Conning the booktrade connoisseurs

Literary scandals – like actual scandals – come and go. Who now recalls, or indeed cares less about, the hoo-ha surrounding whether or not the professional huckster James Frey made stuff up in his much celebrated 2004 memoir A Million Little Pieces and then had the audacity to lie about it to Oprah Winfrey? Anyone remember JT LeRoy? Binjamin Wilkomirski? Authorship debates, accusations of plagiarism, obscenity controversies, way-out wacky and appalling author behaviour, rivalries, forgeries – they all tend to be storms in teeny-tiny, super-fragile, already half-cracked literary teacups that soon subside and slip from the gossip columns and the culture pages to become the subject matter merely of obscure

Tea and treachery: Sheep’s Clothing, by Celia Dale, reviewed

‘It was a nice way of living,’ huffs Grace, the fiftysomething anti-heroine of Celia Dale’s devilishly dark 1988 novel Sheep’s Clothing, republished by Daunt Books. Recently released from Holloway prison, and using a demure headscarf and twin-set as cover, Grace teams up with Janice, a former fellow inmate, to rob elderly women. Disguised as social workers, and armed with an illicit supply of sleeping pills, they are after pension money stashed under mattresses, trinkets in shoeboxes and polished candlesticks on mantelpieces. The victims, invariably women (‘even an old man could be surprisingly strong’) often welcome the thieves, happy to have someone to ‘talk at’ and a cup of tea made

George Osborne’s midlife crisis

There should be a term in anthropology for what happens to a certain type of Tory male in middle age. The type who after decades of espousing often unpopular causes suddenly attempts to ingratiate himself with the masses. Ordinarily this breakdown expresses itself in a desire to legalise drugs, but it can take other forms. If you become the chairman of the British Museum, there is one rather obvious way to try to please people Anyway, the moment that George Osborne was made chairman of the British Museum I expected what has come to pass. Osborne has long been a prime candidate for a Tory midlife crisis. He always had

Caught in a web of lies: The Guest, by Emma Cline, reviewed

This deeply unpleasant novel kept me reading all night. Alex, 22, preys on rich men as an upmarket prostitute, formerly in New York and now in resorts such as the Hamptons. She is a thief and addict, sneaking her boyfriend’s sleeping pills, his valuable watch, a former room-mate’s medication, random jewellery and any available alcohol, while lying to herself and others. Moving among the rich, she pretends to be one of them. Writing about them in their holiday homes, Emma Cline is skilful and observant: The women had a funny, girlish air: their tiny steps, their uncertain smiles, satin bows in their ponytails, though most of them were probably over