Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on Christopher Adrian, Katherine Frank and Ed: the Milibands and the Making of

The Great Night by Christopher Adrian

"In this mesmerising reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream, the action is transposed from a wood near Athens to 21st century San Francisco's Buena Vista Park," writes Olivia Laing in the Observer. "One wonders whether he took Bottom the Weaver's final admonishment - 'Rehearse most obscenely and courageously. Take pains; be perfect' - to heart, for this magical and fearless work is a near-blueprint of what a novel ought to be."

Keith Donohue in the Washington Post highlights the difference in direction caused by Adrian's plot twists, writing: "That dissonance with the original undermines Adrian's considerable powers. Moments of comedy -- from slapstick to farce -- exist in the novel, but they are mixed with graphic violence and anonymous sex. Rather than ending upon a dream, 'The Great Night' aches with lost love and the torturous ordeal of childhood caught between innocence and awakening. For a novel based upon a classic comedy, it's devastating."

Jake Wallis Simons remains unconvinced by Shakespeare's real role in the book, writing in the Independent: "From the start, it is clear that Adrian is bending Shakespeare's template to his own purposes...His writing is evocative and unsettling in equal measure, yet this seems to be more about the author exploring his own feelings about child mortality than creating anything truly new from the materials of one of the Bard's most popular plays."

Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox and the Creation of a Myth by Katherine Frank

This book proposes that Defoe based his survival story on the life of a Mr Robert Knox, keeps Jonathan Sale interested, as he writes in the Telegraph: "The enthralling Crusoe earns its keep as it weaves together the twin biographies of Knox and Defoe, two extraordinary lives which spiral round like the double helix to produce the DNA of the iconic character in goatskin garments."

The Observer's Peter Conrad gives a very terse review however, writing: "Although Knox and Defoe lived within a few miles of each other in London, they never met; Defoe read Knox's book, though the novel in which he makes use of it was not Crusoe but Captain Singleton...Given the lack of any further connection between the two men, how can Frank justify forcibly coupling them in this dual biography? Only, I'm afraid, by over-stretched analogies and questionable metaphors."

Andrew Robinson writing in the Independent is not wholly convinced either: "Frank points to many similarities between Robinson Crusoe and Knox's Relation. Some are easy to spot, for instance the Bible both Knox and Crusoe stumble upon, and their method of baking bread. Others are more debatable."

Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader by Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre

TheTelegraph's Peter Oborne writes: "Their book is shrewd, scrupulously researched and provides revelations on every page: for instance, the fact that Gordon Brown adores Ed Miliband 'like a son'; the strength of the collusion between Ed and the trade unions; the decisive role played by Neil Kinnock in persuading him to run against his brother. It provides the basis for any serious understanding both of Ed Miliband and the modern Labour Party."

"Political journalists Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre are by instinct sympathetic to their main subject," says Sunder Katwala, writing in the Observer. "But they take care to do a straight reporting job, painstakingly comparing the accounts of sources from all sides to unpack the history of what they call the "fratricide" of Miliband v Miliband."

John Kampfner in the Sunday Times is less enthralled, writing: "The book comes into its own with its blow-by-blow account of the leadership contest. Yet, no matter how hard the authors try, The Brothers Miliband is not the stuff of Dostoevsky. Their lives simply do not provide interesting enough material for all but the political geek."

Roy Hattersley will review "Ed" in Thursday's New Statesman

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump