews
    A biography of Kenneth Grahame explores a life of tragedy, Gerard Reve unsettles with a tale of Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and Geoff Dyer finds joy in Where Eagles Dare

    Head of Zeus, £18.99, pp304
    Matthew Dennison’s short, gripping and consistently surprising biography of Kenneth Grahame ably explains how a stuffy bank clerk produced arguably the greatest children’s book ever written, The Wind in the Willows. Grahame’s was a life of tragedy from its beginning and a consequent retreat into private fantasy proved both his imaginative salvation and, thanks to his unfortunate son, “Mouse”, the greatest loss of all.

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  • Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture – review

    Edited by Roxane Gay, this collection of personal accounts of sexual violence is important, exhausting and should not have to exist

    The unfortunate problem with a book on rape and sexual violence is that it isn’t an easy or comfortable read. Neither are the #MeToo tweets, the newspaper essays or the magazine special issues. It is absurd, but rape is having a “moment”, despite happening since for ever. This is, obviously, a good thing, but sometimes it is hard to avoid feeling that, as well as being exhausted by insidious rape culture, one is exhausted reading about it. I suppose what I am saying here is that Roxane Gay’s Not That Bad is an important book, but it’s also one I wish didn’t have to exist.

    Gay notes in her introduction that she originally envisioned Not That Bad as a series of journalistically reported essays and features, genuine dispatches. Instead, the book is mostly confessional, first-person storytelling. And the storytelling is very good – observationally sharp, the writing often as vivid as bruises.

    Perhaps the most important books on rape and a more generalised cultural misogyny will be ones tailored towards men

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  • Like a Sword Wound review – vibrant and engrossing

    Jailed novelist Ahmet Altan is ‘living what he wrote’ in this tale of repression set in Ottoman Turkey

    Ahmet Altan, an award-winning Turkish novelist and journalist, is serving a life sentence on spurious charges following the attempted coup of 2016. He has written about the absurd and petty restrictions of the Ottoman empire and finds himself the victim of the absurd and petty repression of Turkey’s current government. He commented from prison: “I am living what I wrote in a novel.” He is referring to Like a Sword Wound, first published in 1997 and now published in English. This is the first volume in a quartet encompassing the decline of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th century and the rise of Kemal Atatürk in the 1920s.

    It is a brilliant critique of an authoritarian regime on the verge of collapse. I was teaching English in Istanbul in 1993 (having worked as director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee before and afterwards). Political suppression was widespread, the economy was shot and state suspicion was rife. Although Altan was writing about the late Ottoman period, the parallels with 1990s Turkey are clear. The ultra-nationalism, paranoia, human rights violations and censorship of that period could be compared to president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government today. As Altan has observed: “this country’s politicians’ desire to become the ‘sultan’ never ceases.”

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  • Brutally Honest by Melanie Brown review – how girl power won through

    Scary Spice’s gruelling memoir of marriage to her abusive ex-husband aims to enlighten victims of domestic abuse

    As the Spice Girls return, so do debates about girl power: a marketing ploy or a generational radicalisation that still reverberates today? The arguments are inseparable. Capitalism was the perfect vehicle for the fivesome’s gaudy feminism, rooted not in intellectual doctrine but in their keen sense that they deserved to act, love and, yes, earn just like men did.

    Their cultural legacy was to make feminism mainstream. Highlighting the voices of working-class, uneducated women was similarly key to their mission, but those groups don’t share the platform of today’s pallid pop feminism. Melanie Brown’s Brutally Honest continues this side of the Spice Girls’ work: writing for readers who aren’t steeped in the theories of domestic abuse, but imprisoned by its everyday assault, as she was.

    Related: The Spice Girls showed us how to party. In dark times, they’re back to remind us | Alex Clark

    Bruised and defiantly minus her wedding ring, she appears on X Factor to show Belafonte it's over

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  • The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, edited by Jeremy Noel-Tod – review

    An essential collection of prose poems from across the globe, by old masters and new, reveals the form’s astonishing range

    You might think of a prose poem as a bastardised form – neither one thing nor another; a modernist mongrel. But this anthology is an invitation to rethink its place in literature (mongrels are, after all, prized for their intelligence). It is a wonderful book – an invigorating revelation. Jeremy Noel-Tod has done a stupendous job in corralling 200 poems from around the world. His definition of the prose poem boils down to “the simplest common denominator… a poem without line breaks”. Not a single piece here is unworthy of notice and the excitement is that, alongside indispensable familiars – Turgenev, Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Czeslaw Milosz – there are many unusual suspects. Noel-Tod maintains that the prose poem “drives the reading mind beyond the city limits”. It does – and its suburbs are extraordinary.

    Baudelaire is usually hailed as the originator of the prose poem with his Petits poèmes en prose (1869), followed by Rimbaud with Les Illuminations (1886), but Noel-Tod reveals that Edgar Allan Poe got there first with Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848), an “unclassifiable essay, both mystical and scientific”. This anthology, which contains its own share of the unclassifiable, is published in reverse chronological order: contemporary, postmodern and modern. To qualify for inclusion, prose poems needed to have been previously published as poetry. And what emerges is that the prose poem has always been a liberating space and that being “neither one thing nor another” is its power: it lends itself to the liminal, experimental, to dreams and in-between feelings – especially about writing itself.

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  • Aravind Adiga: ‘Cricket has become the spearhead of the new Indian capitalism’

    The Booker-winning novelist on how disgust for his national sport fuelled his novel Selection Day and why he’ll always love Somerset Maugham

    Aravind Adiga’s debut novel, The White Tiger, was a searing portrait of the clash between rich and poor, rural and urban, in contemporary India; it won the 2008 Man Booker prize. His subsequent novels include Last Man in Tower and Selection Day, which tells the story of two brothers growing up poor in Mumbai and chasing cricketing stardom. Kamila Shamsie described it as a “finely told… moving and intelligent novel” and it will be reissued on 13 December ahead of a Netflix series based on the book, which will be released on 28 December.

    Selection Day is about a father who envisages a grand future in Indian cricket for his sons. Was it prompted by your love for the sport?
    No. Actually, it comes from something close to disgust with the way cricket is played in India. It’s often said that cricket and Bollywood are the two real religions of India, which unite people of all backgrounds, and there’s much truth to that.

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