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Women of the world, take over: the books we’ll be reading in 2018

Grime, Murdoch, suffragettes – and why it's set to be a good year for women speaking out.

If there was one good thing to emerge from the Trump-and-Brexit-blighted 2017, it was the surge in women speaking out – and being listened to – following the Harvey Weinstein revelations. It’s a theme that resonates in publishers’ lists for 2018. The year begins with the centenary of the act that gave British women the vote on 6 February 1918, marked by two books – Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote by Jane Robinson (Doubleday, January), which focuses on the suffragists’ march on London in 1913, and Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes by Diane Atkinson (Bloomsbury, February), the “definitive history” of the movement. A lesser-known tale is told in A Lab of One’s Own (Oxford University Press, January), in which Patricia Fara describes the women scientists who made great advances – and tasted freedom – during the First World War, only to find their jobs being reclaimed by men in peacetime.

The conversation around gender parity is continued by Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of the suffragette Emmeline, in Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now (Sceptre, February) and by Gina Miller in her memoir, Rise (Canongate, August). Having taken the government to court over Brexit, Miller knows the risks involved when a woman – especially a woman of colour – speaks out (Rhodri Philipps, the fourth Viscount St Davids, offered on Facebook “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first-generation immigrant”).

Two books offer more literary treatments of 21st-century womanhood. In Free Woman (Bloomsbury, March), Lara Feigel charts her decision, prompted by rereading Doris Lessing, to experiment with sexual, intellectual and political freedom; The Cost of Living (Hamish Hamilton, April) continues Deborah Levy’s “living autobiography” about gender politics and the writing life.

While there are many women writers being published in 2018, one publishing house is devoting its entire list to them. And Other Stories has taken up Kamila Shamsie’s 2015 challenge – to devote a year to publishing only women – and its list spans a collection of stories by the cult English writer Ann Quin (The Unmapped Country, January) and an inventive work of fiction about polar exploration and autism by the young Catalan writer Alicia Kopf (Brother in Ice, April).

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Alongside (and not unrelated to) gender politics, one of our many concerns at the moment is the pussy-grabbing guy with the nuclear codes. Writers continue to try to make sense of Donald Trump: where he came from, what he means and where he is taking us. Sarah Churchwell explains the significance of the “America first” slogan in Behold, America: A Partial History of America First and the American Dream (Bloomsbury, May); Lawrence Wright (the winner of a Pulitzer for his 9/11 book The Looming Tower) looks to his native Texas as a bellwether of Trump-era politics – despite being red in tooth and claw, it is a state in which minorities already form a majority. God Save Texas: A Journey into the Future of America is coming from Allen Lane in March.

Predating Trump’s America but no doubt updated over the past year, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (WW Norton, April) by Ronan Farrow describes the “cowardice, short-sightedness and outright malice” that has accompanied the “rise of White House generals”. Farrow, the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, was instrumental in breaking the Weinstein story.

It’s not just diplomacy that is under threat: democracy is either dying or dead, depending on who you believe. How Democracies End (Profile Books, May) by David Runciman and How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (Viking, January) are attempts to explain how we should recognise it and react when our democratic systems come under threat.

The biggest threat may come from the waves of populist nationalism sweeping the world. The Road to Unfreedom (Bodley Head, April) by Timothy Snyder is a rallying cry against the return to authoritarianism in Russia, Europe and America; the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright has written Fascism: A Warning (William Collins, April), informed by her upbringing in Czechoslovakia under Hitler. Francis Fukuyama finds the roots of today’s nationalism in narrowing conceptions of identity; Identity (Profile, October) suggests how we can rethink and reshape the idea. Touching on these themes, the essays and profiles of this magazine’s editor, Jason Cowley, will be collected in Reaching for Utopia: Blair, Brexit and Our Age of Upheaval, coming in September from Salt Publishing.

The Jeremy Corbyn revolution is, for good or ill, a form of populism, and not much of substance has yet been written about its roots and meaning. Lewis Goodall, a political correspondent for Sky News, is attempting that in Left for Dead? The Strange Death and Rebirth of Labour Britain (William Collins, May). Rise (Simon & Schuster, March) by Liam Young – a journalist and activist who, aged 19, worked for Corbyn’s leadership campaign in 2015 – looks at Jezza’s remarkable appeal for young voters.

It’s a good year for books about what Corbynistas would call the “MSM” (mainstream media). Glimpses into Rupert Murdoch’s empire come from two close associates: Irwin Stelzer in The Murdoch Method (Atlantic, February) and Les Hinton in his memoir, The Bootle Boy (Scribe, June). Former bigwigs at the New York Times and the Guardian go head to head in September with accounts of the changing media landscape and the post-truth era in News Wars by Jill Abramson (Bodley Head) and Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger (Canongate).

How much time has David Cameron been spending in his shed (sorry, wool-insulated shepherd’s hut) in the Cotswolds? The answer might tell us whether he’ll finish his memoir this year. Suggested titles? Perhaps he could name it after the charming placard found by Harper’s Bazaar in his kitchen: “Calm down dear, it’s only a recession.” Good subjects for voters to be grappling with in the meantime include – as Isabel Hardman puts it in her new book – Why We Get the Wrong Politicians (Atlantic, September) and “why it matters who our politicians are”, which is the subtitle of Peter Allen’s The Political Class (Oxford University Press, May). Why are we governed by people we so often distrust? And why is our society still so scarred by inequality and social division? James Bloodworth spent six-months undercover in “low-wage Britain” for Hired (Atlantic, March) to find out, while Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett turn to “more equal societies” to show how we might improve our own. The Inner Level, a sequel to their influential 2009 book The Spirit Level, is published by Allen Lane in June.

Any discussion of equality needs to include race. The Good Immigrant, an anthology edited by Nikesh Shukla on what it means to be black, Asian and minority ethnic in Britain today, was published in 2016 and became a major talking point. In spring 2018, Shukla will launch The Good Journal, a quarterly magazine showcasing new work from writers and artists of colour (he also has a novel out: The One Who Wrote Destiny, Atlantic, April). Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch (Jonathan Cape, February) mixes history, journalism and personal experience. It will be followed by Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, the founder of the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company and younger brother of Ms Dynamite, in May (Two Roads). Looking outwards, Daniel Trilling tells the complex human stories he has gathered over years of reporting (for publications including this one) for Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe (Picador, May).

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If despair seems a valid response to the displacements and disruptions of the 21st century, Steven Pinker reminds us that, worldwide, human lives have become longer and more prosperous. Enlightenment Now (Allen Lane, February) is his “manifesto for science, reason, humanism and progress”. The idea of progress in art and culture is given a fresh approach in the Civilisations series from Profile, updating the idea behind Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series with two books each by Mary Beard and David Olusoga, in March and April. Writers unafraid to tackle big subjects include the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, whose book The Future of Humanity (Princeton University Press, October) projects our cosmic destiny; the Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, who tackles the meaning of time in The Order of Time (Allen Lane, April), and Yuval Noah Harari, who returns in August with 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Jonathan Cape, August). A new book from the philosopher (and NS critic) John Gray, Seven Types of Atheism (Allen Lane, April), will explore the rich tradition of non-belief, as well as its inadequacies and contradictions.

Religion forms the backbone of two of the year’s most striking historical titles: Stuart Kelly’s The Minister and the Murderer (Granta, February), which takes a 1969 murder case as a starting point for a genre-defying study of the Scottish Church, and Antonia Fraser’s The King and the Catholics (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, May), which tells the story of Catholic emancipation from the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots that traumatised London in 1780 to the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. Riots were a fact of 20th-century life, too, and the anniversary of the civil unrest in Paris in May 1968 is marked by Eric Hazan, who revisits the key sites in A Walk Through Paris (Verso, February), and Richard Vinen in The Long ’68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies (Allen Lane, April).

The other big anniversary is the end of the First World War. Peace at Last by Guy Cuthbertson (Yale University Press, October) uses letters, diaries and newspapers to build an hour-by-hour account of “how the people of Britain experienced the moment that peace became a reality”.

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This year brings memoirs from Viv Albertine, David Lynch and Alan Johnson, but a good diptych might be Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus, April) on the beginnings of her life as a writer, and Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson of Suede (Little, Brown, March), the band responsible for the Britpop movement – if not the name, which they hated. In music writing, it’s time, after so much Prince-worship, to give the King of Pop some serious critical attention again: Margo Jefferson's 2006 book On Michael Jackson is finally getting a UK publication from Granta in May, with a new introduction. For those with more up-to-date playlists (“Corbyn Riddim”, anyone?), Dan Hancox tells the story of grime in Inner City Pressure (William Collins, May). Nina Caplan, the NS’s award-winning wine critic, is probably the one person qualified to advise what you should drink while listening to Stormzy; her first book, The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me (Bloomsbury, March) is travel writing with a thirst for knowledge.

Last month’s Arts Council England report on the declining sales of literary fiction will be worrying publishers as well as writers. Booker winners such as Peter Carey and Julian Barnes at least are still seen as bankable, but for how much longer? The year begins with Carey’s A Long Way from Home, set during a car race around Australia in the 1950s (Faber & Faber, January), and Barnes’s The Only Story, about a young man falling in love with a married older woman (Jonathan Cape, February). Jim Crace emerges from the retirement hinted at after Harvest – four years later, here is The Melody (Picador, February), taking on wealth and poverty. Also keenly anticipated is Sarah Perry’s Melmoth (Serpent’s Tail, October), inspired by the 1820 Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer. With The Essex Serpent, Perry proved herself one of the few who can turn out sophisticated prose that sells. Meg Wolitzer also has the gift, but why this witty, enormously skilled chronicler of American life isn’t as famous as Jonathan Franzen is not too hard to fathom: the clue is in the title of her new novel, The Female Persuasion (Chatto & Windus, June).

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Autofiction continues to mutate in interesting ways. Before Karl Ove Knausgaard concludes his My Struggle series in September, Rachel Cusk closes her singular trilogy with Kudos (Faber & Faber, May), in which Faye visits a Europe in flux and is made to consider “the relationship between pain and honour”. Olivia Laing, acclaimed for her non-fiction, has written a novel, Crudo (Picador, June), which “charts in real time what it was like to live and love in the horrifying summer of 2017”. Sheila Heti, the author of How Should a Person Be?, returns with Motherhood, about the desire and duty to procreate (Harvill Secker, May). The mother and child relationship is atomised, too, in Chris Power’s quietly compelling debut short story collection, Mothers (Faber & Faber, March).

Further afield, Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (Oneworld, February) transposes Mary Shelley’s classic – 200 years old in 2018 – to bomb-scarred Iraq. Gaël Faye, a French-Rwandan investment banker-turned-rapper, has become a sensation in France for his novel Small Country (Hogarth, June), set in Burundi during the Rwandan genocide. And a wolf travels from Poland to Berlin connecting the lives of disparate individuals in One Clear, Ice-Cold January Morning at the Beginning of the 21st Century by the German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig (MacLehose, April). Given that the novel charts the free movement through the EU of a brazen “citizen of nowhere”, it’s not, however, one to recommend to Brexiteers.

Publication dates are subject to change

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Young vs Old

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“They are leaving at an alarming rate”: European NHS workers on the winter crisis, austerity, and Brexit’s impact

“It’s a house of cards, and we’re getting closer and closer to the point where it’s all going to collapse.”

This winter, for the first time in five years, Joan Pons Laplana, an NHS project manager and transformation nurse from Norfolk, “went back to working the front line” because his hospital “had no nurses”. As was the case in many other NHS hospitals nationwide, wards were closed, non-urgent appointments and operations cancelled, and their resources focused on A&E.

“We managed to put a plaster to stop the crisis, but now we need to catch up with the patients and operations and everything,” he says. “And that's like a catch-22.” NHS England recommends a working capacity of around 85 per cent in hospitals to absorb the winter’s patients rise, but Pons Laplana’s hospital is “constantly” working at 90 per cent, he says. “It’s a high stress environment, constantly low on resources and doctors. And now we don't have enough staff.” He sighs: “It’s getting more and more difficult to deliver safe care. At the moment, we’re playing Russian roulette.”

Originally from Barcelona, Pons Laplana has lived and worked in the UK for 17 years. He is one of around 62,000 EU citizens who currently work for the National Health Service, according to House of Commons statistics. Amid the winter crisis and severe financial pressure, the NHS’s next big problem is already unfolding: the prospect of Brexit is driving European NHS workers away. Within England’s NHS services, EU nationals make up almost 10 per cent of doctors, more than 7 per cent of nurses and 5 per cent of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. Almost 10,000 EU workers had already left the NHS when NHS Digital released its 2017 data last autumn.

“If none of the EU citizens were [in my hospital], I can say without any exaggeration: you could absolutely close tomorrow”, Dr Peter Bauer, 47, a consultant anaesthetist in a Brighton hospital who has worked in the NHS since 1999, tells the New Statesman. In his hospital, he says, the proportion of EU staff is “phenomenal”: “Well over 50 per cent of senior staff is European, it’s about three quarters of the people. It would be disaster.” Mary, a 37-year-old British nurse from London, says her clinic, which employs many Europeans, is struggling to find a cover for her colleague on maternity leave: “Recruitment has fallen massively since Brexit.” With the British government still unclear on citizens’ rights, it is unlikely to stop there.

The ability of competent, skilled European staff to move seamlessly to the UK from the continent, thanks to the EU's freedom of movement, has been “a boom for the NHS”, Bauer says. Recruiting elsewhere (something the NHS has already started doing) will bring additional costs, visa requirements and various other complications that freedom of movement was designed to avoid. “You need these people! If you can't recruit Europeans, you then have to go out of the EU, and it's much more costly and difficult. It's a house of cards, and we're getting closer and closer to the point where it's all going to collapse.”

“If EU citizens like myself decide to go, it would take about 4,200 years to close the gap.”
Peter Bauer, consultant anaesthetist, originally from Germany

Recruitment from European countries has fallen rapidly. For instance, the number of incoming EU nurses fell by 92 per cent after the referendum, contributing to a shortfall in those able to fill the 24,000 nurse vacancies in England alone.

“For the first time, we have seen a reduction in the pool of EU citizens working for the NHS, and that is critical”, says Bauer, who teaches at medical school and has observed the “mismatch of numbers” in terms of graduates – especially a lack of British graduates. “If you want to fill the increased demand with British graduates, you would have to hugely enhance the capacity of British universities to train doctors, and then you would have to put them through specialty training, and that would take decades.”  It takes “about fifteen years” to train an anaesthetist like himself. He laughs: “If EU citizens like myself decide to go, it would take about 4,200 years to close the gap!” Mary, the British nurse, agrees: “Come 2020, we're going to be in serious, massive crap.”

Jettie Vije, a Dutch national who works as a GP practice nurse in Norfolk, meets the “occasional old patient” wanting to discuss Brexit: “They say, ‘Isn’t it great that we’re leaving the EU?’” Vije has been in the UK for four years, which is less than the five-year threshold for settled status; so “great” may not be the best word to describe her situation “I try to keep it on the medical side and not to discuss whether leaving the EU is good or not”, she says. “I am here to do my job as a nurse.”

“I try not to discuss whether leaving the EU is good or not. I am here to do my job as a nurse.”
Jettie Vije, GP practice nurse, originally from the Netherlands

Every EU citizen in the UK knows others who have left. “On a daily basis, I can see that people are leaving”, Pons Laplana says. Portuguese workers at his hospital are “leaving at an alarming rate”. An Italian colleague of Bauer’s is applying to a job in France (“He is probably going to be gone very soon” ); another one, a Czech colleague, has gone part-time, working four weeks in Czech Republic and four in the UK. “The direction isn't for people to be drawn into the UK”, Bauer says.

Mary, the nurse from London, works with colleagues from all over Europe, from Spain and Portugal to Romania and Poland. “Just hearing the conversations they have...  They feel they're not welcome here anymore,” she says, citing one who just moved to Ireland. “Despite what we say and how much we appreciate them, it really doesn't matter” she says. “They're nervous, so a lot of them are leaving.”

The ones who stay behind aren't just losing friends and colleagues to a political decision in which they had no say. Like every Briton, they are attached to their life in the UK as they know it, and to one of its greatest pillars: their employer and health care provider, the National Health Service. As the recent winter crisis has made years of under-funding more apparent and more critical, just like Brits, they worry the NHS may not recover.

European workers have been part of the NHS and British life for years – in Bauer’s case, decades – and have witnessed different government policies. When Bauer arrived in the 1990s, Tony Blair had just taken office: “Over the first ten years, you could see how pumping money into the NHS was leading to a huge increase in the capacity”, he says. There were “more beds, more nurses and doctors”, and small things, too – like “more hand washing basins”. “As the coalition government, and then Cameron, took power, you could see how the investment was scaled back”, he adds.

The NHS is already in dire straits due to the financial pressures exacerbated by austerity. Last September, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, estimated in the Guardian that the Health Service needed an emergency investment of £200m to £350m to avoid a winter crisis. It didn’t come – and non-emergency procedures were cancelled across the country in January. That shortfall is only the start however, and by 2020, the NHS will face a £20 billion funding gap. The Conservative manifesto pledge of an extra £8bn is considered by leading health think tanks and experts to be inadequate. Inflation and demand, which Bauer says “keep rising”, are deepening the gap.

“At the moment, we’re playing Russian roulette.”
Joan Pons Laplana, NHS project manager, originally from Spain

“When the demand is a lot higher than the funding, then there is a gap and that gap is getting wider and wider each year. That's what provoked the crisis,” says Pons Laplana, who has seen stress in his wards go “though the roof” with the pressures. “I reckon 50 of the team have been off at some point because of the stress”, says Mary, who had to take two weeks off around Christmas because she works in a department that treats life-threatening conditions and it all became too much. “We are GPs, we are counsellors, we are social workers... We're everything at the moment.” To add to the stress, the lack of funding and the nurses’ pay cap are making situations like Mary’s more precarious: she says she had to remortgage her house to pay for a £10,000 training that may allow her to be promoted. “To be able to make ends meet, a lot of the staff do extra shifts, some are working fifty hours to have the same quality of life that they had five, six, seven years ago, and pay the mortgages”, Pons Laplana explains. “But a lot of us are getting tired. Tired people make mistakes. And mistakes cost lives.”

These problems would exist without Brexit, but the decision to leave the EU will exacerbate the health services's problems in ways beyond simply driving workers away. The famed “£350m a week for the NHS” pledge wheeled out by the Leave campaign is credited with helping to win the election, but the drop in value of the pound and economic uncertainty mean that, as Bauer points out, “in actual numbers you're seeing so far a reduction of £350m a week” – less cash in the economy is likely to mean less cash for the NHS.

Mary says she is “immensely worried” about the possibility of the British government selling NHS contracts in a future US trade deal struck to make up for lost trade with the EU: “The essence of what the NHS is, care for all, that will go and the thought of that scares me to the bone.” Brexit, Bauer says, is an “unmitigated disaster”: not just because urgent issues like the NHS’ winter crisis are being overlooked by the “completely paralysed” government’s obsession with the UK’s departure from the European Union, but also because it will exacerbate such issues further. The Home Office’s tightening of migration rules will make it harder for the Health Service to hire critically needed staff, he sighs: “It's one more dimension of self-harm on Brexit.”

“EU workers are leaving at an alarming rate”
Joan Pons Laplana

For the EU citizens who are still here, the dilemma is twofold. Leave, because Brexit has made their future and right to work in this country uncertain? Or stay to see the Health Service they have put so much work in fall into pieces? “I worked very hard for three years to be in the managerial position I have,” Pons Laplana says. “If I go back, I will not have the same job. My home is here. My heart is British.” Vije doesn’t think it will come to her leaving, but until the deal is finalized, she cannot be certain: “I'm just waiting and watching.” Although Bauer doesn’t want to leave either, he has started on his contingency plan: getting German passports for his children. “I don't see a rosy economic future for them in the UK”, he says. “Britain is so divided now, the government is divided, the Tories are divided, Labour is divided, families are divided.” 

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” may work as far as the government’s negotiating strategy goes, but it also means EU workers are left in limbo. At a time when the NHS desperately needs staff, if the “really well trained, hard workers, well-educated” EU nurses and doctors to change their mind and go, they will be sorely missed, Mary says. “But then I think, what would I do?” She pauses. “Probably the same.”

Pauline Bock writes about France, the Macron presidency, Brexit and EU citizens in the UK. She also happens to be French.

This article first appeared in the 04 January 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Young vs Old