NS Recommends: Victor Martinovich, William G Bowen and Sam Byers

Love in a tyrannous climate, the power of MOOCs and a case of diseased cattle.

New Statesman

Paranoia: A Novel
Victor Martinovich

Forty-eight hours after its publication in 2009, Victor Martinovich’s Paranoia: A Novel was banned in Belarus. The book opens with a young writer, Anatoly, waking up alone in his girlfriend’s flat. The setting is recognisably Minsk but the name of the city is never mentioned. Anatoly slips notes under his girlfriend’s door; these are duly intercepted by the minister of state security – the other man. Paranoia is a story of love in a tyrannous climate where every romantic gesture is scrutinised. Orwell wrote of a dark and illiberal future but as Martinovich writes in his preface to the English edition: “There is no more need to invent 1984: just look around.”

Northwestern University Press, 528pp, £18.95

Higher Education in the Digital Age
William G Bowen

In October 2012, William G Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, gave two lectures entitled “The Productivity Problem in Higher Education” and “Prospects for an Online Learning Fix”. Experts in psychology, technology, learning and the humanities offered responses, which have been gathered with the lectures in this slim volume. The book aims to take a rigorous look at a charged question: are “massive open online courses” the answer to soaring costs in higher education? Once a sceptic, Bowen has been converted.

Princeton University Press, 192pp, £18.95

Idiopathy
Sam Byers

Sam Byers’s debut novel opens with a definition: “Idiopathy – a disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.” What follows is a takedown of our need to pathologise everything, focusing on the rise of self-help gurus, militant ecologists and the fear of cattle-related epidemics. Katherine, Daniel and Nathan are thirtysomethings, each immature and delusional in their own ways. “Lots of normal feelings have been re-categorised as illnesses: sadness, depression, anxiety,” Byers has said. “We live in a society where we think we’re ill all the time.”

Fourth Estate, 300pp, £14.99