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Warning: if you are offended by acerbic criticism, look away now. In this issue of the Omnivore Digest, a sublimely bad review of hunky Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgård's new book, and what the critics are saying about Lionel Shriver's latest novel. Also: is Martin Amis falling out of love with New York? Is Dan Stevens any good at fiction? What was Keynes like in bed? Oh yes, and your chance to win VIP tickets to Hay.

FICTION

      

CLEVER GIRL by Tessa Hadley
'A remarkable novel by one of this country’s finest, if most unassuming talents. ' James Kidd, Literary Review VS 'The first-person voice of Clever Girl lets in overwriting and cliché' Claire Lowdon, New Statesman

IDIOPATHY by Sam Byers
'Brimming with comic brio and nuanced psychological insight, Idiopathy signals the arrival of an exciting new talent.' David Annand, Telegraph VS 'Well-trodden disappointments dog the characters … realistic or not, it doesn’t make for a particularly invigorating novel.' Simon Hammond, Literary Review

BIG BROTHER by Lionel Shriver
'She describes with zealous insight the self-deceptions, little lies, body dysmorphia, smell of ketosis and the plain disappointment people with eating disorders experience' Katie Law, Evening Standard VS ' Both characters ... struggle under the burden of the sort of misjudged detail which often unbalances Shriver’s narratives.' Hannah McGill, Scotland on Sunday

Best of the rest: THE ACCIDENTAL APPRENTICE by Vikas Swarup, THE DARK ROAD by Ma Jian, THE IDES OF APRIL by Lindsey Davis, HOMECOMING by Susie Steiner
 
Paperback picks: BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel, TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chambon, THE RED HOUSE by Mark Haddon

NON-FICTION

   

KITH: THE RIDDLE OF THE CHILDSCAPE by Jay Griffiths
‘Passionate, wilful and supremely honest … Jay Griffiths is fervent, scintillating and uninhibited.’ Joanna Kavenna, Literary Review VS ‘300 pages of sentimentality, irrelevance, naivety and breathtakingly self-indulgent, uncontrolled prose ... mesmerisingly, shockingly bad.’ Jenni Russell, Sunday Times

1913: THE WORLD BEFORE THE GREAT WAR by Charles Emmerson
‘A masterful, comprehensive portrait of the world at that last moment in its history when Europe was incontrovertibly ‘the centre of the universe’ and, within it, London ‘the centre of the world’… immensely impressive’ David Crane, Spectator VS ‘On the whole, 1913 is a disappointment. It lacks sparkle. It gives potted histories in the manner of Wikipedia and resembles a hasty travelogue, covering too much ground to permit exploration in depth.’ Piers Brendon, Independent

THE XX FACTOR: HOW WORKING WOMEN ARE CREATING A NEW SOCIETY by Alison Wolf
‘Fascinating … an exhaustive, intelligent, thoughtful and at times provocative and idiosyncratic analysis of what it is to be an elite woman.’ Lynda Gratton, Financial Times VS ‘The XX Factor is a feast of data, but it’s immensely hard to digest. I can’t see too many exhausted “have-it-all” women managing to keep their eyes open late at night to digest this overly stodgy and dry fare.’ Eleanor Mills, Sunday Times

Best of the rest: MARGARET THATCHER by Charles Moore, WAITING TO BE HEARD by Amanda Knox, THIS BOY by Alan Johnson, LETS EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS by David Sedaris, MAGGIE & ME by Damian Barr and A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY by WG Sebald

Paperback picks: CIRCULATION: WILLIAM HARVEY’S REVOLUTIONARY IDEA by Thomas Wright, SAVAGE CONTINENT: EUROPE IN THE AFTERMATH OF WORLD WAR II by Keith Lowe and NIKOLAUS PEVSNER: THE LIFE by Susie Harries
 

DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE 2013 LONGLIST

         
Click on the covers for the roundup

HATCHET JOB OF THE WEEK

The second part of Karl Ove Knausgaard's six volume autobiographical epic My Struggle has just been published in English. The books have become such a talking point in Norway that companies have felt forced to introduce 'Knausgaard-free days'. Adam Lively in the Sunday Times thinks a similar policy might be in order here:

"This novel really does represent what is, to put it bluntly, most flesh-crawlingly repellent in the puritan imagination: a self-lacerating moral exhibitionism that reduces the world to a mirror for the individual’s precious “struggle”.

And it’s the kind of thing that not just Joyce would have hated: it’s also precisely what turned Nietzsche against Christianity. But then the ideal reader of this novel is the kind of person who can feel depths of profundity stirring at the sight of the word “Nietzschean”, while having not a clue what it might mean. And the same goes for the reviewers and publicists who have used the term “Proustian”: anybody who thinks that what Proust was doing is even in the same universe as the histrionically attention-seeking Knausgaard has been reading a very strange translation of A La Recherche."


 





THE OMNIMETER

  Up: Literary letters
Who knew the famously reclusive JD Salinger was such a flirt? A cache of letters to an admiring female fan was found in a shoebox in Toronto last week. "Sneaky girl. You're pretty", he writes in reply to her letter and portrait, "I sent off my last photo to a little magazine, but I'm having some more made. Rest assured, though, I'm a doll." To this day, Canadian pensioner Marjorie Sheard isn't that impressed: “He was tall, dark and handsome but he was one of those people that didn’t age terribly well because he didn’t stay that way.” If you enjoy nosing through authors' correspondence, we've raided Project Gutenberg to bring you the best free collections of literary letters.

 Up: Polymaths
Still mourning Cousin Matthew's untimely death? Then you will be delighted to hear Downton’s dearly departed has been reincarnated as a short-story writer. Check out newly brunet Dan Stevens’ effort in the latest issue of online quarterly, The Junket.

 Up: Weird pets
Charles Dickens had two ravens called Grip I and Grip II; two St. Bernards called Sultan and Linda; two Newfoundlands called Don and Bumble; a spaniel called Timber; a mastiff called Turk, a Pomeranian called Mrs. Bounce, a cat called Williamina, a canary called Dick, and a pony called Newman Noggs. Pretty tame compared to Anton Chekov's mongoose and Katherine Anne Porter's pet coffin. More weird writerly obsessions here.
 
 Down: Brooklyn
Expat Martin Amis is already tiring of New York life, a friend tells the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary: “He finds it terribly transactional and, ironically given he was viewed as a literary hipster, he views the Brooklyn hipster scene as populated by conventional posers ... He doesn’t go out as much as he did and has developed a reputation as a curmudgeon.” Brooklyn full of posers? Who knew! At least he has a subject for his next toothless satire.

 Down: The American Dream
Next week sees the long-dreaded release of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, which is apparently based on a book. Read the story in lovely comic form at Hark! A Vagrant, and learn why this American critic thinks F Scott Fitzgerald's most loved novel is not all it's cracked up to be.
 
Down: Harvard's reputation
Do philanderers make good historians? Discuss. We weren't sure what to make of Niall Ferguson's claim that John Maynard Keynes’ homosexuality made him a bad economist until ballet critic and biographer of Lydia Lopokova, Judith Mackrell weighed into the debate, telling us that Keynes was actually a very "uxorious" husband: "references in the correspondence to his "slender subtle fingers", her "foxy lips", their vivid "fluctuations" in bed, indicate that, despite early conflicts over Keynes's desire to maintain a male lover, they made each other very happy." So he must have been a good economist after all! Many thanks to Ms Mackrell for setting the record, um, straight.

WIN TICKETS TO HAY
 
From 23 May to 2 June, Hay-on-Wye will be transformed into what Bill Clinton called ‘The Woodstock of the Mind’ as writers and book-lovers from across the world descend on the small Brecon Beacons town. Lionel Shriver, Jonathan Coe, Sameer Rahim, Howard Jacobson and Hilary Mantel are just some of the big names appearing this summer. Check out the programme here.

We’re giving away a pair of Silver Tickets (two passes for five events, subject to availability).

For your chance to win, answer the following question: What was Labour veteran Tony Benn quoted as saying about the Hay Festival? a) 'Is that a sandwich?' b) 'In my mind it's replaced Christmas.' c) 'I'm so glad The Telegraph are sponsoring it.' Send entries to 
competitions@theomnivore.co.uk.

Be quick, the closing date is midday on Friday 10 May.
 
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