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  • Borges and Me by Jay Parini review – around Scotland in a Morris Minor
    by Oliver Balch on August 5, 2021 at 10:00 am

    A brilliantly unlikely travel caper lovingly recalls a road trip with a literary giant in yellow satin pyjamasJorge Luis Borges’s short story “Borges and I” is typical of the writer. Erudite and elliptical, succinct and self-referential, passionate and puzzling. In just a few closely packed pages, the Argentinian essayist and master storyteller links the prose of Robert Louis Stevenson with the soul of Julius Caesar, via London brothels and arched entrance halls, past strumming guitars and sword-slain kings, before ending at the feet of God himself. “I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one.” So speaks the Lord from a whirlwind. Or is it Borges from his desk? Either way, “discuss”.In this endearing, joyous, sharply written book, Jay Parini sets out to do precisely that: to take up his pen and discuss Borges, winner of multiple prizes and a Latin American literary giant. Despite its deceptively simple prose, Borges’s work defies ready explanation or – at times – even ready understanding. He took pleasure in flummoxing. Mercifully and rather marvellously, Parini embarks on his task not as a critic but as an actor. In classic Borgesian style, he opts to write himself into his own drama. Borges and Parini, master and student, driving around the Highlands of Scotland in a battered candy-red Morris Minor, the one blind, the other “shy and often terrified”, both lost in their own mazes, both open to the world. Parini, a US novelist, academic and literary biographer, is not writing from a blank page. Fifty years ago, as a draft-dodging doctoral student in St Andrews, he met Borges in the flesh. The writer was briefly visiting the UK to collect a prize and give various lectures. He came to Scotland, in small part, to meet a certain Mr Singleton, a specialist in Anglo-Saxon riddles from Inverness. When Borges’s host was called away at short notice, Parini bravely stepped into his shoes as guide and aide. Thus began the start of a riotous, week-long jaunt through the Scottish hinterland.’How on earth had I landed in bed with an elderly, loquacious blind man in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands?’This article was amended on 5 August 2021, to remove a reference to Borges as a Nobel prize winner. He was never a laureate. Continue reading…

  • John Stonehouse, My Father by Julia Stonehouse review – the story of the runaway MP
    by Blake Morrison on August 4, 2021 at 10:00 am

    In 1974 the Labour MP faked his death and fled to Australia – now, the daughter he left behind raises a stubbornly spirited defenceIt’s a fantasy most of us have at some point: to fake our death and fetch up in a distant country, under a different name, to begin a new life. When the Labour MP John Stonehouse attempted just that, in November 1974 – leaving his clothes in a Miami beach cabana to make it look as if he’d drowned, before arriving as “Joseph Markham” in Australia – his success was short-lived. Initially mistaken by police in Melbourne for Lord Lucan, who had disappeared after murdering his nanny two weeks earlier, he was eventually brought back to the UK to face trial on charges of fraud. Hounded by the press as a spy, traitor, embezzler and adulterer, he spent three years in prison and on his release survived for less than a decade before dying of heart problems at 62. Now his daughter Julia has set out to rescue his reputation.“Mad not bad” is her premise. Paranoid, sleep-deprived and dosed up on a cocktail of Mogadon and Mandrax, her father had been behaving oddly for months before his disappearance. The companies he owned were going under and the dodgy contracts he struck to rescue them made things worse. The growing rumours that he’d been passing secret information to the Czechs cost him a ministerial position and were a threat to Harold Wilson’s government. All of which led him to seek refuge in a new identity: “Being Mr Markham was a safety valve, a release, a lifesaver” – a persona which became more real to him than John Stonehouse.Any father would want a daughter like Julia – stubbornly loyal, tenacious in spotting errors, denouncing lies Continue reading…

  • John Doyle on childhood, his new memoir and why Roy Slaven is his ‘mask of courage’
    by Geoff Lemon on August 3, 2021 at 3:22 am

    In writing the biography of his sports-commentating alter ego, Doyle hasn’t produced madcap comedy. Instead, the result is sympathetic and surprisingFew Australians know John Doyle as John Doyle. They know him as the broadcast character he invented: Rampaging Roy Slaven. Since 1986 Roy has teamed up with Greig Pickhaver’s counterpart HG Nelson, imagined as an excitable sports caller while Roy is the droll former player. His backstory expanded as the years went on: Test cricketer, rugby league legend, Melbourne Cup trainer, tennis savant, Olympic swimming coach. The Olympics gave Roy and HG their brightest moment, when their late-night show The Dream became the surprise hit of the Sydney 2000 Games.So on hearing that Doyle wrote a memoir, one first expects confessional work from the man behind the character. On clarifying that the memoir is Roy’s, the expectation changes to madcap comedy. On further clarifying that the book includes Doyle as a character alongside Roy as teenagers, one sees a device to allow the author to better deprecate his younger self. Roy’s early descriptions of Doyle playing cricket bear that out – but then the book ends up being something else entirely. Related: Guardian Australia’s Book Club: join us to celebrate the inaugural Australian Poetry Month Wearing the mask of Roy enables me – it gives me the confidence to express views with impunity Related: ‘Unprecedented’: the fight for Sydney independent bookstore Better Read Than Dead Continue reading…

  • Pessoa: An Experimental Life review – a portrait with bags of personality
    by Peter Conrad on August 2, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Richard Zenith’s massive biography of the Portuguese writer who constructed numerous identities captures his tragicomic oddityIn the centre of Lisbon, on a hill that serves as a municipal Parnassus, a short stroll takes you on a trip through national literary history. In a square named after him, Camões, the one-eyed epic bard who celebrated Portugal’s maritime discoveries, looks down from his monument at what remains of the country’s empire; a little way off, the frock-coated 19th-century novelist Eça de Queiroz embraces a flagrantly bare-breasted muse; and in a nearby shopping street the modernist poet Fernando Pessoa, cast in bronze, sits at a table outside a cafe, conducting the empty air with a suspended hand.The metallic Pessoa looks abstracted, perhaps undecided about which of his personae he should pretend to be. Though Pessoa in Portuguese means “person”, he chose, as he said, to “depersonalise” himself. While dreaming of literary immortality, he adopted the jokey anglicised nickname Ferdinand Sumwan to announce that he was no one in particular. He spent his adolescence in South Africa, then returned to Lisbon and nerdily toiled at unworthy office jobs until he died in 1935, never travelling abroad. Without sexual attachments, he indulged instead, as Richard Zenith puts it, in orgies of “self-fertilisation”: the brain of this shy, innocuous man housed a thronging “para-universe”, an “invisible world of made-up characters” who wrote in English, French and Portuguese as Pessoa’s deputies or surrogates and collectively created “one of the richest and strangest bodies of literature in the 20th century”.Zenith argues that his interest in alchemy and black magic offered him a way of studying the motions of his own inscrutable heart Continue reading…

  • Bad genes, not rock’n’roll excess, killed Elvis Presley, claims biographer
    by Edward Helmore on August 1, 2021 at 8:30 am

    A new book by Sally Hoedel argues that the singer was a sick man supporting his family and friendsElvis Presley, who died 44 years ago this month, was not a drug abuser in the typical rock’n’roll lifestyle sense, a new book claims, but he was medicating to address a series of congenital illnesses.According to Elvis: Destined to Die Young, the singer’s downward spiral, punctuated by health problems routinely written off as the consequences of addiction, could have been caused by Presley’s maternal grandparents, who were first cousins. His mother’s family – including three uncles – were cursed by early death, the author Sally Hoedel says. Continue reading…

  • In brief: Annie Stanley, All at Sea; Some Answers Without Questions; Unexplained Deaths
    by Hephzibah Anderson on August 1, 2021 at 7:30 am

    A charming novel about a woman’s midlife crisis, timely reflections on female creativity and the woman who revolutionised murder investigationsSue TeddernMantle, £16.99, pp368 Continue reading…

  • Baxter Dury: ‘Everything was about Dad. It was the only way he knew how to survive’
    by Simon Hattenstone on July 31, 2021 at 10:00 am

    The musician talks about growing up with a pop star dad, escaping his shadow – and the 6ft 7in drug dealer who lived with them• Read an exclusive extract from Chaise Longue: ‘After a certain point of drinking, Dad’s behaviour became a lottery’Baxter Dury strolls up to the pub, casually dressed and apologetic. The indie musician, known for his stylish suits, is wearing a white vest and unbuttoned denim shirt. His face is even whiter than the vest. Food poisoning. He ate oysters the other day, and has never been so sick. He orders a pineapple juice and soda water, sheepishly. “That’s going to be the headline, isn’t it?” The 2010 biopic about his father was named Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – after one of Ian Dury’s most celebrated songs, and a fair summary of his life.But we’re not here to talk about Dad, says Baxter, a successful musician in his own right. It’s 21 years since his father died, and 19 since Baxter recorded his debut album, the fabulously titled Len Parrot’s Memorial Lift. Don’t get me wrong, he says, he loved the old man, but he’s got Ian Dury fatigue. He’s tired of the comparisons – their music, voice, looks and lifestyle.Dad was this in-command, say-what-he-fucking-wants person, and I’m this other person. I’m now comfortable with thatI never had a constitution for drugs. I’d be sick in my pocket after three pints and any drugs Continue reading…

  • In briefs: Homeland Elegies; What You Can See from Here; The Accidental Footballer – review
    by Ben East on July 25, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    A twisty tale of Trump’s America, a charmingly strange bestseller, and a surprising sports memoirAyad AkhtarHeadline, £8.99, pp368To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy of Homeland Elegies, What You Can See from Here or The Accidental Footballer at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply Continue reading…

  • John Stonehouse, My Father by Julia Stonehouse; Stonehouse by Julian Hayes – review
    by Andrew Rawnsley on July 25, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Two relatives of John Stonehouse offer differing reasons for why, nearly 50 years ago, the Labour MP, philanderer and suspected spy faked his own death in the strangest political story of the 1970sJohn Stonehouse was a politician who had it all. He was tall, good looking, clever, fiercely ambitious and an energetic campaigner for his causes with a high capacity for turning on the charm. Being a former RAF pilot and the son of a Labour mayor of Southampton helped lubricate his ascent in the party. After serving as junior minister of aviation and minister of state for technology, a hot topic during Harold Wilson’s first period as prime minister, he rose to the cabinet as postmaster general and then minister of posts and telecommunications. Such was his dazzle that some tipped the West Midlands MP as a future occupant of Number 10.Trouble was he was also a liar, a cheat and a fraud.The daughter contends that the accusation that he was a traitor to his country is the worst calumny heaped on her father Continue reading…

  • Leïla Slimani: ‘I think I’m always writing about women, domination, violence’
    by Johanna Thomas-Corr on July 24, 2021 at 5:00 pm

    The French-Moroccan author on why she writes, the complexity of identity, and the first book of a trilogy based on her family historyAuthor Leïla Slimani, 39, grew up in Rabat, Morocco, and moved to Paris when she was 17. Her first novel, Adèle, a melancholy story about a nymphomaniac mother in her 30s, was published in France in 2014. In 2016, she was the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt, for her second novel, Lullaby, about a nanny who kills the baby and toddler in her care. In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron appointed her as his personal representative for promoting French language and culture.Last year, Slimani published a nonfiction book, Sex and Lies, a collection of intimate testimonies from Moroccan women about their secret lives. Her latest book, The Country of Others, is the first novel in a planned trilogy based on her family history. Set in the late 1940s and 50s, it centres on her maternal grandparents during Morocco’s period of decolonisation. Slimani lives with her husband and two children in Paris.I would love to go everywhere, to have read every book and to have known every passion Continue reading…

  • Priscilla Johnson McMillan obituary
    by Michael Carlson on July 19, 2021 at 8:54 am

    Journalist, author and historian who knew both President John F Kennedy and his alleged assassin Lee Harvey OswaldPriscilla Johnson McMillan, who has died aged 92 after a fall, was the only person who could claim to have known both President John F Kennedy and his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. As a young college graduate, Johnson was befriended by Senator Kennedy while she worked in his office; a few years later she interviewed the young Oswald soon after he showed up in Moscow wishing to defect to the Soviet Union.After the assassination, Johnson was given exclusive access to Oswald’s Russian widow, Marina, and her ensuing book, Marina and Lee (1977), became a key document in establishing Oswald as a lone disturbed assassin. It also prompted many researchers to point to Johnson’s close ties to the US intelligence community, not least when she received similarly exclusive access to Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, when she defected to the US, and worked with her through translating her bestselling 1967 memoir Twenty Letters to a Friend. Continue reading…

  • Landslide by Michael Wolff review – Trump’s final days of delirium
    by Peter Conrad on July 19, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Wolff concludes his jocular trilogy of books about the chaotic Trump administration by absolving the former president of blameProhibited from tweeting, Trump still has Michael Wolff as his megaphone. Landslide is Wolff’s third book in as many years on a man he despises but whose absurd antics he can’t help enjoying. Other Trump chroniclers worry about his glowering autocratic menace or his haphazard approach to governance. For Wolff, who began his career on the Hollywood Reporter, not the Washington Post, such liberal qualms are secondary. He sees Trump not as a political phenomenon but as the monstrous spawn of showbiz and PR – an exhibitionistic performer whose only talent is for self-advertisement and who, like many other celebrities, has made a career out of behaving badly.Wolff is exasperated by the determination of the Democrats to impeach Trump all over again after 6 JanuarySadist and masochist are so intertwined that they merge in a sickly coital embrace Continue reading…

  • ‘A madman with millions of followers’: what the new Trump books tell us
    by Martin Pengelly in Washington on July 17, 2021 at 5:00 am

    Books show how close the US came to disaster, and document an unprecedented moment in US history that is not yet overI Alone Can Fix It: Trump as wannabe FührerThis week, the Guardian reported that what are assessed to be leaked Kremlin documents describe Donald Trump as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual”. Vladimir Putin, the documents say, therefore decided to assist Trump’s rise to power in 2016 as a way to weaken America. Related: Frankly, We Did Win This Election review: a devastating dispatch from Trumpworld He should be a political pariah. But it’s important to continue to show what he’s doing Related: Landslide review: Michael Wolff’s third Trump book is his best – and most alarming Our thesis was that the desire to understand this critical period of history would continue. I think that’s been proven Related: Nightmare Scenario review: Trump, Covid and a lasting national trauma Continue reading…

  • Walking the Invisible by Michael Stewart review – following in the Brontës’ footsteps
    by Anita Sethi on July 15, 2021 at 6:30 am

    A walking tour of the north of England becomes a celebration of the Brontës’ work and a love letter to the wily, windy places that inspired them I walked recently through the North York Moors national park and along the Yorkshire coast, reaching Scarborough, and climbed towards its castle high on a clifftop, and to the grave of Anne Brontë, who died aged 29 and is buried in a churchyard beneath the castle. By the sea she so loved, it was easy to see and feel how the landscape of the north so powerfully shaped the literature and lives of the Brontës. This evocative book encourages people to engage with the places that proved so inspirational. As I walk, Anne’s haunting last words to her sister Charlotte echo through my mind: “Take courage.”“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: it vexes me to choose another guide,” Emily Brontë declared. This trailblazing spirit led her to forge a unique path through literature. Here, she becomes a posthumous guide to Michael Stewart as he follows in her footsteps – along with the footsteps of her sisters, brother Branwell and father Patrick – in a series of vividly chronicled walks that explore the geographical and emotional terrain of their writing. Related: Anne Brontë: the sister who got there first Continue reading…

  • Maradona by Guillem Balagué review – the magic and the madness
    by Anthony Cummins on July 11, 2021 at 10:00 am

    The football journalist exploits his contacts in the game to illuminate the many Maradona stories in the first biography of the legend since his deathReaching the final of this year’s Euros means that, win or lose, Gareth Southgate’s England have laid the ghosts of past tournaments to rest. Yet it was only last week that the retired goalkeeper Peter Shilton could be found on television – well, GB News – wishing, not for the first time, that VAR had been around back in 1986, when a certain 5ft 4in Argentinian playmaker outjumped him to slyly palm the ball into the net during a World Cup quarter-final. The Scots have a song about it:You put your left hand inYour left hand outIn out, in outYou shake it all aboutYou do the Maradona and you turn aroundHe put the English out!Ohhh, Diego Maradona…The coup de grace came four minutes later, when (does it even need saying?) Maradona burst from inside his own half to skip past four England players before dummying Shilton for a second goal, wholly legal yet still more outrageous.If these two goals, stirringly reconstructed in a new biography by Spanish football journalist Guillem Balagué, sum up the Jekyll-and-Hyde tint to Maradona’s on-pitch gifts, another strike was just as revealing. Playing for Barcelona against Real Madrid in 1983, he found himself through on goal with only the onrushing keeper to beat. Rather than shoot swift and low (too easy), he dribbled round his opponent, yet still refused to score even when the goal gaped (much too easy), preferring instead to take his sweet time until a Madrid defender had sprinted back to the goal line – at which point Maradona dribbled round him as well, finally rolling the ball home just as the skidding defender ended up taking a between-the-legs thwack off the post. Related: Maradona the footballer had no flaws – Maradona the man was a victim | Jorge Valdano Was the “hepatitis” that laid out Maradona at Barcelona actually an STD? Continue reading…

  • You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike review – the biography of Nico
    by Fiona Sturges on July 10, 2021 at 8:00 am

    A not always flattering portrait of the enigmatic Velvet Underground singer’s troubled life and legacyIn 1966, the artist Andy Warhol was booked to appear at the annual banquet for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry. Rather than give a speech, he brought along the Velvet Underground, the house band at his Factory studio, to perform instead. The evening marked the German model Nico’s first appearance with the band, which also comprised Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker. As diners tucked into their main course, “the Velvets started to blast, and Nico started to wail”, recalled Warhol in his book POPism. Factory gadabouts Edie Sedgwick and Gerard Malanga climbed on to the stage and danced with bullwhips, while two film-makers rushed into the room wielding bright lights and Super 8 cameras and began loudly interrogating startled attendees about their sex lives. The next day, the event – more art prank than performance – was written up in the papers, with the headline in the New York Herald Tribune declaring: “Shock Treatment for Psychiatrists.”It was a pivotal night for Nico, whose presence and distinctive deep alto would raise the profile of the Velvet Underground and inject their shows with an otherworldly, melancholy glamour. It also forms a significant moment in You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, the cultural historian Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s account of the life of Christa Päffgen (she adopted the name Nico in her late teens). Before joining the Velvet Underground, Nico had spent more than a decade working as a model and sometime actor – she appeared in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita after the director spotted her standing on the set and offered her a role on the spot. But while she enjoyed the lifestyle modelling afforded her, she objected to being intellectually patronised or regarded as a blank canvas, and was uncertain about the path her life should take. Though not all the members of the Velvet Underground were thrilled at her joining – Reed didn’t want her singing all his songs; Warhol said he wouldn’t manage them without her – she felt at home among artists and avant-garde musicians, and her year-long spell with the band launched a career that would occupy her until her death at 49 following a bicycle accident. Continue reading…

  • The Nine by Gwen Strauss review – so much more than an escape story
    by Anne Sebba on July 10, 2021 at 6:30 am

    A 10-day journey across front lines shows the courage, resilience and friendship of a remarkable group of womenAt 2am on 14 April 1945, just weeks before the defeat of the Third Reich and the end of the second world war, 5,000 exhausted and emaciated prisoners working at a sub camp of the all-women’s camp of Ravensbrück, north of Berlin, were forcibly marched out of the gates heading east with no particular destination and starvation rations. “We were like ants surprised by the destruction of their nest,” commented one of the women.It was cold with a drizzle of freezing rain but, with the allies advancing on all sides, the Germans were determined to remove prisoners from the camps in a frenzied attempt to leave no evidence of the barbarism so recently practised there. SS commanders attempted to burn critical documents before fleeing.We hear how they lugged a heavy cooking pot, a tripod and a sack of potatoes – food, or lack of it, is a recurring theme Continue reading…

  • This month’s best paperbacks: Mary Trump on ‘Uncle Donald’, a new Elena Ferrante and more
    on July 8, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Here are some excellent new paperbacks for July, including Too Much and Never Enough, outstanding translated novels and some fizzing fantasy Continue reading…

  • Summer reads to get lost in, chosen by Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell, Raven Leilani and more
    on July 4, 2021 at 9:00 am

    From David Diop and Craig Brown to Carmen Maria Machado and Douglas Stuart, prize-winning authors present their top tips for immersive booksTo support the Guardian and Observer order any of the titles mentioned above at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may applyAdd your own suggestions for immersive summer reading in the comments below Continue reading…

  • Time to face the brutal truth: there’s no glamour at the bottom of a glass
    by Louisa Young on July 4, 2021 at 6:45 am

    Alcohol addiction has long been romanticised in films, TV shows, books and adverts. Let’s stop glossing over the destructive drudgery and sheer sorrow of the diseaseWhen I was 21, I decided I should make a proper effort to be a writer. I knew what I needed: countless films and television shows had told me. I needed a typewriter, fags and a bottle of whisky. I acquired them, and set myself up at the kitchen table. Yep, I thought. Now I am the business. I was Dorothy Parker, Carson McCullers, Raymond Chandler. So I would die miserably – who cares? I was 21, and still immortal.It seems whatever our role in life, our culture offers us a way for alcohol to be central to it. Alcohol, in its various guises, tells us who we are. In TV drama, for example, are you a beautiful woman with a demanding job? Then every night you must go home to your spacious kitchen, perch at the island and pour half a bottle of white wine into a spotless and weirdly huge glass. Related: ‘I am very shy. It’s amazing I became a movie star’: Leslie Caron at 90 on love, art and addiction Continue reading…