The latest on books and the arts


Indian Muslims seek blessings on Eid al-Fitr at the shrine of Sufi Muslim poet Amir Khusro. Photo: Tengku Bahar/AFP/Getty
In search of a Sufi saint on Radio 4’s Incarnations: India in 50 Lives
By Antonia Quirke - 29 May 9:38

As we advance through the series, its cities and centuries sounding like some powerful exclamation, what is happening more subtly is a sense of the country cohering as a nation.

Ruth Wilson as Alison and Dominic West as Noah in "The Affair". Photo: Showtime
The Affair is weirdly, unnervingly unsexy - but I'm addicted
By Rachel Cooke - 29 May 9:36

Dominic West and Ruth Wilson are wonderful actors, but no one can claim that The Affair is Mad Men-style high art.

Cruel fate: a victim in Sissako’s drama.
Fade to black: everyday persecution and religious fundamentalism in Timbuktu
By Ryan Gilbey - 29 May 9:35

Ryan Gilbey is left feeling chilled by Abderrahmane Sissako’s remarkable Timbuktu.

In the Frame: The Satirist
By Tom Humberstone - 29 May 9:00

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Raised sights: a version of Joshua Reynolds’s portrait A Young Black (c.1770), believed to be of Francis Barber. Image: PRIVATE COLLECTION/THE BLOOMSBURY WORKSHOP/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
The Jamaican slave who became Samuel Johnson's heir
By Ian Thomson - 28 May 15:53

In 1752, Johnson’s low spirits were relieved somewhat by the arrival from Jamaica of Francis Barber.

Far and away: Phnom Penh is the backdrop to Osborne’s drama of ambiguous identities. Photo: PAULA BRONSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES
An innocent abroad: Hunters in the Dark is a shady portrait of travel
By Douglas Kennedy - 28 May 15:45

Lawrence Osborne's new book, set in Cambodia, grapples with manifold questions about identity.

Protestors in Cairo, one of the places featured in Asaad al-Saleh's book. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In the Arab Spring, revolution was made by everyday people
By Sophie McBain - 28 May 15:30

Sophie McBain reviews Jonathan Littell's Syrian Notebooks and Voices of the Arab Spring by Asaad al-Saleh.

Eruptions of sugar-encrusted delight: English bakers conjure up endless variations on a traditional treat. Photo: Getty
All hail the common bun, the grace of our nation
By Felicity Cloake - 28 May 15:21

A few years ago, the Great British Bun was in danger of extinction. Then, like a well-proofed dough, it rose again.

A jungle in Malaysia. Photo: ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images
"Gone native": a new poem by Fred Johnston
By Fred Johnston - 28 May 14:58

Up before dawn, the garden gone Jurassic and ominous

Uncharted, whole tribes could be hiding down there

The smell of weak sun varnishing the larger leaves, sending

Up the old primæval musk, snakes and apples, an oafish Eden –


Journey home: Alain Mabanckou. Photo: BARBARA ZANON/GETTY IMAGES
Alain Mabanckou's The Lights of Pointe-Noire is a lyrical meditation on the journey home
By Russell Williams - 28 May 14:43

Although often marginalised under the broad label of "post-colonial", Mabanckou is emerging as a force in French writing.

Mind games for ever: JM Coetzee's subject Sigmund Freud in Vienna, 1933. Photo: UNDERWOOD ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
J M Coetzee looks into the psychotherapist - and finds a modern bard
By Salley Vickers - 28 May 13:40

The Good Story is a dialogue between Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz, a clinical psychologist and trainee psychotherapist.

Object lessons: Learning, a 1996 artwork by Michael Craig-Martin. Photo: ©2015 MICHAEL CRAIG- MARTIN
Art rarely floats free of biography - or autobiography, for that matter
By Michael Prodger - 28 May 13:14

Michael Prodger on new books from Julian Barnes and Michael Craig-Martin.

Scorched earth: Jesús Carrasco’s novel describes the struggle for survival on a barren Spanish plain. Photo: BORJA ALCAZAR PHOTO/GETTY
The latest Spanish fiction shows the impact of the financial crash
By Ollie Brock - 28 May 13:09

The Spanish have had reason to identify with the losing side lately, and two debut novels reflect it.

A man (not Will Self) surveys an array of spoons. Illustration: Jackson Rees
The changing fortunes of my family can be measured in our use of the humble spoon
By Will Self - 28 May 13:00

When it to comes to putting stuff in your mouth, only the spoon will do.

Reckless passion: J S Mill’s devotion to Harriet Taylor was beyond question . . . but it troubled Hayek. Illustration: Ralph Steadman
How Friedrich Hayek became fascinated with the romance of Harriet Taylor and J S Mill
By John Gray - 28 May 12:47

A great philosophical love affair - and the economist fascinated by it.

The Jane Austen Manifesto: How we can save the world by writing like Austen
By Ian Flitcroft - 27 May 9:41

The internet would be a much nicer place if everyone spoke like a Jane Austen character. Here’s how you go about it.

Vernon's book cover. Photo: Hodder and Stoughton.
Polly Vernon’s Hot Feminist attacks cartoonish, bra-burning caricatures of feminism
By Barbara Speed - 26 May 12:18

Feminists: it’s OK to be hot. But you knew that already, right? 

Alone, not lonely: in her book, Kate Bolick explores the life choices of women who decide to be single. Photo: Willy Somma
The new spinster: Kate Bolick proves there's no need to pity unmarried women
By Alice Robb - 25 May 11:18

With record numbers of us choosing to stay single, Bolick's new book explores what it means for a woman to build a rich life alone.

Danny Boyle: The BBC is “as important to our democracy as Westminster”
By Harry Lambert - 22 May 23:06

Danny Boyle, the man behind the Olympics and the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic, speaks to the New Statesman at the opening of HOME, Manchester's answer to London's Southbank.

In the Frame: Seriously?
By Tom Humberstone - 22 May 9:02

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Pegg is best-known for comedy, but says he would still like to “do some serious acting”. Photo: Getty
Is it time to take Simon Pegg seriously?
By Ryan Gilbey - 21 May 18:18

The actor’s comments about the infantilisation of culture have caused a storm. Is he right to want to put away childish things?

Professor Andre van der Merwe (L) who carried out the transplant. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A radio programme on the world's first ever penis transplant had me staring at the radio
By Antonia Quirke - 21 May 17:04

The interviewer, Matthew Bannister – generally known for keeping conversations moving dizzyingly ever forwards – was unusually quiet.

Marc Warren plays The Gentleman in Jonathan Strange. Photo: BBC
1864 and Jonathan Strange both suffer for being modern
By Rachel Cooke - 21 May 16:27

Jonathan Strange is an oddly lacklustre affair, aimed, it seems to me, at a generation brought up on Harry Potter.

French twist: Anaïs Demoustier stars as Claire. Photo: IMAGE.NET
Dark comedy The New Girlfriend is a ravishing portrait of a family after death
By Ryan Gilbey - 21 May 15:43

The films of François Ozon are polymorphously perverse.

A giant head formed the set for the Royal Opera House's Król Roger. Photo: Bill Cooper/ROH
Król Roger’s music is beautiful – but overwhelmed by constant symbolism
By Caroline Crampton - 21 May 13:59

The production makes it very clear what we are supposed to think, which sadly detracts from the variety and ambiguity the composer worked into his score. 

Edmund Kean as Richard III (1814). To see him act was to “read Shakespeare by flashes of lightning”. Picture: VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM/BRIDGEMAN IMAGES
How to be a great actor
By Benedict Nightingale - 21 May 11:02

From Kean to Dench, the best performers radiate an electricity that transcends the stage.

Flying fox: the young Sacks on his beloved BMW bike in Greenwich Village, 1961. Photo: Douglas White
A life in motion: the many passions of Oliver Sacks
By Erica Wagner - 21 May 10:58

Sacks has written of showing “extreme immoderation” in his passions. This new book reveals them.

A whale shark in an aquarium. Photo: Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
David Vann's unhappy families return in Aquarium
By Anthony Cummins - 21 May 8:37

A refinement of his earlier work, Vann's new novel gives a socially determined take on how things fall apart.

The babyfood aisle at a Best Price supermarket. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
After Birth reveals the black comedy of motherhood
By Alice O'Keeffe - 21 May 8:04

This is the dark, nightmarish little voice inside every mother, the one we spend our lives trying to shut up.