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Top 10 books about imaginary friends | Camilla Bruce [26 Feb 2020|12:00pm]

From Lewis Carroll to Vladimir Nabokov and Shirley Jackson, the best of these stories combine fantasy with very real psychology

In fiction, the imaginary friend lives where fantasy, mental illness and the supernatural meet, and it is often intriguingly hard to tell just where it belongs. Children’s imaginary friends are often endearing, as seeen in the countless stories about favourite toys that come to life. But once the protagonist is adult, the imaginary friend can become a sinister presence – a warning that something is wrong. Sometimes it is the relationship itself that is imagined, in fiction as in reality, as when a stalker is convinced they share a special bond with their prey. There is also the eerie notion that a reader’s sense of closeness to a fictional character is a form of imaginary friendship as well.

My debut novel, You Let Me In, is about Cassandra, whose whole life has been influenced by her invisible friend, Pepper-Man. He can provide comfort and protection, but he can also be dangerous, to Cassandra herself and to people around her. It is not so easy, however, to figure out exactly who, or what, Pepper-Man is. He could be a fairy from the forest, as Cassandra firmly believes, or a creature that lives solely in Cassandra’s mind, as her psychiatrist is just as convinced.

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Tudor fat: long books like Hilary Mantel's don't need to be hard [26 Feb 2020|02:28pm]

Suggestions that the 900-page The Mirror & the Light needs editing are underestimating readers - but if you’re unsure you can do it, there are ways to better enjoy long books

Not since Henry VIII first got that glint in his eye has such fuss been made over an urge to start chopping, but here we are: critics the world over are wringing their hands over the length of Hilary Mantel’s much anticipated The Mirror & the Light, which is due out next week.

“Even professed admirers of Mantel may find it hard to finish,” Prospect’s review read, suggesting that people who have waited eight years for the third book in a trilogy may not be invested enough. Many other reviews have also suggested (politely, and often underneath glowing praise) that the book, longer than Wolf Hall and double the size of Bring Up the Bodies at roughly 900 pages, needed more of an edit. I say roughly – almost every review has made mention of the page count and somehow also come up with a different figure to marvel at: 863 pages in the Independent, 912 in the Telegraph and “almost 900” nearly everywhere else, while the New York Times weighed the US edition as a mere “nearly 800 pages”.

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Game of Thrones honoured in new classification of pterosaur [26 Feb 2020|12:47pm]

Targaryendraco wiedenrothi has been renamed after House of Targaryen in George RR Martin’s fantasy saga

George RR Martin is celebrating after a palaeontologist, who named a new genus of pterosaur after the dragons of House Targaryen, agreed with him that dragons should have two, rather than four, legs.

The fossilised bones of Targaryendraco wiedenrothi, which lived 130m years ago, were discovered by Kurt Wiedenroth in 1984 in northern Germany. The specimen was originally classified within the Ornithocheirus group of pterosaurs, as Ornithocheirus wiedenrothi, but the toothy pterosaur has now been reassigned to the new genus Targaryendraco. Six other already known pterosaurs were also found to be closely related to the group, which features pterosaurs with wingspans between 10 and 26 feet, and narrow snouts.

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Theft by Luke Brown review – black comedy of sexualised class war [26 Feb 2020|09:00am]
A enigmatic chancer worms his way into a world of privilege and power in this pithy satirical novel

The narrator of Luke Brown’s second novel is “a white male from the north of England, small town, moribund, working class-cum-middle-class … a reader, an autodidact, a would-be escapee”. Paul is a bookseller and occasional hack; he writes two columns – one about books, the other about haircuts – for a fashion magazine. With his beard, thick-rimmed glasses and garish bicycle, he could be your typical hipster. But he feels like an impostor in his east London milieu. When he meets a mercurial novelist called Emily, he believes he has found a kindred spirit: “Her Glaswegian accent was carefully enunciated … she might have planed the edges off it herself, like I had done with mine, sliver by sliver, to wedge between where we had been and where we now wanted admittance.”

Emily lives in an affluent part of town with her much older partner, Andrew, a distinguished conservative public intellectual. Andrew has a daughter, Sophie, an expensively educated Marxist and wannabe journalist in her early 20s. Emily is dismissive of her, remarking that “the egalitarianism she professes is abstract rather than intuitive”. Paul then meets Sophie at a book launch and they engage in some flirtatious sparring about privilege, identity politics and Philip Roth. A thoroughly unwholesome scenario duly unfolds: Paul befriends Andrew, and sets about the task of seducing both his partner and his daughter simultaneously.

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Our Bodies, Their Battlefield by Christina Lamb review – groundbreaking on women and war [26 Feb 2020|07:30am]

Rape is as much a weapon of war as a Kalashnikov ... the acclaimed foreign correspondent has written a harrowing but vital book

As a junior researcher on a TV documentary in Uganda in 1986, I was told to ask a question that was the dark cliche of war reporting: “Anyone here been raped and speak English?” To my horror, a teenage girl stepped shyly forward, eyes cast downwards. Since then, I have come across hundreds of women raped in wars around the world – and I have found kinder ways of establishing if they want to tell their story.

In her harrowing new book, foreign correspondent Christina Lamb explains that rape in conflict is often seen as a “private crime”, an incidental atrocity, when it is “as much of a weapon of war as the machete, club or Kalashnikov”. She gives priority to the stories of individual women, many of whom feel validated by speaking out, but understands why other victims remain silent. Often they feel ashamed, or fear ostracism from their own communities. “You won’t find these women’s names in the history books or on the war memorials,” Lamb writes. “But to me they are the real heroes.”

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Rathbones Folio prize: Zadie Smith makes female-dominated shortlist [25 Feb 2020|07:20pm]

Eight books in contention for £30,000 award that has never been won by a woman include Zadie Smith’s story collection Grand Union and poet Fiona Benson’s Vertigo & Ghost

Zadie Smith and Forward prize winner Fiona Benson are among six female authors shortlisted for this year’s Rathbones Folio prize, which has not yet been won by a woman.

Set up in the wake of controversy around the 2011 Booker prize, which saw chair of judges Stella Rimington praising “readability” and books that “zip along”, to the dismay of parts of the literary establishment, the £30,000 prize rewards “the best work of literature of the year, regardless of form”. It has been won in the past by books including Raymond Antrobus’s poetry collection The Perseverance and Richard Lloyd Parry’s look at the aftermath of Japan’s 2011 disaster Ghosts of the Tsunami.

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Apeirogon by Colum McCann review – a beautifully observed masterpiece [24 Feb 2020|07:00am]

Based on the true-life friendship of two men whose daughters were killed in the Middle East, this novel buoys the heart

In his 1985 Jerusalem prize acceptance speech, Milan Kundera spoke about the novel’s ability to transcend binaries, using Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to illustrate his point. “The novel is the imaginary paradise of individuals,” he said. “It is the territory where no one possesses the truth, neither Anna nor Karenin, but where everyone has the right to be understood, both Anna and Karenin.” In an age of certainty, the novel is the home of doubt, of ambiguity, of multiple truths.

Colum McCann has written something he calls a “hybrid novel,” in which the form’s mutability, its stance on both sides and neither, is used to address the entrenched positions of the Middle East. The title is taken from the mathematical term for an object of an “observably infinite number of sides”, a shape that serves as a model for a new way of thinking about a conflict that is too often reduced to simple, opposed positions.

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Malorie Blackman: time is right for BBC Noughts and Crosses drama [25 Feb 2020|12:01am]

Author of dystopian series hopes TV adaptation will open up more nuanced debate on race in UK

The bestselling author and former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman has said she hopes the forthcoming BBC adaptation of her critically acclaimed series Noughts and Crosses will open up a more nuanced debate on race in the UK.

With the subject permeating the critically acclaimed dystopian fiction series, Blackman, 58, told Radio Times the TV adaptation was being released at a time when it could make a bigger impact than when it was first announced four years ago.

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Georges Simenon webchat with his son John – post your questions now [25 Feb 2020|10:54am]

Concluding our look at the Inspector Maigret mysteries, the author’s son will join us on Friday 28 February at 1pm GMT to field your questions about his father’s career

I’m very pleased to say that John Simenon, son of famous Belgian novelist Georges Simenon – the subject of the reading group this past month – will be joining us for a webchat on 28 February at 1pm GMT.

As well as working in the film industry since the 1970s, John has managed the literary estate of his father for more than 25 years. He is the moral rights director of the Georges Simenon estate and has been closely involved with the recent Penguin translation series, which has provided so much pleasure and fruitful discussion for us.

My father was an obsédé of life and literature … He refused to camouflage his own weaknesses, magnifying them instead. If he was weak, his characters were weak. If he felt strong, he wrote strong characters. In short, he attempted to create the image of mankind. My father was himself his most compelling character.

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House of Glass by Hadley Freeman review – flight and fight of a Jewish family [25 Feb 2020|08:30am]

Hadley Freeman’s gripping family biography of persecution and escape offers lessons for our own time

Deep inside her paternal grandmother’s closet, behind the leather handbags, the elegant dresses wrapped in dry-cleaner plastic, all giving off a whiff of Guerlain face powder mixed with Chanel perfume, the Guardian writer Hadley Freeman discovered a shoebox covered in years of dust. Its contents deflected her from the fashion piece she had been intending to write about her unsettling, melancholic French grandmother, now dead for some 10 years, and ever out of place in the America where they all lived. Instead, the photos, documents and mysterious fragments the shoebox contained set her off on a quest. It grew into a capacious family story that moves from Poland to France to America and brings to vivid life some of the worst, and perhaps also finest, moments of the 20th century.

Freeman is a determined and eloquent detective. She sifts records, has translations of documents done and travels often with her father to the sites of ancestral life. Above all, she is a splendid creator of character. As she roots around in a past that moves from persecution and the extreme poverty of a Jewish family in the southwestern corner of Poland, to interwar immigrant life in the then unglamorous Marais district of Paris, to the turbulence and death of the war years and beyond, the members of her great and grandparental family take on memorable individuality. What is fascinating to note is that it is some of the forebears she likes least who emerge as distinct heroes.

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The surprising history of astrology – books podcast [25 Feb 2020|06:00am]

On this week’s show, data scientist Alexander Boxer looks back over the history of astrology and reveals what it tells us about the past – and the future – of science. He tells Richard about the surprising history and science of astrology in his book A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for our Destiny in Data.

And at the trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, his lawyer complained that a juror was reading “books on predatory older men” and reviewing them online on Goodreads during the proceedings. Claire and Sian talk about the ways our reading choices can signal who we are as people.

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Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor review – intense and inventive [25 Feb 2020|07:00am]
A murder mystery set in horror and squalor, this English-language debut signals the rise of a Mexican star

A structurally inventive murder mystery set in a lawless Mexican village rife with superstition, Fernanda Melchor’s formidable English-language debut takes the form of eight torrential paragraphs ranging from one to 64 pages long.

It opens in a blizzard of gossip related to the discovery of the corpse of a notorious local woman known as the Witch, who provided abortions for sex workers serving the nearby oil industry and whose rundown mansion – a venue for raucous parties – was said to hold a stash of gold eyed up by everyone from down-at-heel gigolos to venal cops on the take.

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The surprising history of astrology – books podcast [25 Feb 2020|06:00am]

On this week’s show, data scientist Alexander Boxer looks back over the history of astrology and reveals what it tells us about the past – and the future – of science. She tells Richard about the surprising history and science of astrology in his book A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for our Destiny in Data.

And at the trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, his lawyer complained that a juror was reading “books on predatory older men” and reviewing them online on Goodreads during the proceedings. Claire and Sian talk about the ways our reading choices can signal who we are as people.

Continue reading...
post comment

Malorie Blackman: time is right for BBC Noughts and Crosses drama [25 Feb 2020|12:01am]

Author of dystopian series hopes TV adaptation will open up more nuanced debate on race in UK

The bestselling author and former children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman, has said she hopes the forthcoming BBC adaptation of her critically acclaimed series Noughts and Crosses will open up a more nuanced debate on race in the UK.

With the subject permeating the critically acclaimed dystopian fiction series, Blackman, 58, told Radio Times the TV adaptation was being released at a time when it could make a bigger impact than when it was first announced four years ago.

Continue reading...
post comment

As Hay festival opens in the UAE, authors condemn free speech abuses [24 Feb 2020|02:59pm]

Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky and more than 40 NGOs say the country’s support for the event is at odds with its record on human rights

As bestselling authors from Jung Chang to Bernardine Evaristo prepare to gather in Abu Dhabi for the first Hay festival in the United Arab Emirates, leading figures have spoken out against the country’s compromised free speech. Stephen Fry - the festival’s president – has joined more than 40 public figures and organisations castigating its government for “promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions”.

An open letter signed by Fry, Noam Chomsky, and a coalition of more than 40 NGOs including Amnesty and PEN International, is calling on the UAE to use the launch of the festival’s Abu Dhabi branch – which opens on Tuesday – to “demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online”.

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The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel review – Cromwell’s end [24 Feb 2020|12:00am]

The long-awaited final part of the Booker-winning trilogy is a masterpiece that will keep yielding its riches

So the trilogy is complete, and it is magnificent. The portrait of Thomas Cromwell that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (2012) now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors. “Concludes” is perhaps not the word, for there is no tone of finality. Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, deputy head of the church in England, chief minister, second man of the realm, Cremuel to the imperial ambassador, Crumb to friends, has a great deal of business to do, through 900 pages, before we contemplate endings. The heights of his power are all before us, and though he likes ladders and cranes of construction sites, for his own progress he prefers to think of wings.

Related: The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel – read the exclusive first extract

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As Hay festival opens in the UAE, authors condemn free speech abuses [24 Feb 2020|02:59pm]

Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky and more than 40 NGOs say the country’s support for the event is at odds with its record on human rights

As bestselling authors from Jung Chang to Bernardine Evaristo prepare to gather in Abu Dhabi for the first Hay festival in the United Arab Emirates, leading figures have spoken out against the country’s compromised free speech. Stephen Fry - the festival’s president – has joined more than 40 public figures and organisations castigating its government for “promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions”.

An open letter signed by Fry, Noam Chomsky, and a coalition of more than 40 NGOs including Amnesty and PEN International, is calling on the UAE to use the launch of the festival’s Abu Dhabi branch – which opens on Tuesday – to “demonstrate their respect for the right to freedom of expression by freeing all human rights defenders imprisoned for expressing themselves peacefully online”.

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week? [24 Feb 2020|03:00pm]

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from the last week.

Let’s begin at The Beginning Of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald, as recommended by Dennis89:

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The best recent thrillers – review roundup [24 Feb 2020|11:30am]
Boy meets girl in the woods, a wedding turns bloody, and two cold cases come dramatically back to life

Bantam Press, £12.99, pp384

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The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel review – Cromwell’s end [24 Feb 2020|12:00am]

The long-awaited final part of the Booker-winning trilogy is a masterpiece that will keep yielding its riches

So the trilogy is complete, and it is magnificent. The portrait of Thomas Cromwell that began with Wolf Hall (2009) and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (2012) now concludes with a novel of epic proportions, every bit as thrilling, propulsive, darkly comic and stupendously intelligent as its predecessors. “Concludes” is perhaps not the word, for there is no tone of finality. Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, deputy head of the church in England, chief minister, second man of the realm, Cremuel, my Lord Cromell, Crumb to friends, has a great deal of business to do, through 900 pages, before we contemplate endings. The heights of his power are all before us, and though he likes ladders he prefers to think of wings.

Related: The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel – read the exclusive first extract

Continue reading...
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