A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma review – beautiful, sad short stories

Hapless, hopeful men abound in these intricate tales from the Folio prize-winning author of Family Life

These beautiful, funny, intelligent short stories are told with such apparent simplicity. That’s Akhil Sharma’s style, honed in his two novels: An Obedient Father and the Folio prize-winning Family Life, his semi-autobiographical story of a family emigrating from India to America and then devastated by a dreadful accident, when their elder son hits his head in a swimming pool (the accident appears again in one of these stories, “Surrounded by Sleep”). Sharma’s short, declarative sentences, avoiding taking metaphorical flight, never feel mannered, or like a Carveresque moody disavowal of the possibility of saying anything. The simplicity is Sharma’s effort to get past all the temptations of falsity, of false style and ready-made ideas. His writing shines its clean light, never mercilessly or voyeuristically, on these characters winding round and round inside the muddled ...

Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie review – a feminist manifesto

When a friend asked Adichie for advice on how to raise her baby daughter as a feminist, the writer came up with 15 suggestions It would be difficult not to like this little book, which shines with all Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s characteristic warmth and sanity and forthrightness. Her friend Ijeawele wrote to ask how she should bring her baby daughter up a feminist, and in response, after the right hesitations – “it felt like too huge a task” and “she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing” – Adichie made a list of 15 suggestions. They are all more or less good ones. Ijeawele must be a full person and not let motherhood alone define her; she should go back to work if she wants to, and love “the confidence and self-fulfilment that come with doing and earning”. ...

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor review – a chilling meditation on loss and time

The rural village, the missing girl, the search for a body … then life goes on, as an archetypal story is rekindled with explosive results Why is it always a girl who’s missing? What is it in that archetype that tugs at us in some deep place – readers and viewers, male and female alike – when yet again the quest begins with news of someone’s daughter who hasn’t come home, or a glimpse of a girl in some place that’s much too lonely, glancing back nervously over her shoulder? We can’t imagine being hooked so easily if the paperback thriller or crime drama began with a missing boy, and the idea of his disappearance wouldn’t transform with the same inevitability into the idea of the boy’s death, the image of it. In Jon McGregor’s new novel the missing girl’s name is Rebecca Shaw and she is 13 years old. ...

Tessa Hadley: ‘Some of my best ideas come in the bath’

The author on putting writing on hold for everyday life, and finding inspiration This is the time of year when I’ve forgotten I have a writing day. Not forgotten it intellectually, but forgotten it in my body, which has fallen into that other rhythm: of household things, family, children and grandchildren and parents, sociability, planning. My writing self waits – I really want to say, though it’s a cliche, in the wings. I like the picture the cliche conjures, of a sociable self performing noisily, exaggeratedly, on a pantomime stage with painted backdrop and familiar old props – Christmas tree, pile of presents, table heaped over and over again with papier-mache stage food, everyone wearing the same old paper hats they wore last year. And in the midst of all the noise and laughter and melodrama (the predictable fallings-out and weepy reconciliations) a glimpse of another silent self, hanging about ...

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry review – the masculinity problem

If we ask the right questions and answer them honestly, won’t the whole edifice of patriarchy come tumbling down?
The artist Grayson Perry seems to have become a not-so-implausible spokesman for our era in the UK – via the Turner prize, the Reith lectures, and now three television series. His public persona is a reconciliation of opposites: the ceramicist whose fine pots are scratched with shocking sexual graffiti; the shambling male who also dresses as a pantomime cutie with pink spots of colour in her cheeks; the opinionated art critic opening up to everyone about his teddy bear; the working-class sceptic happily married to a middle-class psychotherapist. He revels in the contradictions, inhabits them outrageously, sparks his wit and his art out of them. Surely, even 20 years ago in our cultural history, such an artist could only have figured as an outsider, addressing himself to an avant garde; ...

The five best Anita Brookner novels

Ladylike, lavender-scented and precious … this writing is everything opposite to that I had such a mistaken idea about Anita Brookner’s novels, until I picked up The Latecomers in a secondhand shop about 10 years ago, and read the first wonderfully concrete sentence. “Hartmann, a voluptuary, lowered a spoonful of brown sugar crystals into his coffee cup, then placed a square of bitter chocolate on his tongue, and, while it was dissolving, lit his first cigarette.” Somehow – I think because of the title of her Booker winner Hotel du Lac – I’d expected something ladylike, lavender-scented, prissy and precious; I knew as soon as I opened my eyes to her words that this writing was everything opposite to that. Related: Julian Barnes remembers his friend Anita Brookner: ‘There was no one remotely like her’ Continue reading...









The Trouble with Women by Jacky Fleming review – delicious, funny, feminist cartoons

‘Female brains were not only smaller, but they were made of soft, spongy, lightweight material’ … a pointed, amusing look at how women have appeared (or not) in history There is a lovely cartoon by Jacky Fleming, not in this book, where in four consecutive frames a man ties up rubbish in a black bin liner and takes it outside, while two women sit talking over mugs of coffee at a table behind. “I’m just taking the rubbish out,” he says in the first frame. They glance at him, but go back to their conversation. He is still tying the bag, ostentatiously, in the second frame. In the third frame he is suddenly centre stage in a theatre along with his bag of rubbish, in front of a crazily applauding audience – he stretches out his arms to his fans. In the final frame, back in reality, he walks out of the ...