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.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood