Nothing satisfies Madonna for very long

In 1994, Norman Mailer called Madonna ‘our greatest living female artist’. She was huge in those days. I remember teenagers like my daughters constantly asking ‘What would Madonna do?’ But my grandchildren haven’t even heard of her. She seems to have faded faster than most. Why? Perhaps it’s because, as often claimed, she’s the ‘queen of reinvention’. But people who reinvent themselves every few months, as Madonna always did, tend to leave other people behind. Her ‘rebel life’, as told here by Mary Gabriel, is a frenzied churn of friends, lovers, mentors and collaborators who were vital to her for a year or two and then discarded. Her first manager,

Double trouble: August Blue, by Deborah Levy, reviewed

The narrator-protagonist of Deborah Levy’s August Blue, an elite-level concert pianist called Elsa, is going through a difficult time. She recently walked off stage after messing up a Rachmaninoff recital in Vienna. More worryingly, she has just dyed her hair blue. At a market stall in Athens, she becomes entranced by a pair of novelty mechanical horses, but they’re snapped up by another customer with whom she becomes fixated. Elsa keeps noticing ‘the horse woman’ out and about, and starts to think of her as ‘a sort of psychic double’. She is deeply impressed when she sees her smoking a large cigar: ‘It was a poke at life. A provocation.

Parallel lives: Violets, by Alex Hyde, reviewed

When Violet wakes up in Birmingham Women’s Hospital at the start of Alex Hyde’s debut novel her first thought is of what has happened to the enamel pail of blood, because she hates the idea of someone else emptying it: ‘Was that what it meant, lifeblood? Placental, uterine. She had seen the blood drop out of her into the pail. It came with the force of an ending.’ A messy business, miscarriage. Across the country in Wales, another Violet is dealing with a different sort of mess. ‘No, still nothing. Violet pulled up her knickers and swilled out the pan. Every time she would check. Every slight feeling of wet.’

Letters: Why net zero is impossible

Carbon deceit Sir: At this week’s climate change conference, countries will be urged to follow the UK’s ‘lead’ in setting the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 (‘Cop out’, 30 October). This goal is impossible for any advanced economy based on mass consumption. The majority of British manufacturing has shifted abroad, where labour is cheap and items are mostly produced with electricity supplied by coal and other fossil fuels. For a real figure for Britain’s emissions, the consumption of goods produced overseas must be included. As our consumption has increased enormously over the past 30 years, this carbon addition will be substantial. It is a dangerous nonsense for rich

The tragic plight of black children in care

A young black boy is living with me. He is my foster son. I know what he likes for breakfast, where his friends live and what makes him smile. I have watched in fear and then awe as he has taught himself skateboard tricks. I have taken him to the doctor, and on holiday. Now I have to tell him that he will be leaving to stay with another foster family. According to social workers, this family is better for him in the long run. But the stats suggest otherwise. He is more likely than most to face destitution, exploitation and incarceration Recently published figures from the government’s racial disparity

Mothers and daughters: I Couldn’t Love You More, by Esther Freud, reviewed

A new novel by Esther Freud — her ninth — raises the perennial but always fascinating question about the use of autobiography in fiction. Since her first novel, Hideous Kinky, Freud has frequently used an underpinning of autobiography, but mostly it’s been discreet. You didn’t need to distinguish what was life, what fiction. But with I Couldn’t Love You More the auto-biographical element has become overt and somehow obtrusive. Freud’s previous novel, Mr Mac and Me, concerned with Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s stay in Suffolk at the start of the second world war, is on the cusp of being an historical novel. This one is close to autofiction. In the acknowledgements,

Finder and keeper: two family memoirs reviewed

What can we ever know about our family’s past? How do we love those closest to us when doing so brings us to the edge of insanity? Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know and Sam Mills’s The Fragments of My Father explore both of these questions. Chung’s memoir takes on a sleuth-like quality as she describes the process of uncovering her birth family. Born weeks premature, she was put up for adoption by her Korean-American parents, who feared she wouldn’t survive. Throughout her childhood, the reasons behind her adoption were presented as solid and comforting: ‘The doctors told them you would struggle all your life. Your birth parents were

Another drama about how women are great and men are rubbish: C4’s Philharmonia reviewed

On the face of it, a French-language drama about a Parisian symphony orchestra mightn’t sound like the most action-packed of TV watches. In fact, though, Philharmonia (Sundays) is pretty much Dallas with violins. The first episode began with the eponymous orchestra blasting out a spot of what Shazam assured me was Dvorak, before its elderly conductor dropped his baton and collapsed to the floor, never to rise again. Cue a pair of Gallically elegant female lower legs making their way through the airport as one Hélène Barizet arrived from New York to take over the role. David was left in a tartan bag in Belfast; Helen was discovered in a