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The relationship between fiction and real life is as varied as fiction and real life, but worth pondering all the same. This week, Imo- gen Russell Williams looks at the representa- tion of minorities in children’s books in the face of evidence that, while more than a quar- ter of schoolchildren might be categorized as of a non-British ethnicity, “only 1 per cent of British children’s books published in 2017 featured black, Asian and minority ethnic pro- tagonists”. Williams terms this abdication of representation “a comparatively recent failure of imagination, nerve and backbone”.
It is in that context that she highlights some titles that look to “tell stories of far-ranging wonder” outside the somewhat straitened norm. Of course, the imaginative force of children’s fiction need not constrict itself to realism at all, but it does help if it relates to universal ideas. Williams gives especial praise to a picture book called Square, which taps into “fears of artistic failure, perfectionism and impostor syndrome”.
Square sounds like a thing of beauty (“its pastel washes of peachy pink and duck-egg blue lightening the hunkered dark gouache forms of rocks”), archness and predominant preoccupation with the creative process. Which brings us neatly to the novel series of Karl Ove Knausgaard. His “autofiction epic” in six books, knowingly called My Struggle, has come to an end, and Christian Lorentzen takes stock of this “literary celebrity”, this “Norwegian maestro of self-exposure”, this rock-star novelist. The sixth volume, The End, is about both the “hell of parenting, accompanying his children to three-legged races and so on” and the travails of being an author who writes so openly about his own family life. It seems to be a matter of taste whether such prolix self-examination is a symptom of greatness.
But what of the mirror opposite of the voluble saga, the short story? KJ Orr has – like me – been on the judging panel for the BBC National Short Story Award (although, unlike me, she is a past winner, too), and this week offers her thoughts on a form still subject to regular “expressions of unease”. Such disquiet might be no bad thing, of course, given that one purpose of a short story is to “stoke questions of definition and instability, resolution and irresolution, and then to apply pressure; to deliver its conundrums to the reader in a state of compression”. The ideal short story – if there is such a thing – is probably no different from the ideal fiction: just the right number of words, beauty compressed into clarity, still leaving ample room for debate and reaction in the real world into which it must enter.
RELIGION & PHILOSOPHY 3 Diarmaid MacCulloch
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 6
7 Imogen Russell Williams
George Berridge Christian Lorentzen Michael LaPointe Sarah Moss KJ Orr Gerri Kimber Luke Brown Thomas Meaney
Brian Stanley Christianity in the Twentieth Century – A world history John Gray Seven Types of Atheism. Edward Feser Five Proofs of the Existence of God
Holland’s Hunger Winter, Role-playing Bröntes, Labyrinths, etc
Be what you can see – Opening up children’s fiction to a diverse audience Patrick Ness And the Ocean was Our Sky; Illustrated by Rovina Cai Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle – Volume 6: The End Sally Rooney Normal People He likes dead things – An extract from Ghost Wall How was it for you? – Continuing debates about the short story form Kate Atkinson Transcription Belinda Bauer Snap Believing in the record – A reflection on the life and work of V. S. Naipaul
18 Andrew Motion
Alison Brackenbury Graeme Richardson Clive James
Friendly shade – An unexpected afterlife for Philip Larkin?
Fern Loveseat Occupation Gone
20 Benjamin R. Davies Open heart surgery – What the Swedish election means for Europe
21 Colin Grant
Adam Mars-Jones Margaret Drabble
BlacKkKlansman (Various cinemas) The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Various cinemas) Puzzle (Various cinemas)
LITERARY CRITICISM 24 Miranda Fay Thomas Marianne Novy Shakespeare and Feminist Theory. Thomas Heywood
A Woman Killed with Kindness; Edited by Margaret Jane Kidnie. Tanya Pollard Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages
25 Zoe Williams
26 Shalom Auslander
Tom Hamilton and Ayesha Hazarika Punch and Judy Politics – An insider’s guide to Prime Minister’s questions
Eddy Portnoy Bad Rabbi – And other strange but true stories from the Yiddish press
BIOGRAPHY & CULTURAL HISTORY
27 Andrew Harvey
Christopher Kemp The Lost Species – Great expeditions in the collections of natural history museums Daniela Bleichmar Visual Voyages – Images of Latin American nature from Columbus to Darwin
28 Jennifer Pitts
Virginia DeJohn Anderson
J. C. D. Clark Thomas Paine – Britain, America, and France in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution Colin G. Calloway The Indian World of George Washington – The first President, the first Americans, and the birth of the nation Jonathan Rose Readers’ Liberation
32 Rebecca Reich
Rebecca K. Morrison
FROM THE ARCHIVES 34
Claire Hines The Playboy and James Bond – 007, Ian Fleming and Playboy magazine. Joe Hayman British Journey. Cheryl Finley, Randall R. Griffey, Amelia Peck and Darryl Pinckney My Soul Has Grown Deep – Black art from the American South. Sarah Langford In Your Defence – Stories of life and law. Jonathan Gornall How To Build a Boat – A father, his daughter and the unsailed sea. Javier Varela Eugenio D’Ors – 1881–1954. Julie Peakman Hitler’s Island War – The men who fought for Leros
Laura Esther Wolfson For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors Christian Donlan The Unmapped Mind – A memoir of neurology, incurable disease and learning how to live. W. N. P. Barbellion The Journal of a Disappointed Man
Peter Porter on the Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse, edited by Philip Larkin (TLS, April 13, 1973)
36 J. C.
This week’s contributors, Crossword
Carver and Kermode, Late-starting novelists, The Eponym Affair
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