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

This post is by Leo Benedictus from Books | The Guardian

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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, ...

James K Baxter: venerated poet’s letters about marital rape rock New Zealand

This post is by Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin from Books | The Guardian

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Collection of writings just released includes references to rape of then-wife Jackie Sturm, herself an acclaimed poet and author

A new collection of letters from one of New Zealand’s most significant poets, James K Baxter, that includes a blunt admission of marital rape is causing shockwaves through the literary community.

Baxter died in Auckland in 1972 but remains one of New Zealand’s literary giants. He achieved international attention in the late 1950s after Oxford University Press published his poetry collection, In Fires Of No Return.

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In a Time of Monsters: Travels Through a Middle East in Revolt by Emma Sky – review

This post is by Jason Burke from Books | The Guardian

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The former political adviser dines with sheikhs and stays with ambassadors to grasp how a generation let down the Middle East

When the Arab spring spread across the Middle East eight years ago, many observers were filled with optimism. Years of sclerotic dictatorship were over, repressive regimes would fall, a wave of progressive politics would sweep across the region. But this was always unlikely, as the more astute commentators made clear at the time. Many of the authoritarian states remained strong, buttressed by patronage networks, vested interests and regional or international support. Opposition movements were undermined by ideological disagreements, ethnic or other divides and determined, brutal repression. Brave teenagers with inspiring slogans proved no match for the teargas and tanks of regimes, nor for the calculations of distant powers.

One key factor often missed was that many of the people in states as diverse as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia ...

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet review – a child in wartime

This post is by Melissa Harrison from Books | The Guardian

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Parental love is at the heart of a story grounded in the details of everyday life in an English village during the second world war

Domestic stories of women’s lives in wartime are common in genre publishing but rarer in literary fiction. From the off, Frances Liardet’s second novel, published 25 years after her first, distances itself from nostalgia and insists on its own terms. The writing is often dazzling – a child’s voice is “clear, piping, like a twig peeled of its bark” – and this, too, lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether.

It is 1940 and a busload of bombed-out civilians from Southampton has arrived in the village of Upton, where Ellen Parr and her much older husband Selwyn, a miller with whom she has what’s described as a mariage blanc, are helping to find them beds for the night. The ...

To the Mountains by Abdullah Anas and Tam Hussein – review

This post is by Jason Burke from Books | The Guardian

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Despite his partiality, Abdullah Anas offers some useful insights into al-Qaida’s roots

Where should we start if we are to tell the story of the violent Islamist extremism that still threatens us today? The question is an important one and its answer has significance that goes well beyond chronology.

Some commentators in the west, usually to the right of the political spectrum, will start in the 7th century AD with the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad or with the first texts of Islam. The implication is obvious: that there is something inherent in the Islamic faith that engenders or at least encourages violence.

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From Columbine to Parkland: how we got the story wrong on mass shootings

This post is by Dave Cullen from Books | The Guardian

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After Columbine, Dave Cullen swore he would never write about a mass shooting again. But over the next 20 years, he realised that he and other journalists had a duty to destroy the deadly myths they had helped create

As I drove down Highway 6 toward the Rocky Mountains on 20 April 1999, hoping to find this high school I had never heard of in Columbine, where shots had been reported but no injuries, I had no conception of what I was about to witness. What was happening inside that high school was unimaginable. What it ignited was far worse.

Who could have known what we were in for? The police weren’t ready: they surrounded the school and waited for demands that never came. There was no active shooter protocol; the “lockdown drill” was still unconceived and inconceivable. Why would we drill kids to hide from gunmen? None of ...

Why are so many women writing about rough sex? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

This post is by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from Books | The Guardian

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After #Metoo, it’s no surprise a new generation of female authors is exploring sexual abuse and dominance

Recently I have found myself wondering about the prevalence of rough sex in new fiction written by women. It’s viscerally present in You Know You Want This, the new short-story collection by Kristen Roupenian (who shot to fame last year with Cat Person, published in the New Yorker): I found some of the scenes so unpalatable that I had to keep putting it down. They (spoiler alert) include a woman strangled to death as part of a sex game; a man who imagines his penis is a knife when he has sex; and a woman who says to the guy she is sleeping with: “I want you to punch me in the face as hard as you can. After you’ve punched me, when I’ve fallen down, I want you to kick ...

Stieg Larsson’s investigation of Swedish PM’s assassination revealed in new book

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s author was also a campaigning journalist and amassed a huge archive researching the 1986 murder of Olof Palme

Unseen research by the late Stieg Larsson into the assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme is set to be revealed in a new true crime book.

Larsson is most famous for his bestselling Millennium series of thrillers that explored the dark underbelly of Swedish society and politics. A journalist for his much of his life, he died suddenly in 2004, just months after selling his first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He left behind completed manuscripts for the two sequels, which have together sold 80m copies around the world.

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The talented Dan Mallory affair: is this high noon for the privileged white male? | Jonathan Freedland

This post is by Jonathan Freedland from Books | The Guardian

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The exposure of a novelist’s ‘dissembling’ could spell trouble for unreliable narrators everywhere

There’s a new work that has the publishing world gripped, with editors in London and New York confessing themselves hooked. It races along like a thriller, with several dizzying twists and turns and a compelling central character. What’s more, this sensational story is not fiction but a detailed, well-sourced work of journalism.

I’m referring to the New Yorker’s 12,000-word profile of Dan Mallory, whose debut novel, The Woman in the Window, published under the pseudonym AJ Finn, has been a monster hit. The report makes an unsettling read, charting what the magazine calls the “trail of deceptions” left by Mallory, including claims that he has endured and survived cancer in various forms – with tumours in both his brain and spine – that his parents were dead, and that his brother took his own life.

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‘An insult’: French writers outraged by festival’s use of ‘sub-English’ words

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Prominent writers including Leila Slimani have spoken out against the Salon du Livre in Paris’s use of phrases including ‘young adult’, a ‘bookquizz’ and ‘le live’

A celebration of the “Scène Young Adult” at the Salon du Livre in Paris next month has drawn the condemnation of dozens of French authors and intellectuals, who have described the adoption of English terminology as an “unbearable act of cultural delinquency”.

The proliferation of English words on display at the book fair, where the “scène YA” was set to feature “Le Live”, a “Bookroom”, a “photobooth” and a “bookquizz”, spurred around 100 French writers into action, among them three winners of the country’s Goncourt prize – Lullaby author Leïla Slimani, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Marie NDiaye – and the bestselling writers Muriel Barbery and Catherine Millet. Together they have issued a scalding rebuke to organisers over their use of that “sub-English ...

‘Identity is a pain in the arse’: Zadie Smith on political correctness

This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian

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At Hay Cartagena festival author questions role of social media in policing personal development

The writer Zadie Smith laid into identity politics in a headline session at the 14th Hay Cartagena festival, insisting novelists had not only a right, but a duty to be free.

Asked how she felt about cultural appropriation, she told an audience of nearly 2,000 at the festival in Colombia on Friday: “If someone says to me: ‘A black girl would never say that,’ I’m saying: ‘How can you possibly know?’ The problem with that argument is it assumes the possibility of total knowledge of humans. The only thing that identifies people in their entirety is their name: I’m a Zadie.”

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Lights in the Distance by Daniel Trilling review – human face of the refugee crisis

This post is by PD Smith from Books | The Guardian

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A powerful study of the EU’s border system

In 1990, 20 countries had walls or fences on their borders. By 2016 that figure had risen to almost 70. According to Trilling, the EU “has perhaps the world’s most complex system to deter unwanted migrants” and its external frontier is becoming increasingly fortified.

Since 1993, more than 33,000 people have died as a result of the EU’s “militarised border system”, which forces migrants to take ever greater risks. Yet the 1951 Refugee Convention obliges states to assess asylum seekers as individuals and not to force them back into countries where they are in danger.

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The Four Horsemen review – whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?

This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian

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Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris ... were the apostles of atheism as fearless as they thought?

Whatever happened to “New Atheism”? It was born in the febrile aftermath of 9/11, when belief in a deity – or, let’s be honest, specifically in Allah – seemed to some people a newly urgent danger to western civilisation. Sam Harris began writing The End of Faith (2004) immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, and it became a bestseller. There followed the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. The men toured vigorously, but they all met together only once, and this book is the transcript of what ensued, with new brief introductions by the surviving members, Hitchens having died in 2011. Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the “atheist revolution” was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, ...

Dr Seuss’s thank-you letter to man who saved his first book

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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The Cat in the Hat author was going to destroy early story believing it was unsaleable

A grateful letter from Dr Seuss to the former college classmate who stopped The Cat in the Hat author from burning his first children’s book manuscript is set to be auctioned later this week.

Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, was an advertising artist who had written his first tale for children, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936. It had been rejected by dozens of publishers when he bumped into Mike McClintock. As he writes in a 1957 letter to his old friend from Dartmouth College: “You picked me off Madison Ave with a manuscript that I was about to burn in my incinerator because nobody would buy it. And you not only told me how to put Mulberry Street together properly … (as you ...

The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es wins Costa book of the year

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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Book’s subject, Lien de Jong, 85, who survived second world war ordeal, attends ceremony

The 85-year-old woman whose harrowing story is at the heart of Bart van Es’s The Cut Out Girl was in attendance to watch him win the £30,000 Costa book of the year award for the biography, which judges called “extraordinary”.

Van Es and Lien de Jong embraced on stage in front of a packed room after he was announced as winner at the awards on Tuesday night. “Without family you don’t have a story. Now I have a story … Bart has reopened the channels of family,” she said.

The Cut Out Girl beat Sally Rooney’s widely praised novel Normal People, Stuart Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, JO Morgan’s poetry collection Assurances and Hilary McKay’s children’s book The Skylarks’ War to the award for the year’s “most enjoyable” book. ...

John Wray: ‘I don’t judge people who are passionate about political struggle, even to the point of taking up weapons’

This post is by Lidija Haas from Books | The Guardian

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A tale he heard in Afghanistan about an American teenager who disguised herself as a boy to fight with the Taliban inspired the novel Godsend

It takes a certain audacity for a white male novelist to choose as his protagonist a young California woman who converts to Islam, disguises herself as a man in order to study in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan, and from there joins the Taliban in Afghanistan. You almost wonder if he’s spoiling for a fight of some kind. But the author of Godsend, John Wray (6ft 3in, softly spoken and unassuming), doesn’t seem the type. The most aggressive thing about him is the ghostly wailing of the doorbell of his brownstone near Prospect Park in Brooklyn (it’s on a “Halloween setting”). A Guggenheim and Whiting award winner, best known for Lowboy and The Lost Time Accidents, Wray was anointed one of Granta’s ...

Annie Proulx on the best books to understand climate change

This post is by Annie Proulx from Books | The Guardian

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The novelist shares her favourite books to help us cope with how our world is changing – and inspire everyone to do something about it

Today we live with non-stop special events of fire, flood, mud slide, rising water, whirling hurricanes, toxic algae blooms, unprecedented droughts. That word “unprecedented” is coming to define our time. Most of us were short-changed by educations that ignored ecology. We need clear explanations of climate change, what it means and how to cope with it.

Tim Flannery, an Australian mammalogist, is a supple writer with a wide-ranging and questioning mind. His 2005 The Weather-Makers gave lucid and easily understandable explanations of climate change, both a history and a look into what might come next. It is still a basic starting point.

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Malala Yousafzai on student life, facing critics – and her political ambitions

This post is by Lisa Allardice from Books | The Guardian

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How does a 21-year-old Nobel laureate adjust to student life – and what comes next for the world famous activist? Yousafzai explains why she was driven to tell the stories of other displaced girls

• ‘I never thought I’d see land again’: read an extract from We Are Displaced

“People have heard my story already,” says Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel laureate, in something of an understatement. “I thought it was time for people to listen to other girls’ stories as well.” Her new book, We Are Displaced is a collection of harrowing, heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring first-person accounts of the lives of girls Yousafzai has met in her travels to refugee camps and settlements across the world. “We hear about refugees in the newspapers, on TV, and it is just in numbers, and it’s usually in a negative way. But we do not hear from them, especially ...

Godsend by John Wray review – the girl who joins the Taliban

This post is by Robin Yassin-Kassab from Books | The Guardian

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In this bold novel of enormous emotional intelligence, an American convert reinvents herself as a boy in her quest to become a holy warrior

Aden Grace Sawyer is 18 years old, “a serious girl, an asker of questions”. Alienated from her comfortable suburban California surroundings by family breakdown – her father has left home following an affair, and her mother has slipped into alcoholism – she turns to Islam for consolation. Her choice appears to be guided in equal measure by a genuinely spiritual urge for submission to the transcendent, and a more prosaic youthful defiance. Still in the Bay Area, she dons Afghan-style shalwar kameez, and crops her hair rather than wear a hijab. Next she plans to migrate to a godly country. Because Decker, her blustering boyfriend and travelling companion, has Afghan roots and cousins in Karachi, they head for Pakistan.

Aden’s father is a professor of Islamic ...

Was Eric Hobsbawm a dangerous Communist?

This post is by Richard J Evans from Books | The Guardian

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He was branded a Stalinist, and was spied on for decades by MI5, but was the famous historian a hardliner and renegade? His private papers tell a different story

The historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, and died in 2012 at the age of 95, was widely regarded as an unrepentant Stalinist, a man who, unlike other Marxist historians such as EP Thompson and Christopher Hill, never resigned his membership of the Communist party, and never expressed any regret for his commitment to the communist cause.

In the later part of his long life he was most probably the world’s best-known historian, his books translated into more than 50 languages and selling millions of copies across the globe (about a million in Brazil alone, for example). Yet when the BBC invited him on to the radio programme Desert Island Discs ...