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How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu review – a patchwork of pandemic stories

Nagamatsu’s zany visions of a future plague give way to more optimistic notes in an affecting if uneven bookSequoia Nagamatsu’s ambitious novel-in-stories was written long before Covid. Nevertheless, when melting permafrost reveals a Neanderthal corpse, which in turn disgorges an ancient plague, the repercussions feel initially familiar. Only initially,...

The BBC: A People’s History by David Hendy review – inside the nation’s ‘moral improver’

A conscientious account of the corporation’s first 100 years focuses on boardroom politics at the expense of brilliant programme-makingWith the culture secretary Nadine Dorries’s announcement last week that the licence fee will be frozen for two years, the BBC’s future is at best uncertain and possibly terminal, at least in the form that we’ve come...

Bacon in Moscow by James Birch review – darkly funny account of art behind the iron curtain

Spats, KGB threats, dodgy Soviet plumbing… a London gallerist’s vivid memoir of organising a Francis Bacon show in the USSR really brings the artist to lifeIn July 1986, James Birch, a young London gallerist with vague designs on global domination, set off for the Soviet Union. It was his first visit and he had no idea what to expect. Mikhail Gorbachev...

Rebecca Watson: ‘This novel was never an act of catharsis’

The Goldsmiths prize-shortlisted author of little scratch on being mistaken for the book’s protagonist, conveying the ‘immediate present-tense experience’, and why her next novel is even more ambitiousRebecca Watson’s first novel, little scratch, now published in paperback, is narrated over the course of a single day by an unnamed office junior living...

Kingdom of Characters by Jing Tsu review – Chinese writing’s near death experience

A lively chronicle of the inventors who gave their all to make the Chinese script compatible with modern life“If the Chinese script is not abolished, China will certainly perish!” So said the literary author Lu Xun in the 1930s, and many in China agreed. History has proved him wrong, of course. How the country went from rags to first ruin, then riches...

‘The clap for the NHS meant nothing’: novelist turned doctor Roopa Farooki on her frontline experience of Covid

When the writer retrained in medicine, she never imagined she’d be working through a pandemic. She describes how she has coped with the everyday tragedy by putting her experience into wordsIn February 2020, when the novelist and doctor Roopa Farooki first sat down to write her latest book, coronavirus was “something that was kind of buzzing around”...

Tom Gauld: down at the evil bookshop it was work assessment day – cartoon

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The Sentence by Louise Erdrich review – saved by books

A Native American rebuilds her life after a prison sentence in this powerfully topical novel from the Pulitzer winnerAs Louise Erdrich’s new novel begins, her heroine, Tookie, has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for an offence both horrible and ridiculous. It’s 2005, and though Tookie is in her 30s, “I still clung to a teenager’s pursuits and mental...

Where to start with: Agatha Christie

Kicking off our new monthly guides to an author’s work, crime novelist Janice Hallett puts the spotlight on the creator of Miss Marple and PoirotWhat with the chart-topping success of Richard Osman’s novels, and a new series by the Rev Richard Coles due later this year, cosy crime fiction seems to be having its moment. If you’ve already raced your way...

Rare photo of Charles Dickens sporting ‘glorious’ moustache goes on show

Daguerreotype profile shows an unfamiliar face to modern readers but delighted the author, who found the whiskers ‘charming, charming’Summon up an image of Charles Dickens, and his luxuriant “doorknocker” beard will be one of the first things to come to mind. But an “extremely rare” portrait of the author, depicting the “glorious” moustache he sported...

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