OK, Mr Field by Katharine Kilalea review – strikingly original debut

There’s a void where his personality should be and he turns into a stalker – but somehow the narrator of this strange tale exerts a powerful grip on the reader

Towards the end of OK, Mr Field, the narrator realises, “with a sudden vertiginous knowledge”, that at the centre of his being is not, as he’s always feared, “some solid alien presence – like a tumour deep inside”, but a hole. His is a body “with a space in it, a space in which things could be put”.

This is the central image in Katharine Kilalea’s first novel. Originally from South Africa, Kilalea has made her name in the UK as a poet: her Costa-shortlisted first collection, One Eye’d Leigh, established her as a meticulous observer of people, places and things. The “I” of those poems was a version of Kilalea but had an anonymity unusual in the ...

Dylan Moran: ‘Britain is sending itself to its room and not coming down’

The comedian’s new show questions how to cope with the relentlessness of today’s politics. He discusses the ‘cult’ of Catholicism, his love of poetry and giving up his vices

“I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century,” points out Dylan Moran. “I’m probably going to know about as much as I’m ever going to know on a working level. There’s a liberty in that.” It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since the Irish comic first shuffled on to the stage, cigarette and drink at the ready, and appeared not to know what on earth he was doing there. In 1996, aged 24, he became the youngest person to win the Perrier comedy award at the Edinburgh festival, and embarked on his first UK tour the year after. TV and film opportunities followed, often playing various iterations of his rumpled, grumpy stage persona: in the ...

Quentin Blake to auction ‘joyful’ mother and baby watercolours

Pictures from illustrator’s personal collection will be auctioned for charity in July

Revealing another side to the much-loved illustrator of classic children’s novels such as The BFG and The Twits, Sir Quentin Blake’s series of watercolours of naked mothers with their babies feature in an assortment of pictures from the acclaimed illustrator’s personal collection which are due to be auctioned for charity next month.

The images, drawn for the delivery room at the university hospital in Angers, France, show the women swimming underwater with their babies, among seaweed, or breastfeeding. They form part of a collection of 178 illustrations from Blake which Christie’s will auction between 3 and 12 July to raise money for The House of Illustration, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Survival International.

Continue reading...

From Lawrence of Arabia to Breaking Bad: the desert as a cultural oasis

A place of sanctuary, rocks and rock festivals – what draws artists and writers to the desert’s unforgiving landscape?

In 1990 a flyer circulated in San Francisco inviting people to attend a unique happening: “The Zone Trip is an extended event that takes us outside of our local area of time and place. On this particular expedition, we shall travel to a vast, desolate, white expanse stretching onward to the horizon in all directions.”

Burning Man, the weeklong counterculture festival and arts jamboree, has continued to take place each August, with some 70,000 people converging on the dry bed of an ancient lake in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The event is not what it was: the drive-by shooting range is gone, tickets cost hundreds of dollars, and there is a real danger of running into Elon Musk. But its founding principles are still upheld. These include “radical inclusion”, ...

Trans-Europe Express by Owen Hatherley review – the architectural case for Remain

A journey to cities on the European continent explores the author’s favourite buildings and the benefits of planning and collective provision

A few days after the EU referendum, Owen Hatherley visited his home city of Southampton and got into a blazing row with his mother about the result. He had voted to remain, and she to leave. Hatherley’s mum was not a red-faced patriot but a Lexiter: a leftwing activist who wanted Britain out of the bosses’ club. For his part, “irrational” though it seemed, “the reason I wanted to stay in the European Union was architectural”.

In the last two years Hatherley has visited dozens of cities in what he loosely terms “the European subcontinent” – not all of them in EU countries – in an attempt to figure out why he associates most of Europe strongly with “good architecture”, and Britain with measly, cynical buildings that speak ...

Expo ’88, the post-Joh era and Malcolm Fraser’s sore back: how Brisbane put the world on show

In a country that celebrates sport, it was a cultural phenomenon that brought about the Queensland capital’s coming of age

In a way, Queenslanders have former prime minister Malcolm Fraser’s bad back to thank for the cultural extravaganza that was Expo ‘88. A giant commitment for any city to undertake, putting on a world exposition was not like staging a run-of-the-mill agricultural show.

The first world exposition was held in London in 1851, devised as a celebration of industry and human achievement, using the methodology of museums, art galleries and the like. Countries and their various districts were invited to display the evidence of their progressive achievements, with Queensland making an appearance with an exhibit based around wood production.

Continue reading...

A story of survival: New York’s last remaining independent bookshops

With small traders struggling to stay afloat, writer Philippe Ungar and photographer Franck Bohbot travelled across the Big Apple to meet 50 indie booksellers in their habitats

Years ago, a friend invited me to something called Brazenhead Books, only she didn’t call it that. She, like everyone else, called it “the secret bookstore”. Except it wasn’t a bookshop so much as a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, deliriously overstuffed with paperbacks and presided over by a bearded guy named Michael Seidenberg. On certain nights Seidenberg, who exudes a maverick ingenuousness, might open up his treasure cave for late-night salons where a bottle of whiskey is generally understood to be the entrance fee. Perhaps a couple of books will be exchanged for a few dollars (I once bought a bright green, 1969 first edition of Renata Adler’s Toward a Radical Middle from him for about five bucks) but sales ...

Winnie-the-Pooh map could fetch £150,000 at auction

1926 sketch of Hundred Acre Wood to be sold alongside four other EH Shepard works

The original map of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood – “probably the most famous map in English literature” – is expected to sell for up to £150,000 at auction.

EH Shepard’s original 1926 sketch, unseen for nearly half a century, introduced readers to the world of Christopher Robin and his woodland friends in the original book.

Continue reading...

How Tolkien created Middle-earth

A rare exhibition of the Hobbit author’s life and art reveals an imaginary realm that continues to inspire new generations

As a fantasy lover, I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t aware of JRR Tolkien. I read The Hobbit until it fell apart as a child, and have always strived, in my own contributions to the genre, to take even a shred of the care in my world-building that Tolkien did in his. “It is written in my life-blood,” he said of The Lord of the Rings, “such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” A rallying cry for anyone who has known what it is to inhabit a world of one’s own.

“Tolkien was a genius with a unique approach to literature,” says Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian at the University of Oxford. “His imagined world was created through a combination of ...

Maggi Hambling picked to create Mary Wollstonecraft statue

Long-awaited memorial aims to capture spirit and strength of the ‘foremother of feminism’

The pioneering British artist Maggi Hambling has been chosen fo r a long-awaited statue commemorating the “foremother of feminism” Mary Wollstonecraft.

The Mary on the Green campaign, which has been calling for a permanent memorial to the philosopher and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman since 2011, unanimously chose Hambling for the sculpture.

Continue reading...

‘Painting is a high-wire act’: Olivia Laing on sitting for the artist Chantal Joffe

While being painted, author Olivia Laing pens her own portrait of Chantal Joffe and hears why painting is like hairdressing

Every time I go to Chantal’s studio we eat cupcakes from Hummingbird Bakery, get hopped up on sugar and talk very fast. We met because she read my book The Lonely City and asked if I’d come and sit for her. I feel like we made friends as soon as I walked through the door. She says she’s shy, but she’s one of the most open, engrossing talkers I know. It feels like we both use portraiture to get at something deeper, and that I get a better sense of what that might be by way of our sprawling, rapid-fire conversations.

How do you catch reality, the actual minute? I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote about her while she was painting me, if we could survey ...

Hamlet on heroin: Edward St Aubyn on the 20-year struggle to get Patrick Melrose on screen

St Aubyn’s quintet of autobiographical novels are loved by critics and readers – including Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays damaged drug addict Patrick. So why did it take so long?

Three of the key roles in the career of Benedict Cumberbatch have been a hyper-intelligent drug addict (in Sherlock), an arrogant toff (in Parade’s End) and a young man deranged by thoughts of his dead father (in Hamlet). His latest TV part feels like an extraordinary combination of this trio. Cumberbatch plays Patrick Melrose in an adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s quintet of autobiographical novels about a young man whose sexually abusive father and emotionally damaging mother lead to a heroin, cocaine and alcohol dependency that is treated first by rehab and then a writing career. The opening episode is a supreme piece of acting: a 60-minute near-monologue of craving, raving, shaking and sarcasm – occasionally interrupted by ...

Whistler’s Mother review – a painting that’s not what it seems

A meticulous study of Anna Whistler, by Daniel E Sutherland and Georgia Toutziari, is a treasure trove of odd information

Over the last century and a half Whistler’s mother has been having a high old time. Perhaps 1934 was the giddiest year: Cole Porter name-checked her in “You’re the Top” while the US government put her on a postage stamp to celebrate Mother’s Day.

More recently the playwright Edward Bond turned her into the devil in a wheelchair in Grandma Faust, while in 1997 Rowan Atkinson gurned in front of her as Mr Bean. Whenever Whistler’s Mother (its official title is Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1) tours the world, gallery crowds flock to stare at the elderly, seated figure staring enigmatically into the middle distance.

Continue reading...

May 1968: the revolution retains its magnetic allure

A Stone Roses album, a Hari Kunzru novel, a Gucci ad campaign ... 50 years after the events of May 1968, our writer reflects on how the ideas and energy of that moment live on today

We are now as far from the events of 1968 as the people involved were from the end of the first world war. Cliche has long since reduced much of what occurred to “student revolt”, but that hardly does these happenings justice, partly because it ignores the workers’ strikes that were just as central to what occurred during ’68 and the years that followed, but also because the phrase gets nowhere near the depth and breadth of what young people were rebelling against, not least in France.

This was the last time that a developed western society glimpsed the possibility of revolution focused not just on institutions, but the contestation of everyday reality, which is ...

Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford review – Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London painters

An immersive history of painting from 1945 to the 1970s draws on a huge archive of the author’s interviews

Martin Gayford has been talking with artists for 30 years. He doesn’t just nip into the studio with a notepad: he has a gift for sustaining conversations that unfold across decades. His friendship with David Hockney has inspired remarkable collaborations, and when he sat for a portrait by Lucian Freud he made in return his own version of Man with a Blue Scarf, a written portrait of the painter painting.

In Modernists & Mavericks he draws on a huge archive of interviews to piece together a history of postwar painting in London, from the Camberwell students of the 1940s, working in the ruins of a bombed city, to the pop artists who collaged images of shining new-made lives in the 1960s. Gayford starts with people, moments and meetings, standing firm ...

Filth, fury, gags and vendettas: The Communist Manifesto as a graphic novel

Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson explains why Marx would have loved his new graphic novel – which puts the fun back into his great political work

Karl Marx and I go back a long way. Like a lot of children growing up in the 1960s, I was obsessed with the Soviet Union and its unreachable otherness. What’s more, my father had actually been there to attend scientific symposia. I have a clear memory, aged about six, of standing in our back garden and him saying to me: “What do you mean, you don’t know who Karl Marx is?” I replied, rather tearfully: “But I know who Lenin is.”

As I grew older, the obsession continued. At about 15, I finally read The Communist Manifesto and it made complete sense. I instantly got the Dialectic, the inexorable, tectonic grindings of All History Hitherto, the Class Conflict and all the stuff ...