NS Recommends: New books from Anthony Seldon, Marina Warner, Megan Nolan and Nikesh Shukla

Seldon's The Impossible Office?, Warner's Inventory of a Life Mislaid, Nolan's Acts of Desperation and Shukla's Brown Baby.

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The Impossible Office? by Anthony Seldon

This ambitious book by a major political biographer marks the 300th anniversary of the office of British prime minister. Seldon draws on hundreds of original interviews to compare with wit the jobs of the first and 55th men in office (though three centuries separate them, Robert Walpole and Boris Johnson boarded in the same chambers at Eton). He notes that while Britain has had female monarchs for 45 per cent of the past 300 years, it has had a female prime minister for less than 5 per cent of that time, and examines how the roles of monarch, foreign secretary and chancellor of the Exchequer have affected the evolution of the office.
Cambridge University Press, 300pp, £19.99

[See also: How Georges Simenon found his eye]

Inventory of a Life Mislaid by Marina Warner

Marina Warner, writer, historian and scholar of fairy tales, turns her attention to one of her own: her parents’ marriage in Italy in 1944 and her childhood in 1950s Egypt. Warner’s Italian mother, Ilia – beautiful, poor – is the new wife of a colonel, who moves the family to Cairo. But the fairy tale isn’t what it seems: from Ilia’s notebooks, Warner learns of the anguish that marked her late mother’s life. This memoir, built of letters, journal entries and photographs, is poignant and mythical.
William Collins, 432pp, £16.99

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan

The debut novel by the NS columnist tells a story of obsessive, self-destructive love. In present-day Dublin, the unnamed narrator meets Ciaran, a half-Danish art critic, with whom she falls into an abusive, on-off relationship. The narrator contorts her life around Ciaran, cuts out time with friends and hides the least desirable parts of herself, such as her alcoholism. She is aware of how harmful her behaviour is but listens only to the impulse to carry on. Acts of Desperation creates an immersive experience of toxic romance through a suffocating and addictive narrative.
Jonathan Cape, 288pp, £14.99

[See also: AA Milne’s pacifism and patriotism]

Brown Baby by Nikesh Shukla

In an intimate series of letters addressed to his eldest daughter, Nikesh Shukla (editor of The Good Immigrant) reflects on the joyful chaos and wonder of fatherhood, while grappling with the grief of losing his mother. Alongside memories from his own childhood, Shukla confronts his deep fear of the world in which his mixed-raced daughters will grow up. He reflects on how he can best prepare them to navigate issues of race and gender, wryly observing how his four-year-old is already being shaped by these factors. This is a beautiful memoir that shows how the past so often informs the present.
Pan Macmillan, 256pp, £16.99

[See also: Edward St Aubyn’s Double Blind is a clumsy critique of modern science]

This article appears in the 24 March 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special

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