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In the critics this week

A brief look at the Spring Books Special

New Statesman
Whit Stillman Photo: Getty Images

The Critics section of this week’s New Statesman is a Spring Books special that sees our critic at large, Sarah Churchwell looking back at the “annus mirabilis” that was 1922. Noting the significance of literary works (T S Eliot’s, The Waste Land), inventions (sound for film) and discoveries (the tomb of King Tutenkhamen) that emerged during that time she states, “So much of what would come after is suggested embryonically in a catalogue of that remarkable year.”

Australian heritage is the focus of the Spring Books interview, when Nina Caplan talks to the prolific Peter Carey. His new novel, The Chemistry of Tears, briefly touches on their mutual heritage, and this is a revealing portrait of a writer who consistently tries to “deflect my attention from his roots”.

John Gray reviews The New Few: or a Very British Oligarchy, in which Ferdinand Mount discusses “why Britain tolerates the rule of the super-rich”. Drawing analogies with Communism, Mount promotes “an inspiring message that politicians of all parties would do well to study and digest.” However, in a country that is “less radically flawed”, Gray raises the question: “Do politicians and the public really want to alter Britain’s course?”

Talking about his new novel, and “straightforward farce”, Skios, Michael Frayn is interviewed by Jonathan Derbyshire about the challenges surrounding farce in fiction. Frayn points to the constraints of a staged production compared with the freedom of the novel surmising that, “In a novel, it’s harder because it’s easier.”

In the film review, Ryan Gilbey discusses Whit Stillman’s “idiosynchratic”, Damsels in Distress, which follows “a trio of female undergraduates who have dedicated their lives to improving the lot of their fellow students”. Although Stillman has “a fair stab at rescuing quirkiness”, Gilbey is concerned that “some of the scenes seem to be a re-write or two away from achieving their potential”. Then, in an enlightening interview, Stillman reflects on the 14 year gap between his last two films: “I failed as a film entrepreneur,” he tells Jonathan Derbyshire.

Rachel Cooke is gripped by a documentary on Channel 4 recalling the liquid bomb plot of 2006, when a group of British Muslims attempted to bring down seven planes over the Atlantic. “The gravity of the plot” and “the expansive ignorance” of the terror cell meant Cooke “could hardly breathe”.

Elsewhere in the critics: Helen Lewis on The Sex Myth: Why Everything We’re Told Is Wrong; Leo Robson reviews Scenes From Early Life; Lindsey Hilsum’s review of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution; Ziauddin Sardar on In the Shadow of the Sword: the Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World; Veron Bogdanor on Seasons in the Sun: the Battle for Britain 1974-79. Plus: Will Self’s, Madness of Crowds.

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