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In this edition of The Omnivore Digest... Taiye Selasi's über-hyped Ghana Must Go and David Goodhart's controversial book on immigration, Julian Barnes earns a stern rebuke from the Scotsman, murky goings-on at the world's biggest book retailer, and the Wodehouse Prize shortlist. Plus, one of the best competitions we've ever had: three lucky Digest readers can win a whole year of Literary Review.

FICTION

  The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna  

AMERICANAH by Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie
Coming to America
'In Adichie’s able prose, social comedy mingles with cultural polemic under the umbrella of an exuberantly romantic love story' Sam Leith, Financial Times VS 'The bulk of the story is told from her perspective, and partly in her blog posts; and her relentlessly harsh judgment of those who surround her gives matters a distinctly sour tang.' Hannah McGill, Scotsman

THE HIRED MAN by Aminatta Forna
Holiday from hell
 'Forna brilliantly portrays the atmosphere of festering tension in which perpetrators of the most grotesque acts of violence continue to live side by side.' Alfred Hickling, Guardian VS ‘Forna seems to have lost faith in the reader’s ability to discover the subtler meanings unaided. The Hired Man is less lyrical, giving explanation where none is necessary' Thea Lenarduzzi, Literary Review

GHANA MUST GO by Taiye Selasi
Afropolitans
'It stands up to the hype. Taiye Selasi writes with glittering poetic command, a sense of daring, and a deep emotional investment in the lives and transformations of her characters.' Siana Evans, Guardian VS 'Her inexperience shows in the stop-go narrative, nervous shifts of tense, erratic paragraphing and faux-lyrical sentences that outstay their welcome.' David Robson, Telegraph

Best of the rest: THE QUICKENING by Julie Myerson, VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE by Karen Russell, FIVE DAYS by Douglas Kennedy
 
Paperback picks: THE FORRESTS by Emily Perkins, SKIOS by Michael Frayn, ANCIENT LIGHT by John Banville

NON-FICTION

   

LEVELS OF LIFE by Julian Barnes
A grief observed
‘Barnes’s high intelligence as a writer has never been in doubt, but it has not always been matched with profound emotive power. Here it is. Levels of Life is both a supremely crafted artefact and a desolating guidebook to the land of loss.’ John Carey, Sunday Times VS ‘Very affecting … Yet Barnes devotes a surprising amount of this short text to pernicketiness about other people … But then, as he says, among many other sharp observations, “we grieve in character”.’ David Sexon, Evening Standard

THE BRITISH DREAM by David Goodhart
Taboo or not taboo?
‘…this is an intelligent and well-reasoned (for the most part) assault upon the delusions that held sway among Goodhart’s fellow bien pensants and indeed had a certain hegemony, until recently, among all three main parties in parliament’ Rod Liddle, Sunday Times VSThe British Dream raises the question as to whether someone who believes in quite so much exclusion and compulsion is any kind of liberal.’ David Edgar, Guardian
‘Quite simply an extraordinary book … it’s basically the perfect memoir: a riveting, authentic tale elegantly told.’ Viv Groskop, Telegraph VS ‘Not only does Brockes offer little insight into the country of her ancestors, beyond a clichéd distaste for white South Africans, but — unforgivable, this — she shows the journalistic courage of a gnat.’ David Cohen, Evening Standard

Best of the rest: FRACTURED TIMES by Eric Hobsbawm, THE UNDIVIDED PAST by David Cannadine, MOD: A VERY BRITISH STYLE by Richard Weight

Paperback picks: IN THE SHADOW OF THE SWORD by Tom Holland, MICK JAGGER by Philip Norman, MIDNIGHT IN PEKING by Paul French
 

BOLLINGER EVERYMAN WODEHOUSE SHORTLIST 2013


 




THE OMNIMETER

  Up: 80s Nostalgia
A good time to reread The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, which features this “extremely brilliant” political poem:
 
Mrs Thatcher by A. Mole
Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?
Do you wake, Mrs Thatcher, in your sleep?
Do you weep like a sad willow?
On your Marks and Spencer’s pillow?
Are your tears molten steel?
Do you weep?
Do you wake with ‘Three million’ on your brain?
Are you sorry that they’ll never work again?
When you’re dressing in your blue, do you see the waiting queue?
Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?


 Up: 60s Nostalgia
From the Faber archives, some rare photos of writers including Muriel Spark buying some grapes and a nice snap of TS Eliot, Stephen Spender, Ted Hughes and Hitler (or is it W.H. Auden?). 


 Down: Common decency
You would have thought a highly personal memoir of grief would be fairly critic proof. Even David Sexton held back slightly in his review of Julian Barnes’ Levels of Life (see left). No such compunction over at the Scotsman, where David Robinson told Barnes to stop being such a wet blanket: “Certainly his sorrow is real, and pitiable … But one does rather wish that his dissection of it came with some sign of his being able to move towards acceptance that a death at 68, after a life well-lived and a 30-year marriage, might not be the worst thing that has ever happened.” Someone wants those potted shrimp a little too badly! 
 
Down: Innocence
Someone has dug out a lovely children’s book by Mark Twain called Advice for Little Girls. (“If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.”) Sad that if a male author wrote a book with that title today he would be immediately arrested by Operation Yewtree. 

 Down: Consistency
“This depresses me every year” tweeted novelist Mark Haddon about HJOTY. You know what depresses us? Sanctimonious authors who complain about Amazon’s "corporate bastardythen happily sign up to be a poster boy for their Kindle publishing imprint
 
Down: Writers' incomes
Speaking of Amazon, did you know they let you return ebooks up to a week after you’ve bought them? Yes, even if you’ve read them (we tested it, for research purposes). If you are a moral person who believes writers should be rewarded for their efforts, then sign this petition. If you are amoral, then get a move on and read as much as you can before they change their policy!

WIN A SUBSCRIPTION TO LITERARY REVIEW


With newspaper book sections shrinking faster than Victoria Beckham’s bust, thank heavens for that lone outpost of civilisation, the Literary Review.
 
Martin Amis said: “In Literary Review you find something that has almost vanished from the book pages: its contributors are actually interested in Literature.” We love Literary Review because it manages to pull off the tricky feat of being unashamedly highbrow without taking itself too seriously. It also has a nice mix of up-and-coming critics and household names: the past two issues alone have featured reviews by John Sutherland, Allan Massie, Amanda Foreman, Diana Athill, John Gray and Dominic Sandbrook.
 
All in all, a must for any self-respecting coffee table, so we are delighted that Literary Review are giving THREE readers of The Omnivore Digest the chance to win a year’s subscription (that's 11 issues!). 
 
To be in with a chance of winning, answer the following question
: The Literary Review is world famous for its annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, founded by former editor Auberon Waugh. Which of these writers is not a past winner of the Bad Sex Award: 
Alastair Campbell, Sebastian Faulks, or Melvyn Bragg? Entries to competitions@theomnivore.co.uk by Tuesday 16 April.

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