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  • Will Self: ‘The novel is absolutely doomed’

    The award-winning author, currently writing a memoir of his early years, on reading digitally and why he’s making a list of the female greats

    Will Self is the author of 10 novels, five collections of short stories and several works of nonfiction, including The Quantity Theory of Insanity, Dorian and Walking to Hollywood. Phone is the final instalment of the trilogy that began with Umbrella and Shark and is out now in paperback (Viking, £8.99).

    Phone is the last in a 1,500-page trilogy that, loosely, tells the story of psychiatrist Zack Busner, who’s been around in your fiction for a long time. Prominent also are technological advances and the ramifications of conflict. Would it be fair to say there’s a lot going on?
    I cover the inception of these new technologies, I cover Alzheimer’s, autism, war, feminism, and what I tend to get back in return is, ooh, you haven’t got any paragraphs! What I want to reflect with this continuous long line is the long line of news threads, the long line of digital type, the long line of advertising that spools its way through the contemporary mind. So the form of the books is meant to represent the impact of new medias in this old form.

    I was a deeply unhappy child and young man, deeply unhappy, suicidal a lot of the time. Yet I had an amazing time

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  • Raw by Lamont ‘U-God’ Hawkins review – the gritty Wu-Tang Clan backstory

    The Clan member’s hard-hitting hip-hop memoir ranges across martial arts lore, drug dealing and black Muslim self-empowerment

    The rule about history being the propaganda of the victors applies just as clearly to Staten Island rap crew Wu-Tang Clan as to any other battle-ready cadre. The group’s now Hollywood-domiciled mastermind Robert Diggs (AKA RZA) has already put a down payment on posterity’s thumbs up with not one but two well written and informative volumes: a nuts-and-bolts guide, The Wu Tang Manual, and the more philosophically minded The Tao of Wu. So an alternative, bottom-up rather than top-down take on the Clan’s roughneck backstory was long overdue.

    No one would call Lamont “U-God” Hawkins a Wu‑Tang also-ran – at least, not to his face – but he certainly isn’t the member of the ensemble the British public would name first in a hip-hop-themed episode of Family Fortunes. (That would be Ghostface Killah or the sadly departed Ol’ Dirty Bastard.) And Hawkins’s memoir, co-written with science fiction author and editor John Helfers, does at times lapse into generic ghosted rap-speak. But it also contains valuable insights into the unique blend of martial arts lore, black Muslim self-empowerment strategies, insider drug-dealing knowledge and musical inspiration that was Wu‑Tang Clan’s early 1990s escape route from the hard-pressed housing projects its members grew up in.

    Raw contains one of the most heartfelt depictions of hip-hop performance anxiety in the rap memoir canon

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  • Almost Love by Louise O’Neill review – when grief and passion collide

    The hard-hitting YA author makes her adult fiction debut with an exploration of sexual obsession set in post-crash Dublin

    Louise O’Neill is an established writer for young adults, with a reputation for hard-hitting books tackling feminist themes. Her debut, Only Ever Yours, won plaudits for its Atwood-esque depiction of a world in which women are bred for male pleasure. The follow-up, Asking for It, addressed the gang rape of a young woman, and won children’s book of the year at the Irish book awards.

    This is no bland by-numbers romance – O’Neill ventures into some interesting psychological territory

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  • Waiting for the Last Bus by Richard Holloway review – reflections on death and how to live

    The former bishop of Edinburgh considers old age an opportunity for self-examination, in a book enriched by its breadth of cultural reference

    Richard Holloway had his first taste of mortality in his 20s, when he started going bald. Though no narcissist, he hated the hair loss, and tried to reverse it with pills, then disguise it with an artful comb-over, before cropping the whole lot off. As he says, baldness is not a terminal disease but he thinks of it as “good preparation for ageing and death, the skeleton being the ultimate baldy”. Just as he grew to accept his baldness then, so now, at 80, he has come to accept that he won’t be around for ever.

    For most of us, such acceptance doesn’t come easy. Humankind cannot bear very much reality: don’t ask for whom the bell tolls and maybe it won’t. What Holloway acronymises as AAPD – the Anti-Ageing and Postponement of Death industry – has never been busier. Modern medicine prolongs life even when it no longer has quality or agency. The hucksters of cryogenics promise to bring us back even when we’ve gone: for $200,000, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona will preserve your corpse at a temperature of -190C then thaw you out on resurrection day (for the cheaper neuro-only option at $80,000 they’ll freeze just your brain instead).

    Holloway has seen too much suffering and cruelty to conjure a benign overseer

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  • Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park review – daring and deeply felt

    A dark secret and a frozen journey through the fraught terrain of parenthood drive this brave, exhilarating novel

    “I am entering the frozen land,” this short but breathtaking novel about parental heartache begins. In this strange realm, on the far shore of a frozen lake, there “stands a house. A house with a light burning. In the house are stairs that I know I shall have to climb.” What lies at the top of these stairs is the horror that David Park’s narrator, Tom, must learn to endure.

    To keep from dwelling on the room at the top of the stairs, Tom focuses on other duties. There are three days to go until Christmas. Heavy snow has grounded all flights. Tom has to get Luke, his sick son, home from student digs in Sunderland to his family home in Belfast. As he sets out in his car, Tom’s wife, Lorna, tells him he’s a good father. “It’s not a claim I’d ever make for myself but I think that, if I bring our son home, in my own mind it might just help – even tip the balance, however temporarily, in my favour.” He heads off on treacherous roads with only his CDs, the voice of the satnav, and his thoughts for company.

    By the end of this winter’s tale about a journey, the reader has been on a journey too

    Related: David Park: a life in books

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  • The best recent crime novels – review roundup

    Our House by Louise Candlish, The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor, Tangerine by Christine Mangan, House of Beauty by Melba Escobar and Ragnar Jónasson’s The Darkness

    Given the current preoccupation with housing, the property-porn thriller looks set to become a staple of crime fiction, and Our House by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is an excellent example of this burgeoning subgenre. Fiona Lawson arrives home to find a family busy moving into the desirable south London residence she shares with estranged husband, Bram, and their two children – but they hadn’t made plans to sell and, as far as she’s aware, the place wasn’t on the market. The new owners insist they bought the house fair and square, and Bram has disappeared. As Fiona tries to work out what has happened, it becomes clear that her hard-drinking, sexually incontinent husband’s folly has had appalling consequences, which have been unintentionally compounded by her own plans for conscious uncoupling. Husband and wife pass the narrative baton between them in this masterfully plotted, compulsive page-turner.

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  • Out of Nothing review – a breezy trip from the big bang to the end of days
    Daniel Locke and David Blandy’s graphic novel covers everything from the creation of the universe to hip-hop through the eyes of a blue-skinned time traveller

    This bright, imaginative graphic novel moves from the universe’s creation to its destruction, taking in clay tablets, the Gutenberg Bible, the birth of hip-hop and DNA sequencing. Out of Nothing gives its odyssey a human face through its narrator, a blue-skinned, green-eyed time traveller who is as happy waiting in a sea of blackness for time to begin as she is talking about the world wide web with Tim Berners-Lee.

    Her account celebrates humanity’s attempts to explore the world around it and the great beyond, from cave paintings and lion totems to scientists and astronauts. Darkness (whether the Manhattan Project or existential nihilism) lingers around the edges, but this is a mostly breezy account, fuelled by the good stuff – campfire companionship, creative leaps and symbols that talk to us across the centuries.

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  • The Dawn of Christianity review – how a startup faith won hearts and minds
    Robert Knapp’s study, subtitled People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles, is a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs of ordinary people

    In the ancient world of the eastern Mediterranean, many people believed implicitly in the supernatural. They turned to magic and religion to help them survive and thrive, cure illnesses and to ensure good fortune in their uncertain lives. This was true both for pagans, who believed in many gods, and Jewish people, for whom there was only one god, Jahweh. As Robert Knapp argues, it was risky to give up your gods for new ones, inviting divine displeasure. But in the first century AD, some Jews and polytheists began breaking with traditions and embracing a new religion: Christianity. From the dust and heat of Judaea came a new message, from Jesus of Nazareth, who used magic and miracles to convince followers he spoke as a god. He offered a “reward in this life and a happy immortality in the next”. By the end of the third century, 10% of city dwellers were believers. Knapp draws on more than 30 years of research into ancient history to offer a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs of ordinary people and to show how a new religious message won hearts and minds.

    • The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles is published by Profile. To order a copy for £9.34 (RRP £10.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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  • A Walk Through Paris by Eric Hazan review – no museum city but a radical capital

    The renowned editor and writer takes a walk from the south of Paris to the north and finds the metropolis still in the grip of revolution

    Eric Hazan’s politically engaged books on Paris reveal not a museum city but a loud, lively, chaotic metropolis, relevant and revolutionary even in the 21st century. France’s capital is, like any other major city, a place with a radical spread of haves and have nots. What it looks like now, the nature of its living history and how it is under threat from gentrification and other market forces are the subjects of Hazan’s new study, which follows a walk across Paris from south to north, along “the Paris meridian”.

    In a review of Hazan’s essential and encyclopedic The Invention of Paris, published in 2002, Julian Barnes described the author as a “bookish psychogeographer, rescuing historian and committed Benjaminic flâneur; he is memory, conscience and scourge”. But where The Invention of Paris stayed within the périphérique that contains the 20 arrondissements of Paris, this book begins and ends in the banlieue, or suburbs, on a long walk from one community bookshop in Ivry in the south to another in Saint Denis in the north.

    The best moments are those of personal writing, in which Hazan remembers his early days as a cardiovascular surgeon

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  • A Hero Born by Jin Yong review – the gripping world of kung fu chivalry
    The martial arts epic Legends of the Condor Heroes is the magnum opus of China’s most widely read living writer. The first book has finally been translated into English, and it’s a joy

    Jin Yong is an unfamiliar name in the English-speaking world but a superstar in the Chinese-speaking one. Since his first novels were published in serial form in Hong Kong during the 1950s, Jin Yong – the pen name of Louis Cha Leung-yung – has become the most widely read Chinese writer alive. His books have been adapted into TV series, films and video games, and his dense, immersive world inspires the kind of adoration bestowed on those created by writers like western worldbuilders such as JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and George RR Martin.

    One peep into Jin’s fictional universe conjures a sense of deja vu. Now 94, he is the most famous literary exponent of the wuxia genre, the world of kung fu chivalry we know through Chinese martial arts movies, which has shaped so much of modern popular culture, from The Matrix to Netflix’s Marco Polo.

    Related: A hero reborn: ‘China’s Tolkien’ aims to conquer western readers

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