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8 June 2022

Reviewed in Short: New books by Rupal Patel and Jack Meaning, Melvyn Bragg, Laura Bates and Paddy Crewe

Can’t We Just Print More Money? by Patel and Meaning, Back in the Day by Bragg, Fix the System, Not the Women by Bates and My Name is Yip by Crewe.

By Will Dunn, Michael Prodger, Rachel Cunliffe and Tom Gatti

Can’t We Just Print More Money? by Rupal Patel and Jack Meaning
Cornerstone, 320pp, £14.99

Whatever his talents as a central banker, it’s a safe bet that the Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey won’t have a second career in PR. Against a backdrop of rising inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, in February this year he requested that people show “restraint” in asking for pay rises. He then used the word “apocalyptic” (twice!) when discussing food price inflation with the Treasury Select Committee. Part of the reason inflation is now so high is that the Bank has bought £895bn in bonds since 2009; to publish a book asking if we can “just print more money” looks seriously flippant.  

This is a pity, because beyond its title this book (written by two Bank of England economists) is a good introduction to concepts such as inflation, quantitative easing, supply and globalisation. Its jaunty tone won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the fact is that economics, whatever use it makes of maths, is fundamentally a social science, and it is realistic to describe it in social terms. Making the economic forces that alter our world more understandable to a general audience is a worthy project – if you can get past the cover. 
By Will Dunn

Back in the Day: A Memoir by Melvyn Bragg
Sceptre, 416pp, £25

Baron Bragg of Wigton in the County of Cumbria: we know about Lord Bragg – public figure, novelist and broadcaster, The South Bank Show, In Our Time and the rest. It is the Wigton Bragg who is less familiar. This disarmingly poignant memoir is the corrective. Through a series of snapshots and then more concerted reminiscences, Bragg, born in 1939, recalls his boyhood and his path through grammar school to the cusp of Oxford University, where he read modern history. Although he says he had “no feeling” of poverty while growing up in Wigton near Carlisle, to modern eyes, poverty it certainly was. His mother was born illegitimate, his father was a park keeper turned publican; the family lived above the pub and there was very little money – though the town was rich in vivid characters, many of whom come back to life in these pages.

In other hands this tale would easily be the stuff of cliché, except that Bragg fills every memory and anecdote with both meaning and feeling. However far he has come, Wigton was his making and remains his grounding. Bragg has written some 40 books and this lovely memoir is surely the most affecting of them all.
By Michael Prodger

[See also: Algernon Newton: rediscovering British art’s “Canaletto of the canals”]

Fix the System, Not the Women by Laura Bates
Simon & Schuster, 208pp, £12.99

In 2012, Laura Bates launched the website Everyday Sexism as a space for women and girls to share their stories. I stumbled across it in my early twenties, read the anonymous testimonies that so often mirrored my own – being cat-called, assaulted, told I could be pretty if I lost some weight – and realised I wasn’t alone. When male friends expressed scepticism at the scale of modern misogyny, I could point them towards the site’s 200,000 entries. Occasionally it worked. Often it didn’t.

“It’s extraordinary, really, that we live in a society that has managed to pull off the most incredible feat of silencing,” Bates writes in her sixth book. “It makes it much more difficult to see your experiences as part of a systematic problem. And, if you can’t see the system, you can’t fight it.” This book is an attempt to change that, joining the dots to reveal the full interconnected extent of systemic sexism: from schools to policing, media representation to politics. It isn’t pretty – or new, at least if you’re a woman. But I challenge any man to read this book and still deny there’s a problem. 
By Rachel Cunliffe

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My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe
Doubleday, 384pp, £14.99

Yip Tolroy, born in 1815 in a one-tavern town in Georgia in the American south, is designated by doctors an “Imponderable Specimen”. As well as being mute and of diminutive stature, there is “inexplicably not a single hair” on his body. Though Yip’s prospects were so poor that his father fled at his birth, the boy survives and learns to write. But the discovery of gold brings violence into his world, and sets him on an episodic quest that seems only occasionally to bend towards justice.  

Yip lacks speech but not a voice, and Paddy Crewe, a debut novelist from Stockton-on-Tees, presents the rolling syntax of his rough-cut, poetically-minded narrator with winning confidence. My Name is Yip recalls the first-person conjuration of Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and the brutality and lyricism of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, though the course it plots is that of a thrilling bildungsroman adventure, full of reversals of fortune and getaways. Crewe’s deft storytelling leads to a set-piece finale that feels almost too crowded with incident, but it’s a testament to his creation that at the novel’s close it’s a wrench to bid farewell to its philosophical hero – the mute who, one feels, still has more to say. 
By Tom Gatti

[See also: Reflections of the elusive Jean Rhys]

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This article appears in the 08 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Marked Man