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

All photos: BBC
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“You’re a big corporate man” The Apprentice 2015 blog: series 11, episode 8

The candidates upset some children.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read up on episode 7 here.

“I don’t have children and I don’t like them,” warns Selina.

An apt starting pistol for the candidates – usually so shielded from the spontaneity, joy and hope of youth by their childproof polyester uniforms – to organise children’s parties. Apparently that’s a thing now. Getting strangers in suits to organise your child’s birthday party. Outsourcing love. G4S Laser Quest. Abellio go-carting. Serco wendy houses.

Gary the supermarket stooge is project manager of team Versatile again, and Selina the child hater takes charge of team Connexus. They are each made to speak to an unhappy-looking child about the compromised fun they will be able to supply for an extortionate fee on their special days.

“So are you into like hair products and make-up?” Selina spouts at her client, who isn’t.

“Yeah, fantastic,” is Gary’s rather enthusiastic response to the mother of his client’s warning that she has a severe nut allergy.

Little Jamal is taken with his friends on an outdoor activity day by Gary’s team. This consists of wearing harnesses, standing in a line, and listening to a perpetual health and safety drill from fun young David. “Slow down, please, don’t move anywhere,” he cries, like a sad elf attempting to direct a fire drill. “Some people do call me Gary the Giraffe,” adds Gary, in a gloomy tone of voice that suggests the next half of his sentence will be, “because my tongue is black with decay”.

Selina’s team has more trouble organising Nicole’s party because they forgot to ask for her contact details. “Were we supposed to get her number or something?” asks Selina.

“Do you have the Yellow Pages?” replies Vana. Which is The Apprentice answer for everything. Smartphones are only to be used to put on loudspeaker and shout down in a frenzy.

Eventually, they get in touch, and take Nicole and pals to a sports centre in east London. I know! Sporty! And female! Bloody hell, someone organise a quaint afternoon tea for her and shower her with glitter to make her normal. Quick! Selina actually does this, cutting to a clip of Vana and Richard resentfully erecting macaroons. Selina also insists on glitter to decorate party bags full of the most gendered, pointless tat seed capital can buy.

“You’re breaking my heart,” whines Richard the Austerity Chancellor when he’s told each party bag will cost £10. “What are we putting in there – diamond rings?” Just a warning to all you ladies out there – if Richard proposes, don’t say yes.

They bundle Nicole and friends into a pink bus, for the section of her party themed around the Labour party’s failed general election campaign, and Brett valiantly screeches Hit Me Baby One More Time down the microphone to keep them entertained.

Meanwhile on the other team, Gary is quietly demonstrating glowsticks to some bored 11-year-old boys. “David, we need to get the atmosphere going,” he warns. “Ermmmmm,” says David, before misquoting the Hokey Cokey out of sheer stress.

Charleine is organising a birthday cake for Jamal. “May contain nuts,” she smiles, proudly. “Well done, Charleine, good job,” says Joseph. Not even sarcastically.

Jamal’s mother is isolated from the party and sits on a faraway bench, observing her beloved son’s birthday celebrations from a safe distance, while the team attempts to work out if there are nuts in the birthday cake.

Richard has his own culinary woes at Nicole’s party, managing both to burn and undercook burgers for the stingy barbecue he’s insisted on overriding the afternoon tea. Vana runs around helping him and picking up the pieces like a junior chef with an incompetent Gordon Ramsay. “Vana is his slave,” comments Claude, who clearly remains unsure of how to insult the candidates and must draw on his dangerously rose-tinted view of the history of oppression.

Versatile – the team that laid on some glowstick banter and a melted inky mess of iron-on photo transfers on t-shirts for Jamal and his bored friends – unsurprisingly loses. This leads to some vintage Apprentice-isms in The Bridge café, His Lordship's official caterer to losing candidates. “I don’t want to dance around a bush,” says one. “A lot of people are going to point the finger at myself,” says another’s self.

In an UNPRECEDENTED move, Lord Sugar decides to keep all four losing team members in the boardroom. He runs through how rubbish they all are. “Joseph, I do believe there has been some responsibility for you on this task.” And “David, I do believe that today you’ve got a lot to answer to.”

Lord Sugar, I do believe you’re dancing around a bush here. Who’s for the chop? It’s wee David, of course, the only nice one left.

But this doesn’t stop Sugar voicing his concern about the project manager. “I’m worried about you, Gary,” he says. “You’re a big corporate man.” Because if there’s any demographic in society for whom we should be worried, it’s them.

Candidates to watch:


Hanging on in there by his whiskers.


Far less verbose when he’s doing enforced karaoke.


She’ll ruin your party.

I'll be blogging The Apprentice each week. Click here for the previous episode blog. The Apprentice airs weekly at 9pm, Wednesday night on BBC One.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.