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  • Team of Vipers review: Conway and Kelly bitten in loyalist tell-all

    Cliff Sims criticises staffers including Sarah Sanders, who ‘didn’t press as hard as she could for the rock-bottom truth’

    Cliff Sims, a former aide in Donald Trump’s White House, reportedly received a seven-figure advance for dishing dirt on his ex-boss. If Sims actually banked a million dollars, his agent deserves a round of props. As for Sims’ publishers, they may have overpaid.

    Related: John Kelly shocked staff with speech 'hostile' to Trump, tell-all book reveals

    Kellyanne stood in a class of own in terms of her machinations – I had to admire her sheer gall

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a subordinate whose reputation is worse than yours

    Related: Nancy Pelosi hands Donald Trump a lesson in the art of politics

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  • Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson review – songs of shock and survival
    Benson’s extraordinarily moving collection is a bold confrontation of violence against women

    Vertigo & Ghost is one of the darkest, bravest and most unsettling collections I have read in a while. Its first half turns to Greek mythology to explore violent crimes against women and casts Zeus as he-man, ace swimmer and serial rapist. Yet the opening poem, on the dawning of female sexuality, gives no clue of what is to follow. It describes girls gathering on a tennis court:

    and sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming,
    and we were running towards it,
    its gorgeous euphoric mist;

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  • The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield – review
    Jeremy Dronfield’s account of a father and son’s experiences of the Holocaust is horrifying and important

    The photograph at the beginning of this devastating book shows what may have been the last gathering of the Vienna-based family of Gustav Kleinmann, upholsterer. In 1938, during what Austrian Jews would later bitterly name “the November pogrom” – it began with Kristallnacht – peace-loving Gustav, a decorated war veteran, and his son Fritz, 15, were rounded up on the eager testimony of their non-Jewish neighbours.

    A year later, Gustav, after failing to rescue his boy from a second arrest and instant deportation – the Kleinmanns’ crime, on both occasions, was to be Jewish – was snatched at night from the family home he had courageously refused to abandon. In October 1939, he was dispatched to Buchenwald. And so, by a freak of fate, was Fritz.

    Mauthausen was the destination towards which father and son were going when Gustav persuaded Fritz to leap from a train

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  • The Dark review – dangerous escape from Idi Amin's Uganda

    The Egg, Bath
    Nick Makoha’s fragmented and vertiginous account of his treacherous journey to Britain is a story of our times

    On the left of the stage, a screen projects the Miltonic line: “No light, but rather darkness visible.” On the right, a mother and son board a minibus to begin a treacherous journey out of their Ugandan homeland in 1979, as the nation is torn apart by political turmoil in the dying days of Idi Amin’s regime.

    The boy is the play’s writer, the poet Nick Makoha, and this imaginative enactment of his escape out of Africa is a personal narrative about the loss of home, as well as a fractured story of a country as it descends into violent chaos.

    Touring the UK until 16 February

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  • In brief: Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss; Sal; Last Train to Hilversum – reviews

    A 70-year-old professor’s path to enlightenment, a 13-year-old girl’s escape from violence and a radio lover’s hymn to the shipping forecast

    Rajeev Balasubramanyam
    Vintage, £12.99, pp288

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  • The Great Wide Open by Douglas Kennedy – review
    A book editor in 80s New York unearths some unsavoury secrets in an enjoyable but overlong ‘family noir’

    Before Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins there was Douglas Kennedy, the original maestro of “family noir”. For the past two decades Kennedy has been entertaining readers with barrelling novels in which a parent, sibling or spouse is often the devil in disguise. His latest, The Great Wide Open, takes him to the extremes of this sinister subgenre.

    The prologue introduces us to Alice Burns, a successful book editor in Reagan-era Manhattan as she deals with sloppy prose, turning 30 and a complicated sex life. Her relatives are hardly a help. Visiting one of her brothers in Otisville correctional institution, she uncovers some unsavoury home truths, setting the tone for almost 600 pages of deception and betrayal.

    Related: Douglas Kennedy's top 10 books about grief

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  • The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists – review
    The art critic Michael Peppiatt’s account of his bohemian life in Paris is full of colour, character and charm

    Michael Peppiatt’s memoir is subtitled Paris Among the Artists, but it could be called A Portrait of the Art Critic As an Older Man. Peppiatt, who is best known for his biography and memoirs of his friend Francis Bacon, has spent the greater part of his working life in Paris, and this book is a love letter to the city, although not an uncritical one. He writes in the preface that he will explore “my lifelong attachment to this bewitching, temperamental, exasperating city and the deep love-hate relationship that binds me to it”. Yet he is ultimately a romantic, and the scent that rises from these pages is a heady aroma of Gauloises and red wine. Peppiatt, as a young man, was rather fond of the bottle; this book, at its best, has a similarly intoxicating quality, if one allows for the inevitable moments of self-absorption.

    Peppiatt was brought up to be bilingual, because his father believed that he stood a better chance of getting on in the world if he spoke French. His faith was rewarded when his son obtained a job at the culture magazine Réalités in 1964, from where he headed to the English-language version of Le Monde and then to Art International, which he both published and edited. He accomplished this, as well as writing numerous books about art, with an air of cultured insouciance. Yet, as he notes, “the luxuries, the grandeurs, have no meaning without the drudgery and misères of the daily round”. It must be said that Peppiatt’s luxuries and grandeurs are rather more grand than the rest of us might expect. When he writes about drinking champagne at the Paris Ritz, or being led on grand bacchanals by famous chums, it is hard not to feel that Peppiatt has led an unusually gilded existence.

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  • The Drowned World by JG Ballard – archive, 27 January 1963

    In the third of a new series of reviews from the Observer archive, Kingsley Amis hails the second novel by the brilliantly imaginative science-fiction author

    James Graham Ballard was born in Shanghai in 1930 and spent two years of his childhood in a Japanese prison camp during the second world war. The devastated city was the setting for several of his books, notably Empire of the Sun. The Drowned World, his second novel, established him as a major figure in the new wave of science fiction in the 1960s.

    In JG Ballard’s new book we have something without precedent in this country – a novel by a science-fiction author that can be judged by the highest standards. To my knowledge, this level has as yet been attained by only two American writers, Algis Budrys and Walter M Miller. Mr Ballard may turn out to be the most imaginative of [HG] Wells’s successors, although he has expressly repudiated Wells as an influence.

    The book blazes with images, striking and continuously meaningful

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  • Out of the Woods by Luke Turner – review
    A bisexual son of a preacher fails to find solace in the wilds of Epping Forest in this muddy memoir

    When Luke Turner’s memoir begins, his relationship of five years has just ended. He’s unhappy in all the usual ways about this, not least because it has effectively left him homeless. But the break-up is also a reverberation: a sadness that loops back to other hurts and fissures in his life in a way that fills him with fear for his emotional future. What is needed, at least in the short term, is a means of soothing himself, and so it is that he sets out to explore Epping Forest, on the eastern edge of London, a place he has known since childhood. Nature, he understands, is both a calmer of nerves – all that dappled light and frothing greenery – and a realm in which a person might find a sense of perspective. Oblivious to our woes, it reminds us of our tiny place in the scheme of things, and thus makes us stronger, more easeful. Like the seasons, all things pass in the end.

    But here’s the surprise: in its depths, he finds no peace. Even as Turner is fascinated by Epping, his mind unravels, anxiety and loneliness his closest companions. The forest is a place of “vulgar chaos”, its pollarded trees quite grotesque; at moments, the ancient trunks seem to be moving, “boiling up out of the ground like lava”. He visits at night, wondering (bizarrely) if this will help, but things only darken, the grim stories he has read of its history causing his mind to “slip”. A thrush sounds “deranged”. A muntjac deer peers at him from beneath “tiny devil horns”. He breathes in, not fresh air, but so much “muck”. You would think him a boy in a particularly malevolent fairytale were it not for his regular, and somewhat bathetic, references to his other constant companion, his trusty mobile phone.

    The feeling grows that he doesn’t know where his narrative is going, or precisely what it is that he wants to say

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  • Jokes for the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf review – strange tales from dark places
    Maarouf’s collection of deeply peculiar short stories set in unnamed cities is brilliantly bizarre

    It’s not surprising that the 12 short stories in Mazen Maarouf’s first collection, Jokes for the Gunmen, largely take place in nameless, dream-like cities. Maarouf’s life has taken an unconventional path: he was born in Beirut to Palestinian parents who had fled the Lebanese war, then worked as a teacher of chemistry and physics before moving to Reykjavik, where he has become the foremost translator of Icelandic literature into Arabic. He has also written three books of poetry and two collections of short stories (the second has yet to appear in English). Jokes for the Gunmen won the AlMultaqa prize in 2016, a $20,000 pan-Arab award for the short story.

    Maarouf’s unplaceable cities serve the same purpose as the locations of many of Mohsin Hamid’s novels: the reader can imagine these dark and violent places as San Salvador or Sana’a, as Ciudad Juárez or Bangui. The first, titular story, which is by some distance the longest in the collection, is told from the perspective of a young man who attempts to negotiate the arbitrary and capricious rules of life in a city where bombs rain down indiscriminately and the “gunmen” maintain an uneasy hold on power. The boy’s father, who runs a laundry, is “so weak… so cowardly”.

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