In the Critics this week

Ali Smith, John Burnside, China Miéville, Toby Litt, Ryan Gilbey and Will Self.

The centrepiece of the Critics section in this week’s New Statesman is “Say I won’t be there”, a new short story, written exclusively for the NS, by novelist Ali Smith. In Books, the NS’s nature columnist John Burnside reviews Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot. “With the possible exception of memoir,” Burnside writes, “no other literary form is more revealing of its author’s pretensions than nature writing.” However, Macfarlane mostly avoids the besetting sins of the genre in Burnside’s view. “Intrepid and well-informed he may be, but there is no sense of ego here …” He is, Burnside writes, “our finest nature writer”.

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to China Miéville about his new novel Railsea, in which the action of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is transposed from the sea to the railway and the whale is replaced by a giant mole. “I first read [Moby-Dick] when I was about 17 and I was really blow away by it,” Miéville says. “I like very much that sort of hypnotic, overwrought, very lush prose.” Asked about his relationship to the science fiction and fantasy communities, Miéville says: “The level of seriousness with which books are treated at some of the science-fiction conventions puts a lot of conventional literary festivals to shame. At the same time, I get very exasperated with certain aspects of geek culture.”

Also in Books: Toby Litt reviews Ben Marcus’s novel The Flame Alphabet; Jonathan Beckman on Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai; Felix Martin on Economics After the Crisis by Adair Turner. PLUS Sophie Elmhirst’s Word Games column – this week her word is “Jubilee”.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Yo Zushi on the enduring influence of Alex Chilton and Big Star; Rachel Cooke on the mysterious charms of Rory Stewart; Ryan Gilbey on Bela Tarr’s valedictory film The Turin Horse and Plan B’s boisterous cinematic debut, iLL Manors; “Blue Song”, a poem by Dannie Abse; Antonia Quirke on a Radio 2 documentary about the Queen; and Will Self goes to Berlin to eat currywurst.

Ben Drew, aka Plan B (Photo: Getty Images)
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Commons confidential: The nuclear option

Hunt's six day week, Cameron's missing tweet and growing tensions within Labour.

It’s UN blue helmet time for the deputy leader Tom Watson as he struggles to keep the peace between Labour’s warring factions.

The burly veteran of the uprising that toppled Tony Blair is brokering an armed truce. His strategy, I’m told, is to persuade both sides to hold fire. Rebels remain in the bunker and Corbynistas are moving to change party rules. Either pulling a trigger would send the other nuclear.

Tensions between the Corbyn and McDonnell camps fuel rumours the veggie Jeremy may later step aside for carnivorous John. Watson, says my snout, believes Labour would be ungovernable if MPs locked the left out of any contest.

John Mann, caught glancing to check whether cameras were rolling ahead of his Brawl in the Hall with Red Ken, has posturing form. The Bassetlaw bruiser and his former colleague Denis MacShane earned blistering rebukes for “glib evidence” and “appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions” three years ago as witnesses at a failed employment tribunal that attempted to find “institutional anti-Semitism” in a University and College Union-backed Israel boycott.

The 45-page judgment noted: “When it came to anti-Semitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, [Mann] announced: ‘It’s clear to me where the line is . . .’ but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.”

Gobby Mann and Shoot-From-the-Lip Livingstone were made for each other.

Many thanks to the reader with a long memory who reminded me this column noted in June 2009 how Jeremy Hunt was a six-day weeker, after his Surrey office informed Haslemere Rugby Club he didn’t work Sundays. Now he’s Health Secretary, screaming about a seven-day NHS in England, I’d be happy to update his availability should Hunt wish to get in touch. Emails and calls are answered all weekend.

Labour holds no monopoly on anti-Semitism. A former Labour MP recalled asking an esteemed Tory grandee, still an MP, over dinner whether Livingstone should have apologised for likening a Jewish reporter on the London Evening Standard to a concentration camp guard. “Oh no,” sneered the prominent Con, “the Hebs are getting above themselves.” The term “Hebs” is, apparently, posh for Hebrews. You learn something nasty every day.

Imagine the tweet the experts at No 10 could have prevented the football-crazy Cameron from sending: “As a keen Aston Ham fan I congratulate Leicester Town on winning the FA Cup.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred