Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine review – a euphoric, courageous book

When, with severe illness, the ground disappeared from beneath Loncraine, she decided to conquer her fear, take up gliding and head for the clouds

“But I would rather be horizontal,” begins Sylvia Plath’s poem “I am Vertical”. Plath, poleaxed by depression, wishes her body to become part of the soil, yet even so looks up to the sky with a yearning for transcendence: “It is more natural to me, lying down / Then the sky and I are in open conversation”. Rebecca Loncraine invokes these lines in her memoir, Skybound, and they cast the same blend of light and shadow across this profound, euphoric and courageous book about how to live joyously, and how to meet death.

Loncraine was in her mid-30s when she got breast cancer. Two years after gruelling treatment, she entered into her own “open conversation” with the sky by learning to fly, or “soar” as she puts it, in ...

Whistle in the Dark review – a satire on every parent’s nightmare

Emma Healey’s story about a teenager’s disappearance struggles with tone, but remains emotionally compelling

There were several striking absences in Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, from an elderly woman suffering with memory loss through dementia, to the disappearance of her sister decades earlier and the eponymous Elizabeth.

That book received an avalanche of praise and bestseller stardom. This second novel, Whistle in the Dark, toys with the same subjects of disappearance and blots on the memory, except that the narrative intrigue is built around what happens when the disappeared return and what, if anything, can be retrieved of their lost time.

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Whistle in the Dark review – a satire on every parent’s nightmare

Emma Healey’s story about a teenager’s disappearance struggles with tone, but remains emotionally compelling

There were several striking absences in Emma Healey’s debut novel, Elizabeth Is Missing, from an elderly woman suffering with memory loss through dementia, to the disappearance of her sister decades earlier and the eponymous Elizabeth.

That book received an avalanche of praise and bestseller stardom. This second novel, Whistle in the Dark, toys with the same subjects of disappearance and blots on the memory, except that the narrative intrigue is built around what happens when the disappeared return and what, if anything, can be retrieved of their lost time.

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Margo Jefferson: ‘I have always loved Michael Jackson’

The US author talks about her book on the pop star whose life distilled so many of our obsessions with race, gender and the body

Margo Jefferson is the author of Negroland: A Memoir, which won a National Book Critics Circle award, (for autobiography) and was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize. Born in Chicago, she lives in New York and has worked as an associate editor for Newsweek, and a book and theatre critic for the New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer prize for criticism. Aged 70, she now teaches at Columbia University School of Arts. Her book On Michael Jackson will be published on 3 May (Granta, £9.99).

This book is about the life and work of Michael Jackson, from his early years as a child star to the “freak show” aspects of his image later on. Why write about an already ...

Ordinary People by Diana Evans review – magnificence and marital angst

An exuberant investigation into midlife malaise explores love, compromise and the way we live today

In his 2004 song “Ordinary People”, John Legend portrays the bittersweet stage of a romance past its first flush, when the mess of everyday life is setting in. “Passed the infatuation phase”, he sings, “Seems like we argue every day.” Diana Evans borrows his song’s title and theme for her exuberant third novel, about midlife relationship malaise. The shadow of marital breakdown loomed around the edges of her award-winning debut novel, 2005’s 26a, which was framed by the beginning and end of Charles and Diana’s marriage (as well as Diana’s funeral) in the first and last chapters.

Ordinary People is much more about the compromises made after the babies have arrived and the butterflies have stopped fluttering. For the two late thirtysomething couples here, existential panic is sparked by dwindling sex lives and ...

The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam review – anatomy of an unyielding spirit

The extraordinary life of the author’s grandmother, who married aged eight and survived tumultuous events, is richly and painstakingly evoked

Aida Edemariam found the subject of this engaging biography in her own family tree – The Wife’s Tale being the story of her paternal grandmother. And in choosing to excavate and write a family history, she follows a growing trend among biographers reshaping the genre with intimate studies of late mothers, complicated fathers and tragic siblings, from Helen Macdonald and Richard Beard to 2017’s Costa prize-winning biographer, Rebecca Stott.

In Edemariam’s case, it is the life of Yetemegnu, who was born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar and died five years ago at the grand age of 97 (or thereabouts: the timeline in the book explains that formal birth certificates weren’t used in Ethiopia in the early 20th century). She emerges as a bewitching and resilient figure whose life-changing ...

Everywhere Is Somewhere by Naseem Khan review – the double life of a cultural activist

The cultural pioneer recalls her experiences of being an outsider in postwar Britain and the struggle for diversity in the arts

Naseem Khan, the cultural activist who spent a lifetime campaigning for diversity in the arts, was given a terminal cancer diagnosis last year. In her final days, she told her daughter that she wanted to do three things: see her grandsons, talk to her Buddhist teacher and sign the book contract for her memoir.

She was not well enough to sign the contract in the end so her daughter did it for her. Everywhere Is Somewhere is what she left behind, written in the last 18 months of her life, and confirmed for publication a day before her death on 8 June. It is a hybrid book, at once an autobiography that explains Khan’s life through her work, and a history of BAME arts development in Britain from 1946 ...

Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?

Two years ago, we called publishers to account for the glaring lack of diversity in the industry. Pledges were made and initiatives set up. Have things improved?

  • Find out about the new projects to encourage inclusivity in the book business

In December 2015, British publishing stood accused of woeful blindness to diversity, and not for the first time, after World Book Night (WBN) announced its titles, and none of the 15 books was by a writer of colour. An apology was issued by organisers but a wider malaise had already set in, and along with it, the troubling feeling that WBN’s oversight was less an isolated incident and more a recurring pattern of exclusion that stretched across the literary establishment.

A report on the state of the books industry had been published earlier that year by the development agency Spread the Word, which drew attention to how intransigently white, middle-class ...

David Olusoga: ‘There’s a dark side to British history, and we saw a flash of it this summer’

The writer and broadcaster on reassessing black history and the fallout from the Brexit vote

For as long as David Olusoga has been writing and broadcasting on black British history (almost two decades), he has received infuriated letters from the public. Nowadays, there are tweets too, which employ the same fulminating tone.

“The number of people who say, ‘I’m sick of hearing about slavery’, or ‘black people are always talking about slavery’. My response to them is ‘Name a British plantation. Name a slave trader. Name a British slave ship.’ Normally they can’t, because we don’t know that much about slavery. It’s not a central part of our national story.”

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