Lead book review

When the music changes

In 2011 the New York Times’s chief dance critic, Alastair Macaulay, asked: How should we react today to ‘Bojangles of Harlem’, the extended solo in the 1936 film Swing Time in which Fred Astaire, then at the height of his fame, wears blackface to evoke the African-American dancer Bill Robinson? No pat answer occurs. Zadie

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Divinely decadent

‘Oh the Mediterranean addiction, how we fall for it!’ So sighed Sybille Bedford, who spent the 1920s and 1930s in Sanary-sur-Mer. Aldous Huxley settled in the same fishing village in 1930, writing to his sister-in-law: ‘Here all is exquisitely lovely. Sun, roses, fruit, warmth. We bathe and bask.’ James Lees-Milne perched further along the coast

When greed became good

We financial hacks have been encouraged, indoctrinated perhaps, to think that London’s Big Bang was a Very Good Thing. That moment in October 1986 when the City threw off old shackles and embraced global finance, ditched boozy lunches and chased money like never before was a result for us all — so we’ve been led

Bewitching stuff

Richard Francis’s new novel covers ostensibly familiar ground. Set in and around Boston in the 1690s, it tells the story of the Salem trials, which resulted in the execution of 20 people (14 of them women), and which are sometimes regarded as a hinge event in the evolution of American secularism. As the historian George

Intimations of immortality

A preoccupation with death is felt from the start of Margaret Drabble’s new novel, which opens with Francesca Stubbs, in her seventies, considering whether her last words will be ‘you bloody old fool’ or ‘you fucking idiot’. Fran is central to the web of characters that populate the book, linked by varying degrees of friendship

Magnetic and repellent

When he first came to public notice, Rasputin was described in a Russian newspaper as ‘a symbol. He is not a real person. He is a characteristic product of our strange times.’ With his hypnotic eyes, long hair and peasant simplicity, Rasputin was as mesmerisingly attractive to upper-class and royal women in his 47 years

Blithe spirit

Lady Anne Barnard is a name that means almost nothing today, but her story is a remarkable one. She defied all the expectations governing the behaviour of upper-class women in 18th-century society, yet she made a success of her life. She died leaving six volumes of unpublished autobiography with a stern injunction that her papers

Deadlier than the male | 3 November 2016

Teenage girls all over the world have suddenly developed electro-magnetic powers that can be unleashed on anybody who bugs them. The effect of these electrical jolts ranges from a tingly sensation to scarring, shock, pain, permanent disability, dismemberment and sometimes death. So girls have all the ‘power’ now. Older women soon start zapping too, and