26/02/2022
26 Feb 2022

Vlad the Invader

26 Feb 2022

Vlad the Invader

Books

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Sarah Ditum
Margaret Atwood seems embarrassed by the sheer volume of her output

Margaret Atwood is among the major writers of English fiction of our time. This is a very boring way to start a review, but it is true. Atwood, now 82, is prize-winning, popular and prolific. She’s won two Bookers. Several of her books have attained totemic status with readers, most obviously the reproductive dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale, but also Cat’s Eye, for its steely portrayal of girlhood cruelty, and The Blind Assassin, which combines feminist grit with genre-straddling swagger.

Margaret Atwood seems embarrassed by the sheer volume of her output
Caroline Moorehead
Has the role of resistance in the second world war been exaggerated?

When in 1941 Winston Churchill famously declared that the newly formed Special Operations Executive, set up to encourage resistance movements, would ‘set Europe ablaze’, neither he nor anyone else could have known the extent of the help the partisans would provide to the liberation of the continent. Nor, indeed, did anyone envisage the fact that not all of them would prove as biddable to Allied wishes as they hoped. As Halik Kochanski shows in her compendious book on the six-year underground war, resisters came in all shapes and sizes, not easily controlled or corralled into categories.

Has the role of resistance in the second world war been exaggerated?
Elizabeth Goldring
The machinations of the Dudleys make Game of Thrones look tame

This is the gripping story of the ever-fluctuating fortunes of three generations of the Dudley dynasty, servants to — and at times rivals for — the Crown in the 16th century. As Joanne Paul observes in her engrossing biography of an extraordinary family, ‘had fate, Fortuna, Nemesis or God made only the slightest adjustment to their orchestration of events’, the Dudleys, not the Tudors, might have ruled England for generations.

The machinations of the Dudleys make Game of Thrones look tame
Frances Wilson
Howard Jacobson superbly captures the terrible cost of becoming a writer

Howard Jacobson, who turns 80 this year, published his first novel aged 40. Since then he has produced roughly a book every two years, including The Finkler Question, which won the Man Booker in 2010. Given that he was put on Earth to write, why the wait? This is the subject of Mother’s Boy, a tale of self-persecution in the form of a monologue which includes interjections from the ghosts of his parents and one chapter, recording a period in his twenties that he drifted through in a dream state, printed in a font resembling handwriting.

Howard Jacobson superbly captures the terrible cost of becoming a writer
Alex Clark
A playful version of the universe: Pure Colour, by Sheila Heti, reviewed

Readers familiar with Sheila Heti’s work, most notably How Should a Person Be? and Motherhood, in which she examines both the possibility and implications of choosing one’s life and dealing with the consequences, will be familiar with her apparent capriciousness. Her prose — freewheeling, elliptical, a tangle of jokiness and jeopardy — seems to capture the puzzle of proportionality: how seriously should we take this one life we have, and how can we hope to balance our opposing urges towards levity and gravity? In Pure Colour, we appear to be in similar territory, immediately introduced to a playful version of the universe in which humans are the critics of God’s artistic creation and divided into three categories: birds (concerned with abstract ideals such as beauty and harmony); fish (focused on the greatest happiness of the greatest number) and bears (who devote their emotional intensity to those they love the most).

A playful version of the universe: Pure Colour, by Sheila Heti, reviewed
Chloë Ashby
That sinking feeling: The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka, reviewed

Julie Otsuka has good rhythm, sentences that move to a satisfying beat. Even as her tone shifts — from tender to funny to cynical to sinister — the beat goes on uninterrupted. In this, her third novel, the narrative has a steady flow. The Swimmers traces the cracks that develop in an underground pool, and in a woman’s mind, and the slow and unavoidable deterioration of both. It opens with an introduction to the pool that reads like a guided tour from the swimmers themselves.

That sinking feeling: The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka, reviewed
John Gimlette
Do we still need explorers today?

In November 2017 Benedict Allen found himself at the centre of a media frenzy. He’d been in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on a one-man expedition and hadn’t been heard of for weeks. Declaring him ‘lost’, several papers turned on him, accusing him of being overprivileged and imperialistic. One even suggested the whole thing was a stunt. It didn’t help that he was picked up by a helicopter, sent by the Daily Mail. This was a story the paper’s rivals wanted to spoil.

Do we still need explorers today?
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