In the Critics this week

John Gray on Richard Holloway, Richard Evans on A N Wilson and Claude Lanzmann interviewed.

In the Critics in this week's New Statesman, the NS's lead book reviewer John Gray is entranced by Richard Holloway's memoir Leaving Alexandria.This is "a profound, personal investigation of the virtues and flaws of religion," Gray writes, "and the most stirring autobiography I have read in a great many years." Holloway's thinking on religion, Gray argues, is "searching and subtle", and his agnosticism "poses a more fundamental challenge to Christianity than any that has been posed by the so-called new atheists".

In the Books Interview, Sophie Elmhirst talks to John Lanchester about his new novel Capital. This is both a book about London, Lanchester says, and a book about the ubiquitous language of money. Of the latter, he says: "It's like ... a code written on the surface of things; it's in flow all around us, all the time ... I was keen to ... see some of the specific ways in which specific sums of money exert different forces on different characters at different times."

Also in Books, the leading historian of the Third Reich Richard J Evans reviews A N Wilson's Hitler: a Short Biography. Noting that Wilson doesn't appear to read German, Evans writes: "[He does not] seem to have thought very hard or taken much care over what little reading he has done". All we find, Evans concludes, is "evidence of the repellent arrogance of a man who thinks that because he is a celebrated novelist, he can write a book about Hitler that people should read, even though he's put very little work into writing it and even less thought."

Other book reviews: Olivia Laing on Hope: a Tragedy by Shalom Auslander; Ed Smith on American Gridlock by H Woody Brock; David Shariatmadari on Patriot of Persia by Christopher de Bellaigue.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Jonathan Derbyshire profiles Claude Lanzmann, resistance fighter, writer and director of Shoah; Ryan Gilbey on Trishna, Michael Winterbottom's updating of Tess of the d'Urbevilles; Rachel Cooke is dismayed by the "tick-box drama" of White Heat on BBC2; Helen Lewis pays tribute to Peter Cook; Ludovic Hunter-Tilney meets Alice Coleman, scourge of the tower block; and Antonia Quirke listens to Desert Island Discs. PLUS: "Posthumous", a poem by Olivia Byard; Will Self's Madness of Crowds; and The Fan by Hunter Davies.

HELEN SLOAN / THE FALL 3 LTD
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The Fall is back - and once again making me weary

Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should pull the plug on it at last. Plus: Damned.

It is with much weariness that I return to The Fall (Thursdays, 9pm), the creepy drama that still doesn’t know whether it wants to be a horror-fest or a love story. I’ve written in the past about what I regard as its basic misogyny – to sum up, it seems to me to make a fetish of the violence committed against women, a preoccupation it pathetically tries to disguise by dint of its main character being a female detective – and I don’t propose to return to that theme now. However, in its early days, it was at least moderately gripping. Now, though, it appears to be recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown. If in series two the plot was wobbling all over the place, series three has misplaced the idea of drama altogether. Nothing is happening. At all.

To recap: at the end of the last series, Paul Spector, aka the Belfast Strangler (Jamie Dornan), had been shot while in police custody, somewhat improbably by a man who blames him for the demise of his marriage (oh, that Spector were only responsible for breaking up a few relationships). On the plus side for his supposed nemesis, DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), before he fell he led them to Rose Stagg, the ex-girlfriend he’d locked in the boot of a car some days previously, and she is going to live. On the minus side, Spector’s injuries are so bad, it’s touch and go whether he’ll survive, and so Gibson may never see him brought to justice. Of course, the word “justice” is something of a red herring here.

The real reason she wants Spector to live is more dubious. As she stared at his body in the ICU, all tubes and monitors, her expression was so obviously sexual – her mouth opened, and stayed that way, as her eyes ran over every part of his body – that I half expected her to reach out and stroke him. Just in time for this nocturnal visit, she’d slipped into another of her slinky silk blouses that look like poured cream. (Moments earlier – think Jackie Kennedy in 1963 – she’d still been covered in her love object’s blood.)

The entire episode took place at the hospital, police procedural having morphed suddenly into Bodies or Cardiac Arrest. Except, this was so much more boring and cliché-bound than those excellent series – and so badly in need of their verisimilitude. When I watch The Fall, I’m all questions. Why doesn’t Stella ever tie her hair back? And why does she always wear high heels, even when trying to apprehend criminals? For how much longer will the presumably cash-strapped Police Service of Northern Ireland allow her to live in a posh hotel? Above all, I find myself thinking: why has this series been so acclaimed? First it was nasty, and then it was only bad. Five more episodes to go, after which its “feminist” writer (his word, not mine), Allan Cubitt, should join Gibson in the ICU, where together they can ceremonially pull the plug on it at last.

Can Jo Brand do for social workers in her new comedy, Damned, what she did a few years ago for geriatric nurses in the brilliant Getting On? I expect she probably can, even though this Channel 4 series (Tuesdays, 10pm), co-written with Morwenna Banks and Will Smith, does have an awfully inky heart. Hungry children, drug-addict parents, a man who can go nowhere without his oxygen tank: all three were present and correct when Rose (Brand) went to visit a client who turned out to be a woman who, long ago, had nicked her (Rose’s) boyfriend. Ha ha? Boohoo, more like.

Damned is basically The Office with added family dysfunction. Al (Alan Davies) is a hen-pecked wimp, Nitin (Himesh Patel) is a snitch, and Nat (Isy Suttie) is the stupidest and most annoying temp in the Western world. This lot have two bosses: Martin (Kevin Eldon), a kindly widower, and Denise (Georgie Glen), the cost-cutting line manager from hell. And Rose has a plonker of an ex-husband, Lee (Nick Hancock). “I’ve been invited to the Cotswolds for the weekend,” he told her, trying to wriggle out of looking after the children. “Is that why you look like a knob?” she replied.

Jerky camerawork, naturalistic acting, a certain daring when it comes to jokes about, say, race: these things are pretty familiar by now, but I like it all the same.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories