Why I lied: after Dan Mallory, authors who faked their stories on what happened next


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Does the true identity of a writer really matter? Authors who fabricated literary personas share how their fantasies became nightmares

On the first day of this year’s Jaipur literary festival, the American novelist AJ Finn, real name Dan Mallory, was interviewed on stage. He talked about enjoying the success of The Woman in the Window, the thriller he wrote in one year, in one draft, which made him a multimillionaire. He talked about his diagnosis with bipolar II disorder, and the parallel between women’s struggle to be taken seriously and that experienced by people with mental health problems. He also mentioned some of the drawbacks of success. “I am dealing with a particularly unpleasant journalist in the US,” he told news18.com after the event. “This particular journalist, and there have been a few others, hears that I or someone else has a mental health issue, ...

Let Me Not Be Mad by AK Benjamin review – a doctor on the edge


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Clinical case studies meet personal revelations in a neuropsychologist’s eye‑opening memoir

Author’s notes – those arse-covering pleas bent on cloaking shiftiness with candour – tend to be skipped by all but the pernicketiest of readers. An exception should be made for AK Benjamin’s. The eight lines that preface Let Me Not Be Mad slice straight to the singed, fast-beating heart of a mental-health memoir like no other. Having explained that he’s changed all identifying details, from physical features to backgrounds and locations, as well as blending real and imagined encounters, he adds: “If anything, this confusion makes the book more faithful as an account of my experience.”

It is fair warning. And yet the true nature of that experience isn’t immediately apparent. Benjamin – not his real name, of course – is a clinical neuropsychologist in his late 40s. He specialises in diagnosis and acute rehabilitation, and the book’s ...

Let Me Not Be Mad by AK Benjamin review – a physician’s descent into mania


This post is by Colin Grant from Books | The Guardian


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A clinical neuropsychologist charts his own disturbing thoughts in this original, provocative study

Have you ever embarked on a relationship with someone you instantly found attractive, knowing from the start it would end badly? The same exhilarating but doomed sentiment is evoked on encountering the authorial voice of Let Me Not Be Mad, a debut non-fiction work by clinical neuropsychologist AK Benjamin (not his real name). He is erudite, funny and quite possibly (but not definitely) crazy. That is Benjamin’s own assessment and fear, hence his title.

Much of the book takes the form of a handful of neurological case studies, a form now reassuringly familiar thanks to books by writer-medics from Oliver Sacks to Suzanne O’Sullivan. “Michael” is the survivor of a skydiving accident that sliced “two cubed inches” off the front of his brain, as a result of which the “super normal, unimaginative” financier became “a compulsive ...

Stella prize 2019: Gail Jones, Bri Lee and Chloe Hooper make ‘thrilling’ longlist


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List also includes Fiona Wright’s The World Was Whole, Jenny Ackland’s Little Gods and Enza Gandolfo’s The Bridge

“Women’s writing swaggers into the limelight again,” said the judging panel chair, Louise Swinn, in announcing the 12 longlisted books for this year’s Stella prize.

This year’s longlist includes Bri Lee’s debut work of non-fiction, Eggshell Skull; literary stalwart and acclaimed novelist Gail Jones’s “novel of ideas”, The Death of Noah Glass; Chloe Hooper’s investigation into Black Saturday, The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire; and Fiona Wright’s most recent collection of essays, The World Was Whole.

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Wellcome book prize: gender and identity dominate 2019 longlist


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Books in contention range from a transgender man’s boxing story to a memoir of recovering from psychosis and a novel about narcotic hibernation

Thomas Page McBee’s memoir about being the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden, Amateur, and Tara Westover’s account of her survivalist upbringing preparing for the End of Days, Educated, are both competing for the £30,000 Wellcome book prize.

Related: ‘I started dry retching’: the harrowing world of a trauma cleaner

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When I Had a Little Sister: The Story of a Farming Family Who Never Spoke – review


This post is by Richard Benson from Books | The Guardian


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Catherine Simpson’s memoir of being brought up in enforced silence and its impact on her troubled sister is riveting

Two weeks before Christmas in 2013, Catherine Simpson’s father, then in his 80s, walked into his family’s farmhouse in Lancashire to find his youngest daughter, Tricia, hanging dead from a rope tied to a banister. He cut her down using his work knife, rang for an ambulance, and then sat alone with her body and waited. Tricia, 46, had run the family farm with him, despite her frequent bouts of depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis. Catherine Simpson’s tormented, riveting and bleakly funny memoir analyses her sister’s life to try to find out why she killed herself; in the process it becomes a moving evocation of the muck-spattered realities of modern farm life.

The family had owned New House Farm since 1925. When Catherine and her two sisters were growing up ...

The Truths we Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris – review


This post is by David Smith from Books | The Guardian


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This memoir by the new darling of the Democrats is aimed more at voters than readers

She has been described as the female Barack Obama. Like the former US president, Kamala Harris is mixed race (her father from Jamaica, her mother from India), spent part of her childhood abroad (in Canada), became a lawyer, and is now running for the White House after two years as a Democratic senator. Just as Donald Trump is the anti-Obama, many hope that Harris can be the anti-Trump.

But whereas Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father earned praise as an elegant, exceptional work in its own right, Harris’s The Truths We Hold fits more squarely into the category of “serviceable” – not so much a literary event as the book tour as election campaign.

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Aoife Abbey: ‘Being a doctor is not like in the movies’


This post is by Lisa O'Kelly from Books | The Guardian


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The intensive care specialist who used to blog as the Secret Doctor on her candid new book about her experiences as a young trainee

Aoife Abbey’s book, Seven Signs of Life, chronicles the emotional highs and lows of her life as an intensive care doctor. The daughter of a nurse, she grew up in Dublin and graduated from medical school at the University of Warwick in 2011. Now 35, she was until recently the anonymous author of a blog, The Secret Doctor, for the British Medical Association, which was read fortnightly by more than half a million people. She is now working in a hospital in Coventry.

Did you always want to be a doctor?
Yes, although I find it hard to say exactly why. I suppose the most obvious link to my childhood is that my older brother, Aaron [who died last October], was often unwell when ...

Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia by Tracey Thorn – review


This post is by Joe Moran from Books | The Guardian


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Snogs at discos and Saturday shopping ... the Everything But the Girl frontwoman looks back on humdrum days in the spiritual home of English pop

You know Brookmans Park, don’t you? Of course you do – even if, like me, you’ve never been there. It’s a dormitory settlement in Hertfordshire, population around 3,000. Its railway station, leading straight to London, is its raison d’être. Shielded from further growth by the green belt, it looks broadly the same as when it sprang up in the 1930s. Around its village green cluster a few shops, including four estate agents, a hairdresser (Cutting It Fine) and a pet salon (Groomers on the Green). The three-bedroom semis all have front lawns ending in that hint of an Englishman’s castle, crenellated walls. Today one of those houses will cost you three-quarters of a million. Know where I mean? Thought so.

Tracey Thorn grew up there, in ...

Deviation by Luce d’Eramo review – the woman who entered Dachau by choice


This post is by Lucy Hughes-Hallett from Books | The Guardian


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This strange, compelling autobiographical novel, first published in 1979, explores an unfamiliar aspect of the Third Reich

A woman, emaciated and filthy, worms her way beneath barbed wire that may be electrified. We know this scene: we’ve watched or read it scores of times. In Luce d’Eramo’s variation, the woman beneath the fence is not trying to escape from a Nazi prison camp. She is trying to get in.

D’Eramo died in 2001. Deviation, her autobiographical novel, first published in Italy in 1979, covers her experiences between the summer of 1944, when she went voluntarily to join the slave labourers in the IG Farben factory in Mainz, and late 1945 when, paralysed from the waist down, she returned to Italy.

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Tracey Thorn: ‘We looked at suburbia and wanted to burn it down’ – extract


This post is by Tracey Thorn from Books | The Guardian


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In this excerpt from her second memoir, Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia, Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn describes growing up in a stifling commuter village – and the first stirrings of wanting to escape

• ‘Not everything you do is cool’: Tracey Thorn Q&A

When I try to summon up the past – when I want to remember what really happened, instead of what I think happened, and what I really felt, instead of what I’d like to think I felt – I look at my diaries. They never fail to shock me with all the things they say, and all the things they don’t.

Going right back to the start, I try to picture myself on the day I first decided to keep a diary: 29 December 1975, when I was 13 years old. I must have been given it as a Christmas present, and although it ...

A miracle in action: Diana Athill’s editorial genius


This post is by Christobel Kent from Books | The Guardian


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Joining André Deutsch in the late 80s, I saw a great editor at the top of her game, tirelessly working to bring good writing to perfection

Independent publishing was at a dangerous moment in 1987 when I was ushered at the age of 26 into a lowly place in the publicity department of André Deutsch Ltd. But the company was flourishing. Deutsch had Gore Vidal, Molly Keane and John Updike. Penelope Lively won the Booker for Moon Tiger in my first week and the backlist-bookshelves lining the corridor to the dim publicity offices were a treasurehouse of the boldest and the best in fiction, from Don DeLillo to Jean Rhys, Jack Kerouac, Wole Soyinka and VS Naipaul. But most significant for me was the unparalleled commitment and intelligence of an editorial department led by Diana Athill.

It is hard to overstate the importance of those editors – who were almost ...

Diana Athill was the sharpest of wits and finest of friends | Damian Barr


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The writer remembers the keen eye of a tough but inspiring editor and a warm, unshockable confidante

It is a rare and special privilege to be seen. Not simply noticed or even admired, but assessed and appreciated as you really are, flaws and all. It takes a particularly powerful and kind observer to see truly and in her 101 years Diana Athill saw everything and missed nothing. “Looking at things is never time wasted,” she wrote.

“Beady” is how she described her eyes. They were the exact blue of the Delft hyacinths she loved. She couldn’t have them in her cosy nook at the old people’s home because they made her sneeze, so in spring I’d take her miniature blue irises instead.

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The Lost Properties of Love by Sophie Ratcliffe review – a journey through bereavement


This post is by Kathryn Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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Classic fiction, married life and past sex are explored in a revealing memoir about coping with loss

Sophie Ratcliffe was 13 when her father died. Over the course of this demi-memoir we gradually learn the reasons why, which turn out to be both shocking and mundane. A marble-blue complexion, a sketchy knowledge of the harmful effects of UV rays (it’s the 1980s) and some unlucky genes meant that the mild-mannered north London civil servant was killed by skin cancer at the age of just 45.

Ratcliffe’s description of loss, which she lugs through the next 30 years, is wonderfully done. She describes her particular version as having grey pilled fur and webbed feet. Her loss is clammy and smelly and turns up to spoil everything that is supposed to be good – Christmas, sex, conversations with new friends (her loss has a weakness for alcohol and a tendency to overshare). ...

Diana Athill, writer and editor, dies aged 101


This post is by Richard Lea from Books | The Guardian


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Centenarian writer and editor won acclaim for ‘nannying’ authors such as Margaret Atwood and VS Naipaul, and for the sharp insights of her own books

Writer and editor Diana Athill, whose clear eye on life and literature inspired authors and readers alike, has died after a short illness aged 101. The news was confirmed by the publisher Granta.

Athill combined a glittering career in publishing, where she worked with writers including Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Jean Rhys and VS Naipaul, with award-winning success as an author herself, turning her flinty gaze on love, work and approaching death in memoirs including Instead of a Letter, Stet and the Costa biography prize-winning Somewhere Towards the End.

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Porn, opioids and a freezer full of cigarettes: what one cleaner saw in America’s homes


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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As a single parent caught in the welfare trap, Stephanie Land got the only job she could, tidying homes for the comfortably well-off. Now she has turned her experiences into an acclaimed new book

At first glance, it’s not immediately obvious that the toddler in the video I am watching is taking her first wobbly steps in a homeless shelter. Watching the tiny girl babble to her mother behind the camera, I am distracted by how spotless the floor looks. Yet in the eyes of Stephanie Land, the person who cleaned it, it was appalling: “Years of dirt were etched into the floor. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I could never get it clean.”

People such as Land are perhaps the biggest threat to the myth of the American Dream: someone who worked hard, yet found her very country pitted against her success. Her new book, Maid: ...

All Together Now? by Mike Carter review – taking the pulse of modern Britain


This post is by Blake Morrison from Books | The Guardian


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Following the route, decades later, of an anti-Thatcher march, a journalist asks what became of the country his father struggled to change

It’s not up there with Peterloo, Jarrow or Orgreave, but the People’s March for Jobs in 1981 – when 300 men and women walked from Liverpool to London in protest against Margaret Thatcher’s government – was nonetheless a key moment in working-class history. Mike Carter should have been among the marchers. Though only 17 years old at the time, he’d already left school and experienced unemployment. More to the point, his dad Pete had asked him to come. And his dad – “one of the last of a breed of self-educated, working-class, chest-thumping orators” – was the march’s main organiser. There were good reasons for Carter’s absence and his life over the next three decades was too busy and peripatetic for regret. But after his father’s death, and ...

Quicksand Tales: The Misadventures of Keggie Carew review – gloriously awkward comedy


This post is by Viv Groskop from Books | The Guardian


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Keggie Carew follows her bestselling memoir of her father with a delightful collection of comedic anecdotes

This is an unexpected and unusual treat: a funny and clever collection of nonfiction stories that feels like a breath of fresh air. You could be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the name Keggie Carew if you missed her debut, Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory, about the extraordinary life story of her father as a complicated second world war hero. It was described by one literary prize judge as “the most unconventional biography I have ever read”. Either because of or in spite of that, she won the Costa biography award in 2016 and Dadland became a bestseller.

It’s hard to follow a win like that. And Carew has wisely taken a completely different direction, one more familiar for American writers of the New Yorker variety: a riot of fabulously eccentric ...

The Existential Englishman: Paris Among the Artists – review


This post is by Alexander Larman from Books | The Guardian


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The art critic Michael Peppiatt’s account of his bohemian life in Paris is full of colour, character and charm

Michael Peppiatt’s memoir is subtitled Paris Among the Artists, but it could be called A Portrait of the Art Critic As an Older Man. Peppiatt, who is best known for his biography and memoirs of his friend Francis Bacon, has spent the greater part of his working life in Paris, and this book is a love letter to the city, although not an uncritical one. He writes in the preface that he will explore “my lifelong attachment to this bewitching, temperamental, exasperating city and the deep love-hate relationship that binds me to it”. Yet he is ultimately a romantic, and the scent that rises from these pages is a heady aroma of Gauloises and red wine. Peppiatt, as a young man, was rather fond of the bottle; this book, at ...

Salt on Your Tongue by Charlotte Runcie review – the call of the sea


This post is by Ruth Scurr from Books | The Guardian


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An ode to the ocean, and the generations of women drawn to the waves or left waiting on the shore

“Being British comes with a catalogue of sea-themed cliches,” Charlotte Runcie muses early in her first book, “fish and chips on the beach, or in the car while the rain pelts down, ‘Rule, Britannia!’ at the BBC Proms, the shipping forecast playing out over and over every night, a warning for sailors, a lullaby for those of us safe in our beds and never at sea.” She doubts she would feel “this saline connection” if she had grown up in a landlocked country. Salt on Your Tongue is the story of her deepening love and longing for the ocean while pregnant, aged 28, with her first child. By the end of the book, her generic, gently nationalist appreciation of the sea has transformed into a specific, strongly feminist ...