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13 July 2022

Reviewed in short: New books from Christina Lamb, Sinclair McKay, Roger Mosey and Sheena Patel

The Prince Rupert Hotel for the Homeless by Lamb, Berlin by McKay, 20 Things That Would Make the News Better by Mosey and I'm a Fan by Patel.

By Alix Kroeger, Jeremy Cliffe, Michael Prodger and Christiana Bishop

The Prince Rupert Hotel for the Homeless: A True Story of Love and Compassion Amid a Pandemic by Christina Lamb
William Collins, 308pp, £20

Filthy, smelly and suffering from extreme paranoia, Derek Tyrer was far from the normal profile of guests at the Prince Rupert, a four-star hotel in Shrewsbury. In March 2020 the hotel’s owner, Mike Matthews, turned it over to the emergency scheme for rough sleepers during the pandemic, providing accommodation for over 100 homeless people such as Tyrer. Many had addictions: to heroin, alcohol or “mamba”, a cannabis substitute which can cause erratic behaviour. The journalist Christina Lamb is clear-eyed about the guests’ problems, but also about the histories of abuse that lie behind them. This is a story of extraordinary compassion in a difficult time.

By the end of the book some of the rough sleepers have found jobs or permanent housing; others are back on the street. But even with the setbacks, this was still a successful intervention: as local housing officials pointed out, for many this was the longest spell under one roof in their adult lives. When the hotel goes fully back to normal business, in May 2021, Matthews texts a colleague: “We did our best. Our very best… I’m going to miss it so much, just as you will too.”
By Alix Kroeger

Berlin: Life and Loss in the City That Shaped the Century by Sinclair McKay
Viking, 464pp, £20

“He who controls Berlin controls Germany. He who controls Germany controls Europe.” Lenin’s quote captures the strategic centrality of the German capital, providing a pithy explanation of why the city soared higher and fell lower than any other during the 20th century. As Sinclair McKay notes, a Berliner born around 1900 would have grown up in its imperial pomp; come of age in the turmoil following the First World War; witnessed the wild, searing originality of Weimar Berlin and then the rise of the Nazis as a young adult; experienced the war, collapse and division in middle-age and perhaps even lived to see the wall fall in 1989.

McKay’s engrossing account accordingly starts from the premise that “people do not live their lives in fixed eras”. Drawing heavily on the Zeitzeugenbörse (a library of testimonies by contemporary witnesses) and a flâneur’s sense of the spaces and places of this “naked city”, he tells its story through those of individual Berliners who lived through its many transitions. The book is ultimately a tale of the endurance and survival of a “youthful, open, contrary” city like no other.
By Jeremy Cliffe

20 Things That Would Make the News Better by Roger Mosey
Biteback, 272pp, £18.99

According to Roger Mosey, a former head of BBC television news and sometime New Statesman contributor, his old profession is under threat. In the age of social media, “Trust in authorities and established media organisations is precarious,” he says, and the only proper response is to “make the news better – more relevant, more valuable, more ambitious”. In this book he lays out his prescription: 20 ways that together will revivify broadcast news. They range from “cover what matters” (news programmes, as Mosey points out, are short, so slots are at a premium) and “launch the balloon” (focus on the rest of the country as well as London) to “vanquish vox pops” (they “add little to the sum of human knowledge”) and “divest from political process” (focus not on Westminster froth but “the decisions the government and parliament are taking”).

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Mosey acknowledges that implementing his fixes will create rows, but says that the public will is there. He cites the 91 per cent of people in a recent poll who believe, as he so passionately does, that impartial news is better for society.
By Michael Prodger

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I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel
Rough Trade Books, 207pp, £14.99

Ever had a devastating, intoxicating, all-consuming crush? The unnamed protagonist in I’m a Fan – the bracing debut novel by Sheena Patel – is deep in the dark throes of one. She is left infatuated after a fling with someone she refers to as “the man I want to be with”. He is older, successful, married and indifferent to her feelings for him. Yet she is enraptured not only by him, but by his other mistress, whom she calls “the woman I am obsessed with”. As modern life is lived online, the narrator can mine social media for details of their private lives. She gets giddy learning about their work, their family and even their locations – and gradually crosses social boundaries. When does trying to orchestrate bumping into someone become stalking?

I’m a Fan is spellbinding. Through short chapters and a first-person narrative Patel brings immediacy and pace to her story. She compellingly dissects the roles race, class and privilege play in the power dynamics of a relationship, both in real life and online. And despite her problematic actions, the novel’s central character is deeply likeable. This is an exhilarating read from a refreshing new author.
By Christiana Bishop

[See also: Reviewed in short: New books from Bella Lack, Helen Benedict and Eyad Awwadawnan, Simone de Beauvoir and Simon Jenkins]

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This article appears in the 13 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Selfish Giant