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Well, hello there! In this issue of the Digest we look at the reviews for the latest books from two literary titans, James Salter and Dan Brown; round up a selection of free short stories from authors as diverse as Hilary Mantel, Rudyard Kipling and Jennifer Egan and consider Melanie Phillips' phobias and John Banville's use of the word 'succubus'. All this and a incredible hatchet job by Suzanne Moore on Harry Mount's literary paean to Boris Johnson.

FICTION

      

INFERNO by Dan Brown
'He knows rather better than any of his critics what the public wants.' Marcel Berlins, The Times VS '“If you liked his previous books, you won’t be disappointed by this one ... It is just as full of ineptitudes, stumbling blocks and outright howlers as it always was.' David Sexton, Evening Standard

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS by Claire Messud
'It’s exhilarating to encounter such unrestrained vehemence in a work by this controlled, intellectual author ... This psychologically charged story feels like a liberation. ' Liesl Schillinger, New York Times VS 'an intriguing but ungainly Frankenstein monster of a novel.' Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

ALL THAT IS by James Salter
'Creative writing courses emphasise the importance of point-of- view and p.o.v. characters. Salter, to revert to the imagery of the opening scene, blows much of that stuff out of the water. Mastery, eventually, is an indifference to how things are meant to be done ...”' Geoff Dyer, Independent VS 'If you ­really want to imagine being a soulless narcissist who drifts around wondering if nearby women are worth ­quasi-raping, Salter will serve you with some evocative ­paragraphs.' Hannah McGill, Scotland on Sunday

Best of the rest: AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by Khaled Hosseini, THE HIVE by Gill Hornby, BLOOD AND BEAUTY by Sarah Dunant, THE HUMANS by Matt Haig, BETWEEN FRIENDS by Amos Oz, FALLEN LAND by Patrick Flanery
 
Paperback picks: THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng, THE UNIVERSE VERSUS ALEX WOODS by Gavin Extence, BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain, SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan

NON-FICTION

   

EDMUND BURKE: PHILOSOPHER, POLITICIAN, PROPHET by Jesse Norman
‘It is an immense critique of the present: a political contribution by Norman — refracted through Burke — driven by a deep sense of personal obligation. It is a patriotic tract and an act of great leadership. This is a very significant book.’ Jon Cruddas, Independent VS ‘The problem in advancing Burkean politics as a model for the present lies in having some sense of how the abstractions of the 18th century refer to the problems of today. There is one major difference between then and now that makes this almost impossible: Burke's milieu was essentially Christian and ours is not.’ Kenneth Minogue, Literary Review
 

THE SERPENT’S PROMISE: THE BIBLE RETOLD AS SCIENCE by Steve Jones
‘[An] important book … we are treated to some superbly presented genetics, coupled with pungent excursions into the territories occupied by the likes of astronomers, bookmakers, doctors and lawyers.’ Bryan Lovell, The Times VS ‘It is hard to know if ignorance or arrogance best explains this refusal to engage with genuine scholarship on religion, but the pages of this book are soaked in a reductive contempt, and speckled with outright error’ James McConnachie, Sunday Times
 
PERILOUS QUESTION: THE DRAMA OF THE GREAT REFORM BILL 1832 by Antonia Fraser
‘A superb account of the human, as well as the political, drama ... This is history as it should be written: lively, witty and, above all, a cracking good read.’ Jane Ridley, Spectator VS ‘The book, she explains, is an attempt not to write "a history of Reform", but "to give the flavour of the times" … it has none of the complexity that the hosts of reality cooking shows look out for. It is the flavour as tasted by aristocrats.’ John Barrell, Guardian
 
Best of the rest: THE DEVONSHIRES: THE STORY OF A FAMILY AND A NATION by Roy HattersleyBE AWESOME: MODERN LIFE FOR MODERN LADIES by Hadley Freeman, 5 DAYS IN MAY: THE COALITION AND BEYOND by Andrew Adonis, NIJINSKY: A LIFE by Lucy Moore

Paperback picks: THE A303: HIGHWAY TO THE SUN by Tom Fort, HIGHER GOSSIP by John Updike and edited by Christopher Carduff, DARWIN'S GHOSTS: IN SEARCH OF THE FIRST EVOLUTIONISTS by Rebecca Stott
 

JAMES TAIT BLACK FICTION PRIZE 2013 SHORTLIST

      
Click on the covers for the roundup

HATCHET JOB OF THE WEEK

Hardly surprising that The Guardian's Suzanne Moore didn't enjoy a compendium of Boris's bon mots but the way she tears into The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson, introduced and edited by Harry Mount, is still breathtaking:

'The genre it most resembles is slash fiction – in which fans write, often homoerotically – about the likes of Spock and Kirk. The Wit and Wisdom is the political equivalent, with Harry Mount as quivering fanboy. "This book has the full support of Boris Johnson," we are told. Really? It makes Beyoncé's self-produced documentary – in which she comes across as the most beautiful, loving, gifted but struggling woman in the world – look humble. The grovelling here is unreal.

Maybe it's a form of fagging that I simply don't comprehend.'


 





THE OMNIMETER

  Up: Facing your critics 
Given his personal motto ("Write heresy, pure heresy") and favourite slogan  ('Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds"), theatre critic Kenneth Tynan might have been too mean even for Hatchet Job of the Year. Here he stars direct from New York in a marvellous video conference (the magic of television) with Samuel Goldwyn in Hollywood and Vivien Leigh in London. The topic is close to our hearts: the art of the review. The fact Tynan had panned Leigh's performance in Titus Andronicus ("She receives the news that she is about to be ravished on her husband's corpse with little more than the mild annoyance of one who would have preferred foam rubber") probably explains the frosty looks.

 Up: Marginalia
Turns out the Author is not Dead after all, at least if you're raising money for charity. The Guardian have photographed first editions annotated by their authors (to be sold in aid of PEN which supports endangered writers everywhere). It's illuminating if you're interested in what John Banville thinks about the word 'succubus', Yann Martell's doodles in the margins of Life of Pi, or the point when Lionel Shriver shed tears while writing We Need to Talk About Kevin. 

 Up: Small is beautiful
Short story writers are rather like sci-fi writers. They're always complaining that the literary niche they've chosen doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Write an four hundred page novel then. Oh, most of them have. But since it's short story month, we've compiled an eclectic list of the novel's supposedly inferior cousin including efforts by Hilary Mantel, Roddy Doyle and China Miéville. Better yet, they're all free. 
 
 Down: Dial M for ...
Melanie Phillips' bizarre e-publishing venture — get your T-shirts and umbrellas here — is called emBooks. Curious then that in her memoir, Guardian Angel, Phillips should confess to a long-standing phobia of the letter m. "I cannot look at upright oval shapes — the stained glass windows of a cathedral, for example, or the 'Golden Arches' of McDonalds, or even a lower-case letter m — without my heart lurching, absurdly, into my mouth." Speaking to a member of the Omnivore team, Phillips' business partner described their company as "putting the m into ebooks". We'll leave it up to you to decide what the "m" stands for.

 Down: The day job
Dan Brown is a Renaissance man in more ways than one. Prior to writing the book that shook the Catholic Church to the core, Brown was a soft rock god. Gems from his second album include a song about phone sex "I take you to bed and push the phone to my head/You make me feel like a man". David Sexton recently called his style "repetitious and full of clichés" but that's exactly what makes a catchy pop song. What next? Baldacci on the jazz flute?

WIN A SUBSCRIPTION TO THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS


 
Some of us have been known to be late for work because we've been waiting for the postman to arrive with the latest issue of the London Review of Books.  Founded in 1979, during the year-long lock-out at The Times, the LRB has since bucked the trend for dwindling circulation figures; it is officially the most popular literary magazine in Europe at the moment. No wonder. Alan Bennet called it "consistently radical" while UCLA professor Perry Anderson said it was "politically incorrect to a fault". Fearlessly intellectual but always entertaining, the LRB has an essay for everyone - whether you'd prefer to read Angela Carter on the social influence of the potato, Terry Eagleton on possession and exorcism or John Lanchester on Game of Thrones. And if that seems a little overwhelming, the classified section is worth the cover price alone.

But Omnivore readers can get a special discount off the annual subscription fee at 
www.mylrb.co.uk/omnivore. And one lucky winner will get a year's subscription. That's 24 issues of the LRB for free! To enter, please answer this question: Which prize has famed LRB contributor Hilary Mantel not won yet? A) The Man Booker B) The Man Booker C) The Women's Prize for Fiction. Send entries to competitions@theomnivore.co.uk by Friday 31st May.
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