In the Critics this week

The origins of “Murdoch”, Aboriginal painting and wunderkinds.

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In the critics section of this week's New Statesman, Rick Gekoski, chair of the Man Booker International Prize 2011, examinesPhilip Roth's literary style. Discussing Roth's mature fiction, Gekoski finds that he can remember "few of his novels that don't provoke an occasional but overwhelming desire to shout, 'Will you shut up!' at a character or the author." Roth's 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint "had a huge affect on my generation of readers and seemed, somehow, to legitimate the way we really were." Gekoski compares Roth to Samuel Beckett, "whose pared-down world of compulsive, isolated consciousness prefigures [1986's] The Counterlife."

In this week's film section, Ryan Gilbey reviews two unconventional films about love: Beginners and Break My Fall. In Mike Mills's Beginners, Christopher Plummer steals the limelight in the "handsomely shot but rather thin picture...He's like an ornate Gaudi in a landscape of skyscrapers." Break My Fall, directed by Kanchi Wichmann, a "modest film... springs to life with quirky writing and characterisation, and a more confident second half."

On television, Rachel Cooke looks at The Hour, a new BBC drama set in a 1950s newsroom. Whilst Cooke disagrees with the casting of Romola Garai as Bel Rowley, the rest of the cast is strong. Ben Whishaw is "mesmerising" and Abi Morgan's script "perfectly captures a decade that was at once clenched and quietly revolutionary."

Will Self visits Borroloola: Paintings and Prints from the Gulf of Carpentaria, anexhibition Aboriginal art at the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. He finds that "instead of dots and swirls, you'll be confronted by vivid, fauvist paintings" that are "highly sophisticated."

Our columnist Mark Watson discusses the way tennis players are treated by the British media and challenges criticisms of Andy Murray for being grumpy: "Would you rather your heart operation was carried out by a dull, expert surgeon, or someone who's never been great at the actual cutting but reels off the whole of a Tony Hancock episode as he's reaching into your organs?"

On the radio, Antonia Quirke reports on an ecstatic Trevor Neloson at Live at Majorca Rocks, whose show is "like a wartime tea dance...full of lyrics that peddle 'tonight' as the last and only night available."

In this week's Books interview, Frank Dikötter talks about his book Mao's Great Famine, which won the 2011 Samuel Johnson Prize. "Is there a more catastrophic example of a utopian plan gone wrong than the Great Leap Forward?" he asks.

Margaret Drabble's collection of short stories, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman is reviewed by Amanda Craig, who notes that Drabble "writes so penetratingly about the female condition it is impossible not to laugh, wince and admire." Alex Preston reviews The Lovers, the final novel in a trilogy by Vendela Vida. The novels are about "solitary heroines...[who try] to reconcile themselves to a world rendered incomprehensible by grief."

Jonathan Beckman writes that Ann Wroe's Orpheus: the Song of Life "will leave you dancing." Wroe "has an acute eye for pastoral detail...and takes a novelist's care in exploring character and evoking atmosphere."

NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire discusses the ebook The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox edited by Maurice Glasman, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears and Stuart White. The ebook sets out the political and philosophical outlook known as "Blue Labour" and diagnoses the "predicament of Labour'" following its 2010 election defeat.

Richard Calvocoressi reviews Max Egremont's Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia, which focuses on the 20th century. The book is comprised of "a sequence of short, interconnected essays in which measured reflections, portraits of the leading... figures, and conversations with exiles from this 'forgotten land' are interwoven."

In Word Games, Sophie Elmhirst looks at the origins of the name "Murdoch", imagining Rupert Murdoch "as a ruthless Viking... phone hacking is the new pillaging."

Finally, William Rees-Mogg's Memoirs are described by Vernon Bogdanor as the "finely written record of an honourable public career" which "reveal more perhaps than the author intends."




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