The latest on books and the arts


Manic pixel dream Orcs: suspense-free battles fail to convince in the third Hobbit film.
Time to say goodbye: the end cannot come too soon for the third Hobbit film
By Ryan Gilbey - 12 December 13:04

The first two parts of Peter Jackson’s super-sized Hobbit trilogy held their own, but the director squanders all his best assets in this sorry mess of a final installment.

In the Frame: See Film Differently with David and George
By Tom Humberstone - 12 December 10:47

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Houses. Photo: Getty
Things can only get meta: Kirsty Gunn’s Infidelities reviewed
By Sophie Elmhirst - 11 December 10:54

“Nobody buys short stories anyway,” says a character, Richard, in the prologue to Kirsty Gunn’s new collection, Infidelities. “No one thinks there’s enough going on.” The challenge from writer to reader is stark; watch out, there will be plenty going on here.

A food bank in Spain. Photo: Getty
Hard Times review: how the crash made our society more unequal
By Lucy Fisher - 11 December 10:46

The central tenet of Hard Times is that the economic slump of 2008 and its aftermath have augmented the schisms already present in two rich, but profoundly unequal societies: the UK and the US.

A manifesto for readers: The Republic of Imagination reviewed
By Erica Wagner - 11 December 10:02

The task Azar Nafisi sets herself here, to build an argument for fiction in western culture, is one that has driven her personal and professional life.

A Canadian cabin. Photo: Getty
The end of the affair: Rose Tremain’s The American Lover reviewed
By Alex Clark - 11 December 9:55

The protagonists of Rose Tremain’s fifth collection of short stories – her first since 2005’s The Darkness of Wallis Simpson – are all operating under some form of constraint: social, sexual, emotional, pressingly immediate or far distant, unrelentingly real or garlanded with imaginative flourishes.

Wat Tyler being killed while King Richard II looks on. Photo: Getty
Reading the riot act: the true story of the Great Revolt
By Paul Kingsnorth - 11 December 9:53

Richard II’s meeting with the rebels is one of the most astonishing moments in English history, as a 14-year-old boy rides out to meet thousands of his armed and angry people.

Ferdinand Foch (right) with Lloyd George in 1921. Photo: Getty
Offensive to excess: the controversial military tactics of Marshal Ferdinand Foch
By Allan Mallinson - 11 December 9:35

The life of a forgotten First World War character.

Photo: Getty
John Burnside on Seamus Heaney: poems as drops in the moral ocean
By John Burnside - 11 December 9:28

The work of a great artist often appears so fluent, so graceful, that we assume it must have come easily – but nothing in art is worth much if it is not hard won.

Bacon, the answer to hangovers. Photo: Getty Images
Felicity Cloake: Hangover cures shouldn’t involve further suffering
By Felicity Cloake - 11 December 9:12

In the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Chris Rock is right – Hollywood has a race problem. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET
Why Hollywood needs to listen to Chris Rock about its race problems
By Sam Moore - 10 December 13:16

On screen and off, Hollywood is terrible at giving opportunities to anyone who isn’t white, and one of the US’s biggest stars is calling them out on it.

Accused: Jason Watkins (right) as Jefferies.
Marked man: the careful kindness of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies
By Rachel Cooke - 10 December 13:08

Christopher Jefferies stands for us all in the matter of what the newspapers can do to a person, should they happen to take against him.

The surviving images of Richard come from the Tudor period, and were used as propaganda. Photo: Getty
Does it matter if Richard III’s DNA suggests infidelity in the royal family?
By Amy Licence - 10 December 12:14

New DNA research into Richard III’s remains has cast the legitimacy of the royal line into question, all the way down to the present queen.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in the forthcoming biopic “The Theory of Everything”.
The lure of the biopic: the best of an ever-popular film format
By Ryan Gilbey - 09 December 15:34

Cinemas are going to be full of biopics in the next couple of months – in preparation, Ryan Gilbey picks the best examples of the form from the past few years.

In the Frame: the best of 2014
By Tom Humberstone - 09 December 14:34

Tom Humberstone, who creates the weekly “In the Frame” comic for the NS, looks back at the past year.

Simon Day as Brian Pern, playing the flute on Top of the Pops 1975. Photo: BBC/Rory Lindsay
Cleverly, playfully pitch-perfect: the joys of Brian Pern: A Life in Rock
By Jenny Landreth - 09 December 13:26

The roc/doc/mockumentary returns for a second series and – oh no! – there’s a jukebox musical in the works...

Carriers: mosquitoes at the Oswaldo Cruz foundation in Rio de Janeiro, on 2 October. Photo: Getty
I’d never heard of “chicken unga fever”. Had a new kind of bird flu hit Britain?
By Phil Whitaker - 05 December 16:59

Dr Phil Whitaker’s Health Matters column. 

Other Mary: a statue of Mary Magdelene in San Salvador. Photo: Getty
Magdalene sisters: John Adam’s The Gospel According to the Other Mary
By Caroline Crampton - 05 December 16:18

The piece is an attempt to see the Passion through the eyes of the women who surrounded Jesus, with particular emphasis on Mary Magdalene.

Good migrations: a flock of cranes in Israel. Photo: Getty
Waiting for the cranes under warm, silky skies
By John Burnside - 05 December 15:57

The Nature Column by John Burnside. 

Foxy: Alan Cumming at a Peta event in September. Photo: Getty
My two dads: Alan Cumming’s moving memoir of his father
By Antonia Quirke - 05 December 15:13

One day Cumming was warned that it might emerge that he was not his father’s biological son. It was a bad moment in his life, no question. And yet, on some sad level, he greeted the news with relief.

Quirks: from Laura Carlin's A World of Your Own
In a world of their own: the best children’s books of 2014
By Amanda Craig - 05 December 11:46

Amanda Craig’s round-up of reading to enchant and inspire young minds this Christmas. 

Forbidden fruit: Trierweiler and Hollande in 2002, three years before "the kiss in Limoges". Photo: Paris Match/Getty Images
It started with a kiss: Valerie Trierweiler’s memoir
By Jane Shilling - 05 December 11:34

Jane Shilling finds a blend of syrup and venom in this kiss-and-tell book by François Hollande’s former partner. 

In the Frame: The Cat and the Gnat
By Tom Humberstone - 05 December 10:37

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Photo: Nan Palmero/Flickr
All my life, people have shouted, “Cheer up!” at me, but I was born with a glum face
By Tracey Thorn - 04 December 16:23

In the recent viral video footage of a woman being repeatedly catcalled as she walks around New York, the first comments we hear addressed to her are: “Smile! SMILE!” It’s an order, an expectation.

"Emotions burst out like molehills on an immaculate lawn": family tension in The Legacy
Greed, lust and great knitwear: The Legacy is a Danish drama that’s smarter than Borgen
By Rachel Cooke - 04 December 16:03

Everyone is white, and everyone is rich – or about to be. Where’s the grit in that? But grit there is: it is stupid to assume that for a drama to be a hit, it must be filled with “people like us”.

Hard bargain: Rabourdin (left) and Emelyanov in Eastern Boys
Station to station: Eastern Boys is a cool French take on the politics of desire
By Ryan Gilbey - 04 December 15:56

This gritty tale of eastern European rent boys in Paris might at first sound like Ken Loach gone gay. But the effect is more redolent of a Gus Van Sant spin on Oliver Twist.

Fear and loathing: Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Sympathy for the Devil Doctor: tracing the evolution of Fu Manchu
By Yo Zushi - 04 December 10:00

A pantomime villain imbued with the sophistication of Moriarty, Fu Manchu captured the imagination of a public already accustomed to lurid, exaggerated tales of vice among Britain’s Chinese population.